Hermes, Greek God of The Road
The Greek God Hermes was favored with many divine
responsibilities, chief of which was to serve as a personal assistant and messenger for
his father Zeus, ruler of the Olympian deities. Known for his swiftness and athleticism,
for Hermes this seemed an ideal assignment.
Soon another great talent of Hermes was to be discovered -- he
was an excellent communicator, both articulate and persuasive. A skillful negotiator, the
Greek god Hermes was quickly promoted to become Zeus' "roving ambassador".
The Greek god Hermes revealed his true nature at a tender age.
The son of Zeus and Maia, a timid star-goddess who lived in a mountain cave, Hermes was a
precocious child. During his first day of life, Hermes snuck out of his cradle, found a
tortoise just outside the cave, and invented the lyre by fastening strings across the
Of course he spent a few minutes teaching himself to play it
sweetly, but, soon bored he took off to explore the world, Whereupon he encountered a herd
of cattle belonging to his half brother Apollo. Hermes decided to take a few for himself,
culling the finest of the herd to take with him. The little thief was so clever he taught
the cattle to walk backwards to foil anyone trying to follow them!
But there was a witness to the crime, an elderly shepherd named
Brattus. Hermes bribed him to be silent and sacrificed a couple of the cattle, dedicating
a portion to each of the twelve Olympian deities. It is believed that Hermes thus invented
the practice of animal sacrifice, and he became known as the protector of sacrificial
animals and shepherds.
At any rate it was foolish to think he could deceive Apollo who
had the gift of prophecy (foresight). Indeed, Apollo soon realized what had happened and
who was responsible. Confronting Hermes in his cradle, the angry Apollo hauled the infant
into court. Their father, the great Zeus himself, was to try the case.
Zeus found Hermes guilty and ordered him to return the cattle,
but just then Hermes pulled out his lyre and started playing. Apollo, the god of music,
was intrigued with the musical instrument that Hermes had invented. As a way of apology
for all the trouble he had caused, Hermes gave the lyre to Apollo, and the grateful Apollo
in return told Hermes to keep the cattle he had stolen. Soon the two were best of friends.
|Zeus, too, was impressed with young Hermes who soon became a
handsome young man and an exceptional athlete. It was said that he ran faster than the
wind. With his keen eye for talent, Zeus appointed Hermes as his personal messenger, as
the god of commerce and the marketplace, and as protector of all gymnastic games.
The skill and trustworthiness of the Greek god Hermes was so
highly valued that Zeus appointed him to be the Psychopomp, the guide who escorted the
souls of the dead to their new home in the Underworld.
Hades, ruler of the Underworld, gave Hermes the freedom to come
and go as he pleased --a privilege granted to very few, for the rule was that once you
entered the Underworld you were never allowed to leave.
Always "on the go" carrying messages for Zeus and the
other gods and goddesses, Hermes was worshipped as the god of the roads, the god who
protected travelers. Citizens of Greece erected posts or pillars of stone on the roads and
at gates to honor him -- those were called "herms". The name "Hermes"
actually means "pillars".
When Zeus appointed Hermes the Divine Herald, he awarded him a
cap with two small wings and a pair of winged sandals that could carry him across water as
well as land. Zeus ordered everyone to give Hermes their full respect. (Note: Now his
image is recognized as the logo for florists' delivery service...not quite the type of
respect that Zeus imagined!)
Zeus also gave him a herald's staff, encircled with
two white ribbons. Later these ribbons were replaced by two snakes, entwined around the
staff. Legend has it that Hermes encountered two snakes who were engaged in mortal combat
with each other. Driving his staff between the two to separate them, he persuaded them to
reach a peaceful solution and, in appreciation, they coiled around his staff and remained
in perfect harmony, accompanying him on his travels. Today we recognize this image as the
caduceus, a symbol adopted by modern medicine. (Note: the earlier symbol of the physician
was the staff of Asclepius having only one snake.)
Later, serving as the messenger of Zeus, Hermes quickly became
known as the "God of the Roads", offering his protection to travelers. As a
traveling man himself, Hermes wasn't inclined to settle down and never married. He did,
however, seems to have a girlfriend in every town and fathered numerous children, many of
whom became well known, e.g. the god Pan, Priapus, and Hermaphroditus.
In his role as messenger of the gods, Hermes had the opportunity
to make quite a name for himself -- and to be featured in countless myths as a supporting
actor....making arrangements for many of Zeus's love affairs (and "cleaning up the
messes after his jealous wife took her revenge), helping his favorite mortals perform
their heroic deeds, and performing a few acts of heroism himself.
Just a few of the fascinating exploits of Hermes: Hermes rescued
the unborn Dionysus from certain death, loaned Hades helmet of invisibility to Perseus so
he could slay the Medusa, protected Odysseus from enchantment by witchcraft, rescued Zeus'
lover Io whom Hera had turned into a cow, freed Ares from captivity in the bronze jar, and
ever restored Zeus to good health when his tendons had been frayed in his battle with the