Tales of Hermes


When I asked my husband which mythological personality he was most interested in, he instantaneously replied Hermes. Funny, Hermes is my favorite too! This one is for you Bob, with all my love.

MercuryHermes is probably the most recognized of the entire Greek pantheon. The world knows him with his winged cap and sandals as a bearer of messages and the symbol of swift motion.

Hermes was also the patron god of thieves, shepherds and travelers. He was remarkably shrewd and often used his way with words to outwit gods as well as mortals.

Though he is presented throughout the various texts as being a bit of a trickster, Hermes' acts were usually done without malice. It is true that he enjoyed a good prank every now and again, but generally he meant no harm to anyone involved.

Hermes acted a guide for all newly departed souls making their way into the underworld. It was the god's responsibility to escort the shades to the edge of the river Acheron , where they would be delivered into the hands of Charon and his ghostly ferry.

Hermes most frequently appears as a background figure in the stories of ancient Greece. Below are a few examples. I hope you enjoy them.


Hermes And The Divine Cattle of Apollo

Hermes Stealing the Cows of ApolloMaia, the beautiful daughter of the titan Atlas, lived inside of a cave found on the Arcadian mountain of Cyllene. It came to be that as the rest of the world was veiled in sleep, the amorous god Zeus began paying nocturnal visits to the lovely young nymph.

As nature may have it, Maia soon found herself to be with child and after some time presented Zeus with a son whom she called Hermes.

Though the boy was born at the break of dawn, he did not remain a baby for very long. He grew with incredible speed and by noon the child, who was feeling a bit bored, wandered outside of the cave in search of adventure.

He gleefully made his way to Pieria, where he found the god Apollo busily tending to his herd of divine cattle.

Finding the sacred cows to be of the finest pedigree, young Hermes felt compelled to carry the exquisite beasts off for himself. Before leading the herd away, the clever boy fashioned a number of shoes from the bark of an oak tree and securely fastened them to the bottom of the cow's feet.

Each woody slipper acted as a makeshift broom and discreetly swept away all traces of bovine foot prints from the sandy path. Hermes' disguise proved to be truly deceptive, for when Apollo finally realized that his herd had disappeared not even the smallest clue had been left behind.

Apollo laboriously searched for the herd, but all of his efforts were in vain. Feeling low on options, the god finally resorted to offering a reward to anyone who could providing information regarding the whereabouts of his missing cattle.

Two SatyrsEager to collect the prize, Silenus, an old drunkard gathered up his band of greedy satyrs and anxiously began searching for the displaced herd. After many hours of unsuccessful hunting, the group decided that perhaps it would be best to split up and travel in different directions.

With a renewed sense of determination, each team pushed forward when suddenly the muffled sounds of music began to drift smoothly through the air.

Wanting to investigate the mysterious melody, the party of satyrs slowly approached a cave and listened as the joyful tune brightly flowed from its opening.

As they stood enjoying the pleasant music, the satyrs could not help from noticing that there were two freshly skinned cow hides hanging from a nearby tree.

Finding this to be highly suspicious, Silenus approached one of the nymphs living on Cyllene and asked her to explain the mysterious happenings. She went on to reveal that an unusually gifted child had recently been born on the mountain, and that she had been chosen to act as his nurse.

The boy, had ingeniously made a musical instrument by stringing a tortoise shell with some cow-gut and was at that very minute using it to lull his mother to sleep. The impatient satyrs began to question the nurse as to the origin of the cow-gut, and before long a heated argument broke out amongst the group.

In the midst of all the bickering, Apollo, who by the art of divination had figured out the identity of the thief, angrily appeared before the entrance of the cave.

He stormed inside, and after rousing Maia from her midday nap demanded that Hermes return his missing cattle. Unaware of the days's prior circumstances, Maia turned to check on the boy only to find him fast asleep in his bed.

OlympiansSeeing right through the facade, Apollo grabbed Hermes and whisked him off to Mount Olympus. After presenting the two cow hides as evidence of the crime, Apollo began to plead his case before a council of gods.

Zeus initially refused to believe that his sweet young son could be the culprit, but Phoebus pressed on until young Hermes reluctantly confessed his guilt. The lad promised that he could return all of the herd except for two, for he had offered these in sacrifice to the twelve Olympians.

"Who is the twelfth?" asked Apollo, and with that Hermes smiled slyly and replied "I am sir. I only ate my share and properly offered the rest." According to the ancient Greeks, this was the first time a flesh offering was used for religious purposes.

When Apollo returned Hermes back to Mount Cyllene, the youth made it a point to show the god his new tortoise shell instrument. The cunning little boy picked up the harp, now called a lyre, and crooned a beautiful melody which praised Apollo for his intelligence and nobility.

It only took a few moments for Apollo to grant Hermes his forgiveness. The sun god told the boy he could keep the remaining cattle for himself if he would agree to turn over his delightful new invention.

Hermes agreed and happily placed his newly acquired herd in the field to graze. With the cows safely out of the way, the clever lad proceeded to cut down some nearby reeds and carefully construct a shepherd's pipe.

When finished, Hermes gently blew into the mouthpiece and released a score of delicate notes into the wind. It was not long before the enchanting tune reached the ears of Apollo, and like before the god found himself captivated by the placidity of the tones.

The Thriae With KnucklebonesAnxious to claim the instrument for his very own, Apollo offered Hermes his golden staff in exchange for his newest creation.

Believing his pipe was worth more than a mere staff of gold, Hermes vowed he would only accept the offer if Apollo agreed to teach him the art of augury.

Apollo agreed, and with that suggested Hermes travel to the land of Phocis and seek guidance from the visionary Thriae.

The Thriae were three mystical water nymphs who reigned over the sacred springs of Mount Parnassus. From these prophetic sisters, the young god learned to foretell the future by dropping pebbles into a basin of water.

Hermes went on to institute the practice of divination through the tossing of knucklebones. Some of the god's other inventions include astronomy, the musical scale, the art of boxing and gymnastics and the cultivation of the olive tree.

He also helped the Fates develop the alphabet and was the patron god of economics and of all important financial transactions.

When Hermes grew to be a man, Zeus appointed him to be the messenger of the gods. At this time he was given the Caduceus or Herald's Wand, which was known to be an ancient astrological symbol of commerce.

Hermes was said to have stopped the fighting of two snakes by laying the wand between them. The pair made peace and entwined themselves permanently around the staff where they remain to this day.


The Tale of Baucis and Philemon

Baucis and PhilemonIn order to fulfill his job as herald, Hermes often found himself accompanying Zeus on his many visits to earth. On one such occasion the two gods disguised themselves as peasants and made their way across the land of Phrygia.

Sadly, the pair were offered no gestures of hospitality until they happened upon the humble home of Baucis and Philemon. Rather than turning a blind eye to the weary travelers, the elderly couple welcomed them to sit beside the hearth and fill themselves with all that had been left over from their evening meal.

As Hermes and Zeus ate their dinner, their hosts noticed that instead of the wine flask becoming empty, it was magically refilling itself. Sensing that their guests could be nothing less than divine, the old man and woman trembled and fell to their knees in prayer.

At that moment the two gods revealed themselves to the startled couple and thanked them for all their kindness. "For bestowing honor upon strangers you will be rewarded" spoke Zeus, "But I cannot say the same for the hostile country in which you live."

Zeus and Hermes then led Baucis and Philemon to the top of a near-by hill and instructed the couple to look down upon the ground below. To their surprise, the bewildered pair found that their hometown had been miraculously replaced by a giant lake.

To add to their astonishment, the simple hut that once served as their home had been transformed into a glorious temple. In order to fully express his feelings of gratitude, Zeus then promised to grant the couple any favor they desired.

Without hesitation Philemon told the god that he and his wife wished to spend the rest of their lives acting as priests in the new temple. Because of their intense love for one another, Philemon also requested that when it came time for the two to pass, one should not live a day longer than the other.

Zeus granted the old man's wish, and the pair tended the temple for many years, until one day in their very old age each saw the other begin to sprout leaves. With only enough time to say farewell, the husband and wife were changed into trees; one a linden and one an oak, but both growing from the same trunk.

Here they remained, bound together forever, just as Zeus had promised. Admirers traveled for miles to pay homage to the faithful couple and to hang wreaths of flowers from their towering branches.


The Tale of Myrtilus

Pelops and HippodamiaLike his father Zeus, Hermes was known to have sired many children, including a charioteer by the name of Myrtilus. It seems that Myrtilus served as a chariot driver for King Oenomaus of Pisa.

It came to be prophesied that Oenomaus would one day meet his demise at the hands of his son-in-law.

In order to hinder his daughter Hippodamia from ever becoming married, the king declared that her hand would be given only to the suitor who could first defeat him in a chariot race.

Anyone who took part in the competition and lost would promptly be put to death. Unfortunately many of those vying for the hand of Hippodamia lost their lives, that is until Pelops, the son of King Tantalus of Lydia entered into the picture.

To guarantee a victory for himself, Pelops struck a deal with Myrtilus, promising him that in exchange for his help the trusted charioteer would receive half of Oenomaus' kingdom, and also the privilege of being the first man to ever sleep in Hippodamia's bedchamber.

Finding the offer to good to resist, Myrtilus agreed, and on the night before the great race slyly replaced one of Oenomaus' bronze linchpins with one made of beeswax.

The race began as normal, but just as the two men approached the finish line the faulty linchpin caused the wheels to break away from the axletree and Oenomaus' chariot was destroyed. Though Pelops walked away from the accident unscathed, Oenomaus was dragged to death by his horses.

When Myrtilus came forth to collect Hippodamia as his reward, Pelops ended his life by throwing the charioteer off of the side of a cliff and into the sea. As Myrtilus fell to his death, he proclaimed a curse against Pelops and all of his descendants.

It is said that after the body of Myrtilus was recovered from the water, Hermes placed him among the stars as the constellation Aurgia, the Charioteer.


The Tale of Procris and Cephalus

Hermes, Herse and AglaurosHermes also fathered a child with Herse, the youngest daughter of King Cecrops of Athens. One day as she was returning home from a festival honoring the goddess Athena, Hermes happened to catch a glimpse of her lovely face and fell instantly in love.

Desiring a little alone time with the beautiful maiden, the smitten god approached her older sister Aglauros and offered her an attractive sum of gold in return for providing him access to Herse's bedroom.

Aglauros, being very jealous of her sister, readily accepted the bribe but once she had been paid spitefully refused to fulfill her end of the bargain. Hermes then forced his way into their house on the Acropolis and in a fit of rage turned Aglauros into a pillar of stone.

Moments after, he entered into Herse's bedchamber and had his way with her, bringing about the birth of a son whom they called Cephalus. Time passed, and it came to be that Cephalus took Procris, the daughter Erechtheus as his bride.

One morning as Cephalus was out tracking deer in the forest, he unknowingly caught the attention of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Eos, who was known to have an insatiable appetite for handsome young men, impulsively decided to whisk Cephalus away in her chariot.

But Cephalus was very much in love with Procris and refused to show the goddess even the slightest bit of interest. Finally, after growing tired of the constant rejection, Eos gave in and grudgingly sent her captive home to his wife.

Before the two parted ways, Eos nonchalantly suggested to Cephalus that his beloved bride might not have remained faithful to him while he was away. The thought of this drove Cephalus so mad with jealousy that he dressed himself up in a disguise before setting off towards his homeland.

Cephalus Arrives HomeWhen Cephalus returned home he found his once cheerful bride to be full of gloom and worry.

Wanting to see if there was any truth to Eos' notion, Cephalus chose to hide his identity and entered into the house wearing the guise of a stranger.

He tried his best to charm his unsuspecting wife but each time he professed his love, Procris would disregard his words and turn her would be suitor away.

But then one day as Cephalus was going about his usual banter, he noticed that Procris did not proclaim the love she felt for her husband quiet as loudly as the day before.

Cephalus defiantly ripped off his cloak and revealed himself to Procris. The young wife listened in horror as Cephalus accused her of every deception imaginable. When he finally finished his rant, Procris burst into tears and dashed out of the house

Procris quickly headed towards the mountains, where she could live out the rest of her life void of all male companionship. Ridden with guilt, Cephalus searched every cave and cavern until he eventually discovered his wife hiding amongst the shadows.

Cephalus fell to his knees and tearfully begged for her forgiveness. Unable to deny the love she felt for her husband, Procris leapt into his arms and the two were once again united

ArtemisDuring the time that Cephalus was in the company of Eos, Procris found great favor with the goddess Artemis. In an effort to ease her broken heart, Artemis presented Procis with two divine gifts.

The first was an exceedingly swift dog by the name of Lelaps, who was blessed with the ability to always catch his prey. The second was a magic javelin. Because this javelin was enchanted with the essence of the goddess, it was remarkably accurate and never missed its mark.

In turn, Procris presented these curios to her husband, for she cared for him deeply and knew how much he enjoyed hunting.

It came to be that a ravenous fox was causing a considerable amount of damage to the surrounding countryside. Though the hunters did their very best to trap the animal, it also was bewitched and therefore was eternally shielded from capture.

Knowing that Cephalus had in his possession a dog of great speed and agility, the hunting party paid a visit to his home and asked that they be given use of the famous hound. Happy to assist in the matter, Cephalus untied Lelaps and sent him off in search of the troublesome fox.

Cephalus and the band of trappers stood and watched from a nearby hilltop as Lelaps quickly closed in on his prey. With the fox only a nose length away, Lelaps tried his best to make a catch, but every time the canine closed his jaws he came away with nothing but a mouthful of air.

Cephalus raised his javelin but before it could be released from his hand, Zeus ended the pointless battle by turning each of the animals into stone. He then placed them in the heavens where they remain to this day as the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor.

One afternoon after a particularly tiring hunt, Cephalus removed his outer garments and stretched himself out to rest under a group of shady trees. As he laid there amid the quiet of the forest green he called upon the sweet breeze to caress his breast.

Death Of ProcrisUnfortunately, a passer-by happened to overhear his words and hurried off to inform Procris of her husband's infidelity. Not wanting to believe this could be true, Procris anxiously waited for the next morning to come.

When the time came for Cephalus to leave for his routine hunting trip, Procris secretly followed after him and hid herself in a thicket bordering his usual resting spot. Just as before, Cephalus loosened his robes and called out for the breeze to caress him.

But as he softly whispered his endearments to the gentle wind, he thought he heard the sounds of moaning coming from a near-by bush. Thinking it was some sort of beast, the young hunter drew his javelin and let it fly into the shrubbery.

Cephalus heard a gasp, but when he parted the brush to retrieve his quarry, he found no animal. Instead he saw that he his spear had fatally pierced the heart of his lovely bride.

He begged and pleaded for Procris not to leave his side, but it was no use. She could only open her eyes and whisper "Please my husband, if you have ever loved me, even if for just one day, do not marry that hateful Breeze!"


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