Hermes 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. He most frequently appears as a background figure in the stories of ancient Greece. Below are a few.
Atlas was the father of a beautiful maiden called Maia. She lived in Arcadia, her home being inside a cave that was located on Mount Cyllene. As the rest of the world slept, the lovely young nymph received regular nocturnal visits by the god Zeus. As nature goes, this soon brought about the birth of a son whom she named Hermes. Though the boy was born at the break of dawn, he did not remain a baby for long. He grew with incredible speed, and by noon the child, who was feeling a bit bored wandered outside the cave in search of adventure. He made his way to Pieria, where he found the god Apollo tending to his divine cattle. Finding the sacred cows to be very fine, Hermes decided he would steal them away for himself. In order to disguise their tracks, the clever boy fashioned a number of shoes from the bark of an oak tree and tied them to the cow's feet. The little trickster then led his newly acquired herd down the road, but it was not long before Apollo became aware of the theft.
Hermes' disguise proved to be truly deceptive, for it left not even the smallest clue for the frantic sun god to find. Apollo searched east and west with no luck, until he finally resorted to offering a reward to anyone who could supply information or return the missing cattle back to him.
Eagar to receive the reward, Silenus and his band of greedy satyrs anxiously searched for the missing cattle. Having little success, the group decided it would be best to split up and travel in different directions. With much determination, each team pushed forward until they were all greeted with the sounds of muffled music. Wanting to investigate the mysterious tones, the party of satyrs slowly approached a cave and listened as the joyful tune flowed brightly from its opening. One of the nymphs living on Cyllene told Silenus 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 made a musical instrument by stringing a tortise shell with some cow-gut and was at that very minute using it to lull his mother to sleep. Seeing two cow hides hanging outside the cave aroused suspicion among the satyrs.
They began to question the nurse as to the origin of the cow-gut, and before long a heated argument started to take place between all involved. At this time Apollo, who by divination had figured out the identity of the thief, arrived at the cave. He woke up Maia and demanded she have her son restore his missing herds.
Of course Maia thought this to be absurd, as Hermes was lying innocently in his bed pretending to be asleep. Apollo saw right through his act and whisked the child up with him to Olympus where he was formally charged with the theft of his cattle.
Using the hides as evidence, Apollo pleaded his case before a council of Olympians. Zeus refused to believe his young son was the culprit, but Phoebus pressed on until young Hermes finally confessed his guilt. The lad promised to return all of the herd to Apollo except for two. The youth declared that these cows had been offered in sacrifice to the twelve gods and goddesses. "Who is the twelth?" asked Apollo, and with that Hermes smiled and replied "I am sir. I only ate my share and properly offered the rest."
This was said to be the first known flesh sacrifice ever offered. Upon returning to Mount Cyllene with Hermes, Apollo was shown the new tortise shell instrument which had since been named a lyre. The cunning little boy played a beautiful tune praising Apollo for his intelligence and nobility, and before the ballad was over the sun god granted him forgiveness.
Apollo made a deal with Hermes, telling the boy he could keep the remaining cows if he would give to him in their place the newly fashioned lyre. Hermes agreed and happily placed his new herd in a field to graze. With the cows safely out of the way, Hermes cut down some reeds and carefully constructed a shepherd's pipe. He began to play a lovely tune, whose notes quickly reached the ears of Apollo. The sounds were so beautiful that the god decided he must have the instrument for his very own.
He offered to give young Hermes his golden staff in exchange for the new invention, but Hermes would not agree. Feeling that his pipe was worth more than that, Hermes would only accept Apollo's offer if the god promised to teach him the art of augury.
Apollo agreed and sent him to Parnassus where he was taught by the Thriae to foretell the future by dropping pebbles into a basin of water. From his lessons on Mount Parnassus, Hermes went on to invent the game of knucklebones and also the art of divining by them. 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 invent the alphabet and was the patron god 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 he always carried with him. Hermes was said to have stopped the fighting of two snakes by laying his wand between them. The pair made peace and entwined themselves permanently around the Caduceus, where they remain to this day.
He was a guide to men throughout their lives and also at their deaths. He often accompanied souls on their journey to hades, and on rare occassions was allowed to lead them back to the upperworld.
In order to fulfill his job as herald, Hermes often found himself traveling with Zeus on his many visits to earth. On one such occassion the two gods disguised themselves as mortals and traveled across the land of Phrygia. The pair were offered no hospitality at any of the homes they visited until they came upon the humble house of Baucis and Philemon. The elderly peasants welcomed the two strangers, graciously offering them what little refreshments they had on hand.
As Hermes and Zeus ate their meals, their hosts noticed that instead of the wine flask becoming empty, it was magically refilling itself. Realizing their guests must be divine, the old man and woman trembled and began to pray. The two gods revealed themselves to the 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 inhospitable country you reside in." The two gods led Baucis and Philemon to the top of a near-by hill. When the couple looked down they saw that their town had disappeared and in its place now flowed a giant lake.
To add to their surprise they saw their simple hut had been transformed into a glorious temple. To extend his thanks even farther, Zeus promised to grant them any favor they desired.
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 couple to pass, one should not live a day longer than the other.
Zeus granted the old man's wish, and the two tended the temple for many years until one day in their very old age, each saw the other start to sprout leaves. With only enough time to say farewell, the husband and wife were changed into trees; one a linden and the other an oak, both growing from the same trunk. Here they remained together just as Zeus had promised. People traveled for miles to pay homage to the faithful couple and to hang wreaths of flowers from their branches.
Like his father Zeus, Hermes was known to have had many affairs and a vast number of children. Some say he was the father of the god Pan as well as the charioteer Myrtilus. Myrtilus was best known for helping Pelops win the hand of the princess Hippodameia. He did this by removing the wheel pin of her father Oenomaus' chariot and replacing it with one of wax. Myrtilus was eventually killed by Pelops and was placed in the sky by Hermes as the constellation Aurgia, the charioteer.
Another love of Hermes was Herse, the youngest daughter of King Cecrops of Athens. As she and her two sisters were returning from a festival of Athena, Hermes caught a glimpse of her and fell instantly in love. He bribed her older sister Aglauros to allow him access to her room, but Aglauros being very jealous of Herse, kept the gold and then refused to help the god. Hermes let himself into their house on the Acropolis and in a fit of anger turned Aglauros into stone. He then entered Herse's room and had his way with her, bringing about the birth of a son who was called Cephalus. Cephalus grew into a handsome youth who attracted the attention of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Eos had a weakness for handsome young men and early one morning as Cephalus was tracking deer, the lustful goddess decided to whisk him away in her chariot. But Cephalus was very much in love with his new wife Procris, and showed not one bit of interest in the goddess.
Finally, after growing tired of his rejection, Eos released him and sent him home to his wife. Before letting him go, she made sure she planted a seed of suspicion in his mind by suggesting that possibly his bride had not remained true to him during his absence.
This thought drove Cephalus so mad with jealousy that he dressed himself up in a disguise before setting off for his homeland. When Cephalus arrived home he found Procris to be in a very melancholy state of mind.
Wanting to see if there was any certainty in the words of Eos, Cephalus chose to hide his true identity and remain in the guise of a stranger. Trying his best to charm his unsuspecting wife, Cephalus to Procris that it was he, not her wandering husband that truly loved her. But for as many times as he professed his love, his words fell upon deaf ears. The gloomy maid would hear nothing of it, for she longed for Cephalus and no other. It came to pass that one day during Cephalus' usual persuasive speech, Procris did not voice her love for her husband as loudly as the day before.
Irate, Cephalus ripped off his disguise to reveal his true idenity. Procris stood shocked as she listened to her beloved husband accuse her of being unfaithful. When Cephalus was finished with his rant, Procris turned and ran from the house. Filled with feelings of disgust for all men, she headed towards the mountains where she intended to live out the rest of her life alone.
Ridden with guilt, Cephalus searched the mountainous caverns for his wife until he finally found her and tearfully begged for her forgiveness. After some time Procris found it in her heart to reunite with her husband, and the couple spent some years together before their union came to a tragic end.
While on her own, Procris had found great favor with the goddess Artemis, who bestowed upon her two divine gifts. The first was a dog named Lelaps who was so swift he could outrun any opponent.
The second gift was a magic javelin. This javelin was said to be so accurate that it never missed its mark. Procris in turn gave these gifts to her husband, as she loved him deeply and knew how much he enjoyed hunting. It came to be that a ravenous fox was causing much havoc by tearing up the countryside, and it was soon decided by the townspeople that he must be captured and destroyed. Though the hunters did their best, the creature was very fast and no one was able to keep up with him.
Knowing that Lelaps was incredibly quick, the hunting party paid a visit to Cephalus in hopes of borrowing his famous dog. Cephalus was happy to help and immediately let Lelaps loose to track the fox. No sooner then he reached the edge of the woods, the eagar hound raced off in pursuit of his catch.
As Cephalus and the band of hunters watched from a hilltop, Lelaps closed in on the fox. He snapped at his heels but each time his jaws closed the relentless hound only came away with a mouthful of air. Cephalus raised his javelin but before he could release it all movement between the dog and his prey came to a halt.
To the surprise of all the onlookers, both were frozen in their places as if they had been turned into stone. Though Cephalus had lost his faithful dog to the will of the gods, the young man still took great pleasure in the art of hunting. He often went out early in the morning, traveling alone except for the company of his trusty javelin.
One day after a particulrly tiring hunt, Cephalus removed his garments and stretched himself out under a group of shady trees to rest. He called upon the sweet breeze to caress his breast, but little did he know he was not alone. For a passer-by overheard his words and thinking he was whispering to a maiden ran and told Procris her husband was being unfaithful to her. As she felt her heart filling with grief, Procis resolved that to she would have to see this with her own eyes. Anxiously she waited until morning. When Cephalus left on his usual hunting trip, Procris secretly followed after him and hid herself in a thicket near where he was known to take his afternoon rests.
He arrived at his usual quiet spot, and just as he did on previous days called a greeting to the breeze and asked that she come and caress him.
As he spoke his endearments to the soft wind, he thought he heard the sound of sobs coming from a near-by bush. Thinking it was some animal Cephalus drew his javelin and let it fly into the brush. When he heard a gasp, Cephalus parted the shrubs to find his magic spear had once again hit its target.
To his horror he saw no animal, but instead found his lovely bride as she lay pierced through the heart by his spear. Cephalus lifted her up and gently tried to stop the wound from bleeding. He begged and pleaded for her not to leave his side, but it was no use. Procris 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!" Now it became clear to Cephalus what had happened, but it was too late for explanations. Procris quietly died in the arms of the man she loved.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2012.