Hermes was an Olympian god in Greek religion and mythology. He was the son of Zeus and the Pleiad Maia. He was second youngest of the Olympian gods. In the Roman adaptation of the Greek pantheon Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercury.
Hermes was the God of animal husbandry, roads, travel, hospitality, heralds, diplomacy, trade, thievery, language, writing, persuasion, cunning wiles, athletic contests, gymnasiums, astronomy, and astrology. He was also the personal agent and herald of Zeus, the king of the gods.
In some myths Hermes is a trickster, and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or the sake of humankind.
In the first hours after his birth, it is said that he escaped from his cradle and carried off some of the oxen of Apollo. In order not to be discovered by the traces of his footsteps, Hermes put on sandals, and drove the oxen to Pylos, where he killed two, and concealed the rest in a cave.
The skins of the slaughtered animals were nailed to a rock, and part of their flesh was prepared and consumed, and the rest burnt; at the same time he offered sacrifices to the twelve gods, for which he is called the inventor of divine worship and sacrifices.
Afterwards he returned to Cyllene, where he found a tortoise at the entrance of his native cave. He took the animal’s shell, drew strings across it, and thus invented the lyre and plectrum. The number of strings of his new invention is said by some to have been three and by others seven, and they were made of the guts either of oxen or of sheep.
Apollo had in the meantime discovered the thief, and went to Cyllene to charge him with it before his mother Maia. She showed Apollo the Hermes in his cradle; but Apollo took the boy before Zeus, and demanded back his oxen.
Zeus commanded him to comply with the demand of Apollo. Hermes then gave Apollo back his oxen; but when Apollo heard the sounds of the lyre, he was so charmed that he allowed Hermes to keep the animals. The two gods became friends because of the music of the lyre. Apollo then presented Hermes with his own golden shepherd’s staff.
Besides the lyre, Hermes is said to have invented the alphabet, numbers, astronomy, music, the art of fighting, gymnastics, the cultivation of the olive tree, measures, weights, and many other things.
In Ancient Greece, Hermes was a phallic god of boundaries. His name, in the form herma, was applied to a wayside marker pile of stones; each traveler added a stone to the pile. In the 6th century BCE the cairns were replaced with a rectangular pillar of stone or bronze topped by a bust of Hermes with a beard. In Athens, herms were placed outside houses for good luck.
The principal attributes of Hermes include –
The staff by means of which he closes and opens the eyes of mortals. The staff, in later times, is further adorned with a pair of wings, expressing the rapidity with which the messenger of the gods moved from place to place.
Golden Sandals that carried the god across land and sea with the rapidity of wind.
Shepherd’s Pipes, which he traded with Apollo for certain privileges.
The Blade of Hermes, a golden or adamantine blade.Among the things sacred to him we may mention the palm tree, the tortoise, the number four, and several kinds of fish; and the sacrifices offered to him consisted of incense, honey, cakes, pigs, and especially lambs and young goats.
Sacred to Hermes were –
The hare, because of its great ability to multiply. He placed the animal amongst the stars as the constellation Lepus.
The hawk, having transformed two men, Hierax and Daidalon, into hawks.
The tortoise, having transformed the nymph Khelone into a tortoise and also having constructed the first lyre from the shell of the beast.
The saffron crocus, from which saffron was harvested in the mountains, was sacred to Hermes. The god was said to have caused it to grow from the blood of his beloved Krokos.
The strawberry tree, for he was said to have been nursed beneath the boughs of such a tree.