Hermes as God

The Greeks revered Hermes, the son of the supreme Zeus and the mountain nymph Maya, as one of their most beloved gods since the earliest days. The earliest preserved record in which his name appears is from the Linear B script that was found in Crete and dates back to the 14th-13th centuries BC. e. Hermes was born in Arcadia, on Mount Kilena, where one of his oldest sanctuaries was built, from where his cult spread to Athens, and from there to all other areas where Hellenes lived. There were numerous temples built in his honor; Lucian of Samosata testifies that he saw them everywhere.

His symbols are: palm branch, turtle, rooster, goat, number four and incense sticks. The Greeks sacrificed to him: honey, cakes, pigs, goats and lambs. In the sanctuary of Hermes in Tangara there was a tree that he planted, while on the hill of Fene flow three springs which are holy because he bathed in them. Hermes is the god of nature, peasants, shepherds, cattle, divination, magic, initiation, psychopomp, trade, social connections, riches, good business, travel, roads, crossroads, agreements, contracts, friendship, hospitality, games, lotteries and good fortune.

As soon as he was born, Hermes showed some of his characteristics by which we remember him to this day. He sneaked out of the cave and found the turtle. He made a lyre out of her skin and immediately learned to play it. Then he ran into Apollo’s herd of fifty cows. He stole them and carried them to the cave. And he achieved all this during the first day of his life. The first god Hermes met was Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun. This should not be surprising, because Mercury is also the closest planet to the Sun. Apollo first went to Hermes in the cave with the intention of punishing him for the theft he had committed. Hermes, however, apologized to him so skillfully that he immediately won Apollo’s favor. Having thus demonstrated, even in his earliest days of life, extraordinary oratorical abilities, he distinguished himself as Hermes Logios and as the patron saint of speakers. Later, the Neoplatonists interpreted his eloquence in a deeper meaning as the Logos of Hermes, which comes from the god’s mind Nous (Nous). Apollo later credited Hermes with being the best at distinguishing a true from a false philosopher.

Hermes is also recognized for his gift of music, although to a lesser extent compared to his other virtues, and he is credited with inventing a special type of music. The turtle became his sacred animal and constant companion. In his youth, he lived with his mother Maya in a cave in the company of shepherds. And since he later ascended to Olympus, he occasionally returned to Earth to help the shepherds with their flocks. The Greeks therefore called him the “good shepherd” and often depicted him carrying a lamb on his shoulders. The lamb, just like the tortoise, was a sacred animal to him and an irreplaceable companion.

While in his youth he was hanging out with shepherds, his mercurial spirit came to the fore, and thus he distinguished himself in raising humanity from savagery to more cultural spheres, inventing, in addition to the lyre, a kindling for lighting fire, the alphabet , numbers, weights, measures, astronomy, martial arts skills, gymnastics and olive growing. He followed Zeus’ advice to go to Mount Parnassus and seek sorcery from the priests there. Before he went there, Apollo gave him a golden rod entwined with snakes – the famous caudoceus. The priests of Parnassus taught him well and Hermes became the god of divination and magic.

By stealing Apollo’s cows, Hermes immediately showed that he also had a certain tendency towards theft, but on the condition that the stolen was returned back into circulation, so that others could benefit from the stolen. Hermes considered immovable wealth that accumulates in one place and from which only its possessor benefited to be meaningless. Later, he distinguished himself as the only one of the gods who did not hesitate to help thieves, but only on the condition that they did the job wisely, but he abhorred stupid thieves and petty thievery. As a supporter of the exchange of goods, merchandise and capital, Hermes distinguished himself as a patron of merchants. There were statues of him in markets and agoras all over Greece. In addition to other talents, he showed his sense of commerce in his earliest days, when he presented Apollo with a lyre, and received from him a caduceus and permission to keep a herd of 50 stolen cows. At the same time, Hermes did not care so much whether he would do better than Apollo, but he did care about the fact that there was an exchange and that the traffic had started.

As the protector of people who gather in the squares, he bore the epithet Hermes Agoraeus, while as the bringer of good fortune he was called Hermes Eriounios. In Greek, the lucky find bears his name – “hermaion”. When Hermes got tired of life on Earth, he finally moved to Olympus, where Zeus immediately entrusted him with important duties, appointing him as his messenger and, if necessary, the messenger of the other gods (hence his epithet Hermes Diactoros). Zeus gave him the most complicated jobs, and Hermes always performed them reliably. Because of this, Hermes was also respected by mortals as the protector of diplomats and ambassadors. A similar function was performed on Olympus before him by the rainbow goddess Iris, but Hermes quickly surpassed her. While Iris proclaimed the commandments of Zeus, Hermes put them into action. Iris, not only calmly accepted Hermes’ supremacy, but agreed to be his companion, constantly going before him with her windy feet and wings of gold.

Hermes saved Zeus’s son Sionis, who the Orchomenian king Athamant wanted to kill in a fit of madness. He freed the god of war Ares from the cask in which the giants imprisoned him. On the order of the supreme Zeus, he brought Hephaestus to Olympus and helped Odysseus to return home to Ithaca after a long wandering. Hermes immediately became famous for his exceptional mobility and speed, and in critical moments for his heroic deeds. He helped, for example, Perseus in the fight with Medusa, encouraged Heracles during his service to the Mycenaean king Eurystheus and freed Zeus’s lover Ia by killing the one-eyed giant Argos. Because of these virtues, Hermes was declared the patron saint of runners, gymnastics and martial arts. The Greeks believed that Hermes gave strength to fighters and speed to runners, so his statues adorned gymnasiums and stadiums throughout the Greek world. Hermes’ main festivals, “hermeae”, were celebrated from the 6th century BC, with athletic and gymnastic games, and due to their initiatory character, the winners were elevated to the rank of heroes and demigods. The Greeks also respected him as a psychopomp. On one occasion he helped Orpheus descend to the underworld, while on another occasion he descended to Hades himself to look for Persephone, the lost daughter of Demeter. In addition, he relayed to mortals the dreams sent to them by Zeus, and in this sense he was revered as Hermes Oneiropompus, the guide of dreams.

The poet Virgil describes how Hermes controls the winds and clouds with his magic wand and flies through them like a bird. He was fast, but he didn’t choose the fastest routes to reach his destination, because he enjoyed traveling. As Hermes Enodios, he is revered as the patron saint of travelers. Hermes punished reckless people who refuse to help travelers when they get lost. He did not only protect travelers, but also all those people who, for any other reason, would turn to him for help. The Greeks placed stone pillars (hermen) in front of their houses, believing that they housed the spirit of Hermes, who protected them from all evil.

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