Hermes, the herald of the Olympian gods, is son of Zeus and the
nymph Maia, daughter of Atlas and one of the Pleiades. He was
worshiped throughout Greece especially in Arcadia. Festivals in honor
of Hermes were called Hermoea.
According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in
Arcadia. Zeus had impregnated Maia at the dead of night while all
other gods slept. When dawn broke amazingly he was born.
Being the herald (messenger of the gods), it was his duty to guide the
souls of the dead down to the underworld, which is known as a
psychopomp. He was also closely connected with bringing dreams to
mortals. Hermes is usually depicted with a broad-brimmed hat or a
winged cap, winged sandals and the heralds staff (kerykeion in Greek,
or Caduceus in Latin). It was often shown as a shaft with two white
ribbons, although later they were represented by serpents intertwined
in a figure of eight shape, and the shaft often had wings attached. The
clothes he donned were usually that of a traveler, or that of a
workman or shepherd. Other symbols of Hermes are the cock,
tortoise and purse or pouch.
The offspring of Hermes are believed to be Pan, Abderus and
Hermaphroditus. Hermes as with the other gods had numerous
affairs with goddesses, nymphs and mortals.
It was Hermes who liberated Io, the lover of Zeus, from the hundred-
eyed giant Argus, who had been ordered by Hera, the jealous wife of
Zeus, to watch over her. Hermes also saved Odysseus and his men
from being transformed into pigs by the goddess and sorceress Circe.
He gave them a herb which resisted the spell. Hermes also guided
Eurydice back down to the underworld after she had been allowed to
stay for one day on earth with her husband Orpheus.
Known for his swiftness and athleticism, Hermes was given credit for
inventing foot-racing and boxing. At Olympia a statue of him stood at
the entrance to the stadium and his statues were in every gymnasium
throughout Greece. Hermes was a popular subject for artists. Both
painted pottery and statuary show him in various forms, but the most
fashionable depicted him as a good-looking young man, with an
athletic body, and winged sandals and his heralds staff. His Roman
counterpart Mercury inherited his attributes, and there are many
Roman copies of Greek artistic creations of Hermes.
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