The Lying Messenger
Travellers, Shepherds, Commerce, Heralds, Theft
Rooster, Tortoise, Purse, Winged Sandals, Goat, Palm Tree, Incense
"Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the prince of robbers"
Homer, epic poet and historian
The second youngest Olympian is known for accomplishing two great feats when still a baby. While being raised in a cave by his mother Maia, daughter of the Titan Atlas, he encountered a tortoise crossing its entrance. Marvelling at such a beast who lives in its shell and moves so leisurely, Hermes killed it. He hollowed out the shell, adding a wooden neck and strings made from sheep guts, and thus created the first lyre.
His second feat was stealing Apollo's cattle. To cover his tracks he reversed the cattle's feet so their prints led in the wrong direction. Once they reached the water off a sandy beach he put boots on the cattle's feet to leave no tracks. Now he could safely lead the cattle deep into his cave and hide them. With his prize secured, Hermes settled down to play his lyre.
When Apollo discovered his cattle were missing all he found were tracks leading out of the sea. Confounded by the mystery Apollo went to his oracle at Delphi whose visions sent him to Mount Cyllene and Maia's cave. Maia showed him her infant boy, denying that such a child could steal. Undeterred, Apollo brought the babe before Zeus who saw through Hermes' deceptions and ordered the infant to return the cattle. Angry at being deceived by one so young, Apollo was going to seek revenge when Hermes enchanted him with music from his lyre. Enamoured with the instrument, Apollo happily traded his cattle for the lyre.
Throughout the heroic age, Hermes gave heroes he deemed worthy powerful gifts and advice. It was Hermes who aided Perseus on his quest to slay Medusa. He foresaw that Perseus faced great dangers before even reaching the gorgon's lair. To aid the demigod he gave him golden winged sandals, a cloth sack woven by Demeter's nymphs and the Helm of Hades. With the sandals Perseus was able to fly past the dangerous cliffs around Medusa's lair. The Helm of Hades enabled him to be invisible and approach Medusa unseen. The sack held the monster’s severed head as no mortal weave would be strong enough to contain it. His task complete, Hermes returned the sack and helm to their true owners before they noticed that the items were missing.
When Hermes encountered Odysseus looking for his crew along the shores of Aeaea island, he recognised a hero of near-equal cunning and wit to his own. Hermes was on the island to steal moly, a white flowering herb pickable only by the gods. Odysseus' crew had been transmogrified into pigs by the witch Circe. Hermes gave Odysseus the herb so he could resist the magic and rescue his crew and warned the hero how the witch would attack. He counselled that she lacked fighting skills and told him to hold his nerve for the witch would surrender once overpowered. For his own amusement Hermes omitted to mention the herb's other magical property which made Odysseus incredibly attractive to Circe.
Whilst Hermes doesn't care for order as much as Apollo, Hera or Zeus, he hates the authoritarianism of Cronus. He shudders at the thought of the Titans returning to power, knowing he will be imprisoned or worse for being a delinquent and usurper. Hermes is the messenger of the gods and his champions can expect to be delivering important messages to powerful mortals. Yet such is Hermes' fear of the Titans that he often distracts his heroes from their courier duties to battle the agents of the Titans and their plots.
Hermes selects his champions for athleticism and cleverness and is fond of conmen and anyone with a quick wit. He does not make his champions work constantly, instead expecting them to promote his realms by embodying them. This includes theft, not for personal gain but for the glory of stealing.
Hermes is a light-hearted god who lacks the bouts of rage which infect the other members of his family, except when there is a threat of betrayal. During the theft of his brother’s cattle an old man saw Hermes but promised to remain silent. When the god found the mortal was willing to betray him for two cows he turned a man into a boulder so he could not speak.
Hermes is always seen as a well-built and blond-haired youth, naked except for a cloak draped over one shoulder. He wears a pair of golden sandals with wings at the heels and has golden wings in his hair. In his right hand he carries his staff which he uses to identify himself when carrying divine messages, and which can put mortals to sleep.
Hermes has a long streak of vanity in him, trusting his good looks but still being fastidious over his appearance. This differs from the ruggedness of Ares' brutal masculinity or the careless beauty and grace of Apollo. His looks and easygoing nature has given him string of lovers including his half-sister Aphrodite, and he has many children.
As the traditional messenger of the gods to mortals, Hermes is worshipped in the hope that he will bring good news. He is a bringer of good luck and many charms are dedicated to him.
The Hermaea is held every year in Arcadia, where there are sacrifices and gymnastic competitions. The games are open to children too young for other games but seeking honour and initiation as athletes. Sacrifices at the festival are honey, cakes, pigs, goats and lambs. Hermes is taken as the patron of gymnastic games throughout Greece through his association with speed and nimbleness. He is also the god of commerce, and marketplaces have statues or small shrines dedicated to him. In Thebes a statue of Hermes guards Apollo’s temple as a mark of the gods' friendship.
Hermes is the god of boundaries and travellers and it is traditional to build cairns on borders or along roads in his name. Each traveller adds a stone until a large cairn is built as a monument both to Hermes and to the travellers themselves. Two hundred years ago the cairns marking the midway points on roads between villages and Athens were replaced by herms dedicated to Hermes. They are square carved stone pillars with a bearded bust on top and an erect penis halfway up its length. These herms spread around Greece, and in the Arcadia region the statues omit the bearded bust and are large carved penises. Herms of Hermes can be found outside Athenian houses for good luck, especially when the family living there has a relative travelling far away.