Hermes   HUR meez

Herald of the Immortals

The wing shod messenger of the Olympians, Hermes was the beloved son of Zeus and Maia (the daughter of the Titan, Atlas). As friend to the mortals, he introduced weights and measures (as well as dice); he also escorts the dead to Hades. He is the giver of good luck and has a hand in all secret dealings and stratagems. He is, of course, sacred to all heralds. He taught mortals all arts... also, his domain includes roads, traffic and markets. In ancient times, a bust of Hermes was placed atop pillars to mark boundaries.

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Hermes and Kalypso

When the nymph Kalypso (Calypso) had kept Odysseus too long on her island, Hermes was sent by Zeus (Odyssey, book 5, line 29) to announce his clear purpose... ’Odysseus must be sent home, or at least, towards home’ When Hermes told Kalypso (Odyssey, book 5, line 121) she shuddered and reminded him of the other gods and goddesses that had shared their beds with mortals, some did it for noble reasons and others for selfish reasons, but regardless, Zeus and the other immortals had permitted their indulgences. In spite of her protests she sent Odysseus on his way.

Hermes appears later in the same epic (Odyssey, book 10, line 140)... when Odysseus and a few of his shipmates escaped death at the hands of the giants, the Laistrygones. Odysseus sailed for open water but ended up on the island of Kirke (Circe). Odysseus sent out a scouting party and only one man returned. The survivor reported that all the other sailors had been turned into pigs with human faces by the dread goddess Kirke. Odysseus was determined to save his companions from this cruel fate. As he was walking through the lonely forest to Kirke’s palace Hermes met him on the path and, disguised as a young man, the Messenger of the Gods warned Odysseus about the wiles of Kirke and gave him the antidote to Kirke’s drugs and told him how to subdue her and free his en-swined companions (Odyssey, book 10, line 289).

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The Slayer of Argos

Hermes is often called Argeiphontes, ’the slayer of Argos’. The killing of the herdsman Argos was not an easy task and Hermes became famous for killing him. Argos was called Argos Panoptes, meaning ’all seeing’. He had eyes all over his body to better guard his flocks. Zeus, in one of his many infidelities, fell in love with the fair maiden Io. In an effort to hide his new love from his wife Hera, he turned the young maid into a black and white heifer. Hera saw through the sham at once. She assigned Argos to guard the heifer Io. Zeus was inflamed, he could no longer meet secretly with the lovely Io. Hermes killed Argos but the curse was not broken. Hera simply sent a gad-fly to bite and goad the poor heifer-girl to distant lands and out of the reach of Zeus. This is one of the saddest tales in Greek Mythology. Io’s conversation with Prometheus in ’Prometheus Bound’ (by Aeskhylus) is quite moving. She tells him of her past and how she can never sleep in the same place two nights in succession. She begged the Titan for his prediction of the future. Prometheus offered Io no hope in the short term but, in Egypt, he told her, she would be freed from the curse of Hera.

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The Lighter Side

On the lighter side, when Hermes and Apollon saw how Hephaistos (Hephaestus) had trapped his wife Aphrodite (goddess of Love) and Ares (god of War) in the act of love and displayed them for all the Immortals to see, Apollon asked Hermes how he would feel if he were trapped in such an embarrassing position. The light hearted Hermes replied that he would suffer thrice the bindings if only he could share the bed of Aphrodite the golden.

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Hermes and King Priam

Near the end if the Trojan War, when the king of Troy, Priam, went to retrieve the body of his fallen son, Hektor (Hector), Hermes met him on the road disguised as a young man. Priam was a leader and king because of his quick mind, he immediately recognized the scruffy stranger as an immortal. Hermes guided the brave Priam through the battle lines and past the Akhaian (Achaian) guards without being seen. Hermes opened the gates to Akhilleus’ (Achilleus') compound and then disappeared into thin air. As Eos (the Dawn) approached, Hermes roused Priam and safely led the grieving father and his once glorious son back to Troy where his family could give him a proper burial.

Hermes is often confused with the Roman god, Mercury.

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Hermes in The Iliad (listed by book and line)

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Hermes in The Odyssey (listed by book and line)

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How to Cite this Page

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Stewart, Michael. "Hermes", Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant. (November 15, 2005)

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