Hermes or Mercury: The Messenger God

Hermes, whose Roman name was Mercury, was the messenger god, and the god of travellers. He was said to dress as a shepherd, with wings on his feet and his cap. His father was Zeus, who coupled with Maia (before his marriage to Hera). Maia was a beautiful haired nymph who lived in a secluded cave. Besides being the messenger god, Hermes was "cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates."1 He was also associated with the Egyptian god of knowledge and magic, called Thoth.

Hermes was said to have invented fire (though it was Prometheus who gave fire to men). Also when he was still a baby, he was supposed to have run off 50 head of cattle from a herd guarded by his brother, Apollo. When he was confronted by Apollo, Hermes gave him a Lyre he had invented to make amends. Later in life Hermes would give Apollo a flute in exchange for the Caduceus. The Caduceus was a winged staff with two entwined snakes which Hermes used to cast spells.

It seems that Hermes was made messenger god because Zeus did not want him to have idle time to invent mischief. He also knew that the god was well adapted to the job. He was fleet of foot, intelligent, and highly resourceful. Included in this job description was the duty to bring the souls of the dead to the underworld. Because of his function as a messenger, Hermes appears in many myths in both major and minor roles.

Hermes was said to have had several children. Descended from one of these was the most cunning of the Greeks who fought at Troy, Odysseus. Hermes was also said to have been father of Pan. He was first worshipped in Arcadia, and later Athens where he became the patron of gymnastic activities. The Romans declared Wednesday to be his day of the week.

  1. Homeric Hymn to Hermes


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