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Messenger God
God of Boundaries
Atlas, who wears on back of
bronze the ancient
Abode of the gods in heaven,
had a daughter
Whose name was Maia, born
of a goddess:
She lay with Zeus, and bore
me, Hermes,
Servant of the immortals.
Hermes is a
trickster: on
his first day
born, he steals
Apollo’s cattle,
then creates
the lyre.
Hermes on a child’s bowl
He associates with
mortals and immortals.
On occasion he gives help
or profit to a few, but for
the most part he
continually deceives
humans by the horde in
the darkness of night.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes
In the Olympian family,
Hermes is a youthful god,
junior to Apollo.
Characteristic of his
•broad-brimmed hat and
traveling cloak
•talaria (not seen here)
Roman name: Mercury
His traveling clothes show
him in his role as the
messenger of the gods.
Here he fastens on the
talaria, a special symbol of
that role.
His dress as a traveler also
shows that he is a liminal
Journeys are potentially
dangerous; Hermes is a
symbol of the dangers but
also a source of comfort
to the traveler.
god Usil
•God of merchants.
•God of thieves.
•God of flocks (esp. sheep and goats)
in Hesiod.
•Associated with the education of
young men.
•Known as Hermes Psychopompos, he
leads the souls of the dead down into
the underworld.
Hermes oversees all kinds of transitions
between our world and that other
world, as well as all kinds of complex
human interactions.
Hermes shows up in many
vital interactions between
humans and gods.
Here he oversees Zeus
giving birth to Dionysus.
Here he brings the
infant Dionysus to
Silenus to raise
Here he oversees the
punishment of Ixion, who tried
to rape Hera
Here he visits a hero
(Odysseus) to bring him a
welcome message from the
He brings the
goddesses to Paris in
the contest that starts
the Trojan war
Here you can just glimpse him as
a soul passes over to the
While a lot of Classical art
focuses on Hermes as an
attractive youth, Hermes
commonly appeared in
other guises. Herms were a
common feature of Greek
houses, in the “mailbox
position,” to serve an
apotropaic function and
invite in good luck.
Here a sculptor carves a
Here’s a herm.
All gods could be carved in
this “pillar” fashion, but
Hermes was the most
Notice Hermes is portrayed
as a mature man.
There is no real consistency
about his characteristic age
in portrayals.
Here he differs from
Artemis, Apollo, Athena,
Ares, Aphrodite, and
City Savior
In Tanagra, Hermes
saved the city from
a plague by carrying
a ram around the
city on his
The ritual is repeated
yearly by a
handsome young
man carrying a
Hermes was also a battle
savior at Tanagra – he led the
young men into battle and
fought with a strigil.
In Ephesus, Hermes
appears with the
cadeuceus and a ram
(for sacrifice?)
Roman Mercury
In the
important as
a god of
trade, since
trade and
wageearning were
more central
to the
So hail to you, son of
Zeus and Maia . . .
guide and giver of
grace and other
Hermes and Artemis are both liminal deities.
Artemis in the wild, Hermes on the road.
What are the similarities and differences between
the wild and the road as liminal territories?
What makes virginity a powerful state/idea?
Consider (some or all):
•A Greek girl before marriage
•A woman in our culture
•other cultures you are familiar with