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[her' mEz] Greek messenger of the gods, protector of travelers, bringer of good luck

Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology

According to legend, Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. He was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, the morning after Zeus impregnated Maia. Soon after his birth, Hermes ran off to Thessaly, where Apollo, his brother, grazed his cattle. Hermes stole several of the cattle, drove them back to Greece, and hid them in a small grotto near the city of Pylos and covered their tracks. Before returning to the cave he caught a tortoise, killed it and removed its entrails. Then, using the intestines from one of the cows he had stolen and the hollow tortoise shell, he made the first lyre. When Apollo realized he had been robbed he immediately suspected Hermes and demanded the return of his cattle. Instead, Hermes began playing his lyre. The music enchanted Apollo, who then offered to let Hermes keep the cattle in return for the lyre. Hermes agreed, and Apollo subsequently became the grand master of the instrument. Hermes was also credited with inventing the flute. Apollo also desired this instrument, so Hermes bartered with Apollo and received his golden staff in return.

Hermes was believed to be the father of Pan, Abderus, and Hermaphroditus. Pan, the half man-half goat, was said to be the result of Hermes's union with Dryope, the daughter of King Dryops. He subsequently became the patron of fields, woods, shepherds, and flocks. Abderus, a companion of the hero Heracles, was devoured by the Mares of Diomedes, after Heracles had left him in charge of the beasts. Hermaphroditus was the product of the union of Hermes and Aphrodite. An androgynous deity, he was depicted as either a handsome young man but with female breasts, or as Aphrodite with male genitals.

Since he sometimes acted in a deceitful or mischievous manner, the Greeks saw Hermes as a protector of thieves. Under the name of Hermes Psychopompos, he guided the souls of the dead to the lower world. Greek art showed Hermes as a handsome youth, often wearing winged shoes and a winged hat and carrying a winged staff entwined with snakes. The Greek Post Office has Hermes as its symbol.

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This page was last updated on October 26, 2017.