AskDefine | Define Hermes

Dictionary Definition

Hermes n : (Greek mythology) messenger and herald of the gods; god of commerce and cunning and invention and theft; identified with Roman Mercury

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Greek Hermes of unknown meaning and origin.

Proper noun

  1. the herald and messenger of the gods, and the god of roads, commerce, invention, cunning, and theft.


  • French: Hermès

See also

Extensive Definition

He protects and takes care of all the travelers and thieves that pray to him or cross his path. He is the messenger of the gods and does his job very well. He is athletic and is always looking out for runners, or any athletes with injuries who need his help.
Hermes is a messenger from the gods to humans, sharing this role with Iris. An interpreter who bridges the boundaries with strangers is a hermeneus. Hermes gives us our word "hermeneutics" for the art of interpreting hidden meaning. In Greek a lucky find was a hermaion. Hermes delivered messages from Olympus to the mortal world. He wears shoes with wings on them and uses them to fly freely between the mortal and immortal world. Hermes, younger than Apollo, was the youngest of the Olympian gods.
Hermes, as an inventor of fire, is a parallel of the Titan, Prometheus. In addition to the syrinx and the lyre, Hermes was believed to have invented many types of racing and the sport of wrestling, and therefore was a patron of athletes.
According to prominent folklorist Meletinskii, Hermes is a deified trickster. Hermes also served as a psychopomp, or an escort for the dead to help them find their way to the afterlife (the Underworld in the Greek myths). In many Greek myths, Hermes was depicted as the only god besides Hades, Persephone, and Hekate who could enter and leave the Underworld without hindrance.
Along with escorting the dead, Hermes often helped travelers have a safe and easy journey. Many Greeks would sacrifice to Hermes before any trip.
In the fully-developed Olympian pantheon, Hermes was the son of Zeus and the Pleiade Maia, a daughter of the Titan Atlas. Hermes' symbols were the rooster and the tortoise, and he can be recognized by his purse or pouch, winged sandals, winged cap, and the herald's staff, the kerykeion. Hermes was the god of thieves because he was very cunning and shrewd and was a thief himself from the night he was born, when he slipped away from Maia and ran away to steal his elder brother Apollo's cattle.
In the Roman adaptation of the Greek religion (see interpretatio romana), Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce.


The name Hermes has been thought, ever since Karl Otfried Müller's demonstration, to be derived from the Greek word herma (), which denotes a square or rectangular pillar with the head of Hermes (usually with a beard) adorning the top of the pillar, and ithyphallic male genitals below; however, due to the god's attestation in the Mycenaean pantheon, as Hermes Araoia ("Ram Hermes") in Linear B inscriptions at Pylos and Mycenaean Knossos (Ventris and Chadwick), the connection is more likely to have moved the opposite way, from deity to pillar representations. From the subsequent association of these cairns — which were used in Athens to ward off evil and also as road and boundary markers all over Greece — Hermes acquired patronage over land travel. Hermes was a messenger for Zeus. The reason for this was not only was he the fastest god but he was also loyal to his father, Zeus.

Epithets of Hermes


Hermes' epithet Argeiphontes (Latin Argicida), or Argus-slayer, recalls his slaying of the many-eyed giant Argus Panoptes, who was watching over the heifer-nymph Io in the sanctuary of Queen Hera herself in Argos. Putting Argus to sleep, Hermes used a spell to permanently close all of Argus's eyes and then slew the giant. Argus's eyes were then put into the tail of the peacock, symbol of the goddess Hera.


His epithet of Logios is the representation of the god in the act of speaking, as orator, or as the god of eloquence. Indeed, together with Athena, he was the standard divine representation of eloquence in classical Greece. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes (probably 6th century BCE) describes Hermes making a successful speech from the cradle to defend himself from the (true) charge of cattle theft. Somewhat later, Proclus' commentary on Plato's Republic describes Hermes as the god of persuasion. Yet later, Neoplatonists viewed Hermes Logios more mystically as origin of a "Hermaic chain" of light and radiance emanating from the divine intellect (nous). This epithet also produced a sculptural type.


Other epithets included:
  • Agoraios, of the agora
  • Acacesius, of Acacus
  • Charidotes, giver of charm
  • Criophorus, ram-bearer
  • Cyllenius, born on Mount Cyllene
  • Diaktoros, the messenger
  • Dolios, the schemer
  • Enagonios, lord of contests
  • Enodios, on the road
  • Epimelius, keeper of flocks
  • Eriounios, luck bringer
  • Polygius
  • Psychopompos, conveyor of souls


General article: Cult (religion).
Though temples to Hermes existed throughout Greece, a major center of his cult was at Pheneos in Arcadia, where festivals in his honor were called Hermoea.
As a crosser of boundaries, Hermes Psychopompos ("conductor of the soul") was a psychopomp, meaning he brought newly-dead souls to the Underworld and Hades. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hermes conducted Persephone the Kore (young girl or virgin), safely back to Demeter. He also brought dreams to living mortals.
Among the Hellenes, as the related word herma ("a boundary stone, crossing point") would suggest, Hermes embodied the spirit of crossing-over: He was seen to be manifest in any kind of interchange, transfer, transgressions, transcendence, transition, transit or traversal, all of which involve some form of crossing in some sense. This explains his connection with transitions in one’s fortune -- with the interchanges of goods, words and information involved in trade, interpretation, oration, writing -- with the way in which the wind may transfer objects from one place to another, and with the transition to the afterlife.
Many graffito dedications to Hermes have been found in the Athenian Agora, in keeping with his epithet of Agoraios and his role as patron of commerce.

Hermes in classical art

Pop Culture



  • Walter Burkert, 1985. Greek Religion (Harvard University Press)
  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1944. Hermes der Seelenführer.
  • Ventris, Michael and Chadwick, John (1956). Documents in Mycenaean Greek. Second edition (1974). (Cambridge UP) ISBN 0-521-08558-6.
  • Meletinskii, Eleazar M. 1986, Vvedenie v istoričeskuû poétiku éposa i romana. Moscow, Nauka.
    • Introduzione alla poetica storica dell'epos e del romanzo (1993)

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Hermes in Afrikaans: Hermes
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Hermes in Modern Greek (1453-): Ερμής (μυθολογία)
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Hermes in Ukrainian: Гермес (міфологія)
Hermes in Chinese: 赫耳墨斯

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Agdistis, Amor, Aphrodite, Apollo, Apollon, Ares, Artemis, Ate, Athena, Bacchus, Ceres, Cora, Cronus, Cupid, Cybele, Demeter, Despoina, Diana, Dionysus, Dis, Eros, Gaea, Gaia, Ge, Great Mother, Hades, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, Here, Hestia, Hymen, Hyperion, Iris, Jove, Juno, Jupiter, Jupiter Fidius, Jupiter Fulgur, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Jupiter Pluvius, Jupiter Tonans, Kore, Kronos, Magna Mater, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Mithras, Momus, Neptune, Nike, Olympians, Olympic gods, Ops, Orcus, Paul Revere, Persephassa, Persephone, Pheidippides, Phoebus, Phoebus Apollo, Pluto, Poseidon, Proserpina, Proserpine, Rhea, Saturn, Tellus, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Zeus, carrier, commercialism, commissionaire, courier, diplomatic courier, emissary, estafette, express, go-between, industrialism, mercantilism, message-bearer, messenger, nuncio, post, postboy, postrider, runner
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