Hermes, the herald of the Olympian gods, is son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, daughter of Atlas and one of the Pleiades. Hermes is the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the messenger of the gods. Besides that he was also a minor patron of poetry. He was worshiped throughout Greece -- especially in Arcadia -- and festivals in his honor were called Hermoea.
According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Zeus had impregnated Maia at the dead of night while all other gods slept. When dawn broke amazingly he was born. Maia wrapped him in swaddling bands, then resting herself, fell fast asleep. Hermes, however, squirmed free and ran off to Thessaly. This is where Apollo, his brother, grazed his cattle. Hermes stole a number of the herd and drove them back to Greece. He hid them in a small grotto near to the city of Pylos and covered their tracks. Before returning to the cave he caught a tortoise, killed it and removed its entrails. Using the intestines from a cow stolen from Apollo and the hollow tortoise shell, he made the first lyre. When he reached the cave he wrapped himself back into the swaddling bands. When Apollo realized he had been robbed he protested to Maia that it had been Hermes who had taken his cattle. Maia looked to Hermes and said it could not be, as he is still wrapped in swaddling bands. Zeus the all powerful intervened saying he had been watching and Hermes should return the cattle to Apollo. As the argument went on, Hermes began to play his lyre. The sweet music enchanted Apollo, and he offered Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre. Apollo later became the grand master of the instrument, and it also became one of his symbols. Later while Hermes watched over his herd he invented the pipes known as a syrinx (pan-pipes), which he made from reeds. Hermes was also credited with inventing the flute. Apollo, also desired this instrument, so Hermes bartered with Apollo and received his golden wand which Hermes later used as his heralds staff. (In other versions Zeus gave Hermes his heralds staff).
Being the herald (messenger of the gods), it was his duty to guide the souls of the dead down to the underworld, which is known as a psychopomp. He was also closely connected with bringing dreams to mortals. Hermes is usually depicted with a broad-brimmed hat or a winged cap, winged sandals and the heralds staff (kerykeion in Greek, or Caduceus in Latin). It was often shown as a shaft with two white ribbons, although later they were represented by serpents intertwined in a figure of eight shape, and the shaft often had wings attached. The clothes he donned were usually that of a traveler, or that of a workman or shepherd. Other symbols of Hermes are the cock, tortoise and purse or pouch.
Originally Hermes was a phallic god, being attached to fertility and good fortune, and also a patron of roads and boundaries. His name coming from herma, the plural being hermaiherm was a square or rectangular pillar in either stone or bronze, with the head of Hermes (usually with a beard), which adorned the top of the pillar, and male genitals near to the base of the pillar. These were used for road and boundary markers. Also in Athens they stood outside houses to help fend off evil. In Athens of 415 BCE, shortly before the Athenian fleet set sail against Syracuse (during the Peloponnesian War), all the herms throughout Athens were defaced. This was attributed to people who were against the war. Their intentions were to cast bad omens on the expedition, by seeking to offend the god of travel. (This has never been proved as the true reason for the mutilation of the herms.)
The offspring of Hermes are believed to be Pan, Abderus and Hermaphroditus. Hermes as with the other gods had numerous affairs with goddesses, nymphs and mortals. In some legends even sheep and goats. Pan, the half man half goat, is believed to be the son of Hermes and Dryope, the daughter of king Dryops. Pan terrified his mother when he was born, so much so that she fled in horror at the sight of her new born son. Hermes took Pan to Mount Olympus were the gods reveled in his laughter and his appearance and became the patron of fields, woods, shepherds and flocks. Abderus, a companion of the hero Heracles, is also thought to be a son of Hermes, he was devoured by the Mares of Diomedes, after Heracles had left him in charge of the ferocious beasts. Hermaphroditus (also known as Aphroditus) was conceived after the union of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was born on Mount Ida but he was raised by the Naiads (nymphs of freshwater). He was a androgynous (having the characteristics of both sexes) deity, depicted as either a handsome young man but with female breasts, or as Aphrodite with male genitals.
It was Hermes who liberated Io, the lover of Zeus, from the hundred-eyed giant Argus, who had been ordered by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, to watch over her. Hermes charmed the giant with his flute, and while Argos slept Hermes cut off his head and released Io. Hera, as a gesture of thanks to her loyal servant, scattered the hundred eyes of Argos over the tail of a peacock (Heras' sacred bird). Hermes also used his ingenuity and abilities to persuade the nymph Calypso to release Odysseus, the wandering hero, from her charms. She had kept Odysseus captive, after he was shipwrecked on her island Ogygia, promising him immortality if he married her, but Zeus sent Hermes to release Odysseus. Legend says that Calypso died of grief when Odysseus sailed away. Hermes also saved Odysseus and his men from being transformed into pigs by the goddess and sorceress Circe. He gave them a herb which resisted the spell. Hermes also guided Eurydice back down to the underworld after she had been allowed to stay for one day on earth with her husband Orpheus.
Known for his swiftness and athleticism, Hermes was given credit for inventing foot-racing and boxing. At Olympia a statue of him stood at the entrance to the stadium and his statues where in every gymnasium throughout Greece. Apart from herms, Hermes was a popular subject for artists. Both painted pottery and statuary show him in various forms, but the most fashionable depicted him as a good-looking young man, with an athletic body, and winged sandals and his heralds staff. His Roman counterpart Mercury inherited his attributes, and there are many Roman copies of Greek artistic creations of Hermes.
FROM: Encyclopedia Mythica "Hermes"
Hermes is said to have invented the lyre. He found, one day, a tortoise, of which he took the shell, made holes in the opposite edges of it, and drew cords of linen through them, and the instrument was complete. The cords were nine, in honor of the nine Muses. Hermes gave the lyre to Apollo, and received from him in exchange the caduceus."
FROM: Bulfinch's Mythology
A hymn to Hermes:
HERMES, draw near, and to my pray'r incline,
Angel of Jove, and Maia's son divine;
Studious of contests, ruler of mankind,
With heart almighty, and a prudent mind.
Celestial messenger, of various skill,
Whose pow'rful arts could watchful Argus kill:
With winged feet, 'tis thine thro' air to course,
O friend of man, and prophet of discourse:
Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine,
In arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine:
With pow'r endu'd all language to explain,
Of care the loos'ner, and the source of gain.
Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod,
Corucian, blessed, profitable God;
Of various speech, whose aid in works we find,
And in necessities to mortals kind:
Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere,
Be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear;
Assist my works, conclude my life with peace,
Give graceful speech, and me memory's increase.
The principal holiday for the merchant god was Mercuralia, May 15th. Among the Celtics and Germans existed cults of Mercury worshippers.
As one of the five "moving stars" or "planets", Mercury's name is the origin of "Wednesday." In French, this is 'mercredi', coming from the Latin 'Mercurii dies', or Mercury's day.
GOD OF HERALDRY
Patron of: Heralds; Messengers
Favour: Protection of heralds; Eloquent speech
GOD OF OMENS
(MESSAGES FROM THE GODS)
Patron of: Messages from the gods; Birds of omen; Prophetic dreams;
Divination by pebbles
Favour: True omens
Curse: False or deceptive omens
GOD OF ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Patron of: Cattle-herders; Shepherds; Goatherds; Horse & mule breeders; Grazing pastures; Cave shelters; Guard-dogs; Animal predators
Favour: Herds multiply (fertility); Herds protected (from predators)
Curse: Herds die off (disease, infertility); Herds lost (to predators)
GOD OF RUSTIC POETRY & ANIMAL FABLES
Patron of: Bucolic poetry & music; Animal fables (eg the tales of Aesop)
Favour: Poetic inspiration
GOD OF TRADE
Patron of: Markets; Merchants; Trade; Commerce
Favour: Success in trade; Goods protected (from thieves);
Curse: Unsuccessful trade
GOD OF TRAVEL
Patron of: Roads; Travellers; Laws of hospitality; Protector of guests
Favour: Safe travel; Protection of guests
GOD OF THE HOME
Patron of: the Home; Guard-dogs
Favour: Homes protected (from thieves & criminals)
GOD OF THIEVERY
Patron of: Thieves; Cattle-rustlers; Bandits; Crafty thoughts
Favour: Wiliness; Stealth
GOD OF LUCK
Patron of: Luck; Gamblers; Merchants
GOD OF LANGUAGE & EDUCATION
Patron of: Writing; Learning; Memory; Eloquence; Oratory; Astronomy
Favour: Persuasive speech; Learning
GOD OF ATHLETICS
Patron of: Gymansiums; Athletic contests; Athletes
Favour: Athletic success
GUIDE OF THE DEAD
Patron of: Passage of souls to the underworld;
Visitations of the dead in dreams (bearing messages to loved ones)
Herald's staff or caduceus (Greek "kerykeion")
Herald's staff; Winged sandals; Travellers' cap (sometimes winged); Ram
None, he flew on winged sandals
SACRED PLANTS / FLOWERS
Crocus (Greek "krokos"); Greek Strawberry-Tree (Greek "andrakhnos")
Tortoise (Greek "khelone"); Ram (Greek "krios")
Hawk (Greek "hierax")
Hermai (stones that marked roads and boundaries - often adorned with the carved head of Hermes and a fertility phallus)
PLANET OF HERMES
Mercury (named after Mercurius, the Roman god of trade identified with Hermes). The Greeks themselves called the planet "Aster Hermou" (Star of Hermes).
DAY OF HERMES
Wednesday (named after the Germanic god Woden, who was identified with Mercurius, the Roman Hermes). The Greeks called the day "Hemera Hermou" (Day of Hermes).
FROM: Theoi: Summary of Hermes
Though temples to Hermēs existed throughout Greece, a center of his cult was at Pheneos in Arcadia, where festivals in his honor were called Hermoea.
Mercury by Hendrick Goltzius, 1611 (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem)As a crosser of boundaries, Hermēs Psychopompos' ("conductor of the soul") was a psychopomp, meaning he brought newly-dead souls to the underworld, Hades. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter Hermes conducts the Kore safely back to Demeter. He also brought dreams to living mortals.
Hermes as an inventor of fire is a parallel of the titan Prometheus. In addition to the syrinx and the lyre, Hermes invented many types of racing and the sport of boxing. In the 6th century the traditional bearded phallic Hermes was reimagined as an athletic youth (illustration, top right); statues of the new type of Hermēs stood at stadia and gymnasiums throughout Greece.
FROM: Wikipedia article "Hermes"
Hermes had a number of epithets:
Argiphontes (slayer of Argus Panoptes),
Cylleneius, Epimelios (guardian of flocks),
Hodios (patron of traveller and wayfarers),
Oneiropompus (conductor of dreams),
Psychopompus (conductor of souls to the Underworld).
Hermes--God of Translators and Interpreters Hermes -- has info
On the Trail of the Winged God
Timeless Myths: Hermes --lots of info
Shrine to Hermes
Hermes: Greek God of The Roads