The Ancient Library

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On this page: Hermes (continued)



particular, there were raised in his honour, and called by his name, not only heaps of stones, to which every passer by added a stone, but also the quadrangular pillars known as Hermce (q.v.) At Athens these last were set up in the streets and open spaces, and also before the doors. Every unexpected find on the road was called a gift of Hermes (hermaifm). Together with Athene, he escorts and protects heroes in perilous enterprises, and gives them prudent counsels. He takes special delight in men's dealings with one another, in exchange and barter, in buying and selling; also in all that is won by craft or by theft. Thus he is the patron of tradespeople and thieves, and is himself the father of Aut6-lycus (q.v.), the greatest of all thieves. He too it is who endowed Pandora, the first woman, with the faculty of lying, and with nattering discourse and a crafty spirit. On account of his nimbleness and activity he is the messenger of Zeus, and knows how to carry out his father's commands with adroitness and cunning, as in the slaying of Argos (the guard of lo), from which he derives his epithet of Argos-Slayer, or ArgeiphnntHs. Again, as Hermes was the sacrificial herald of the gods, it was an important part of the duty of heralds to assist at sacrifices. It was on this account that the priestly race of the Kirykes claimed him as the head of their family (see eleu-sinia). Strength of voice and excellence of memory were supposed to be derived from him in his capacity of herald. Owing to his vigour, dexterity, and personal charm, he was deemed the god of gymnastic skill, which makes men strong and handsome, and the especial patron of boxing, running, and throwing the discus j in this capacity the pdlcestrce and gymnasia were sacred to him, and particular feasts called Hermaia were dedicated to him. He was the dis­coverer of music (for besides the lyre he invented the shepherd's pipe), and he was also the god of wise and clever discourse. A later age made him even the inventor of letters, figures, mathematics, and astronomy. He is, besides, the god of sleep and of dreams; with one touch of his staff he can close or open the eyes of mortals; hence the custom, before going to sleep, of offering him the last libation. As he is the guide of the living on their way, so i^ he also the con­ductor of the souls of the dead in the nether-world (Psychdpompds), and he is as much loved by the gods of those regions as he is by those above. For this reason

sacrifices were offered to him in the event of deaths, Hermce were placed on the graves, and, at oracles and incantations of the dead, he was honoured as belonging to the lower world; in general, he was accounted the intermediary between the upper and lower worlds. His worship early spread through­out the whole of Greece. As he was born in the fourth month, the number four was sacred to him. In Argos the fourth month was named after him, and in Athens he was honoured with sacrifices on the fourth of every month. His altars and images (mostly simple Hermce) were in all the streets, thoroughfares, and open spaces, and also at the entrance of the palcestra.

In art he is represented in the widely varying characters which he assumed, as a shepherd with a single animal from his


Hermes as patron of the Art of Rhetoric.

(Home, Villa Ludovisi.)

flock, as a mischievous little thief, as the god of gain with a purse in his hand (cp. fig. 1), with a strigil as patron of the gymnasia, at other times with a lyre, but oftenest of all as the messenger of the gods.

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