1902 Encyclopedia > Hermes


HERMES is the name of a Greek god (corresponding to the Roman Mercury) whose origin and real character are perhaps more difficult to define than is the case with any other Greek deity ; here it is possible only to give an out-line of one definite theory, and refer the reader to the works quoted at the end. He was not a god worshipped by the pure Doric or Ionic races, but is found in most places where Aeolian, Achaean, and Pelasgic tribes can be traced. If we begin with the rudest races, summed up generally under the title of Pelasgic, we find Hermes often connected with the mysterious Cabiri. These deities, in the accounts we have, vary in number and sex, being sometimes two, sometimes three or four. We may conclude that originally they were a pair, male and female, whom we may compare with Uranus and Gaea, or with Cronus and Rhea. Often the female is doubled, as mother and daughter, resembling the relation of Demeter and Perse-phone ; while the male also is transformed either into twin brothers, or into a father and his son by one of the female deities. Certainly the male deity seems sometimes to be regarded as Hermes, sometimes as Hephaestus (see HEPHAESTUS), while in other places the two are associated. Hermes and Hephaestus are perhaps local varieties of one type, which after having acquired distinct individuality in their separate homes were brought beside each other by subsequent intercourse. Hence we may understand how the epithet ayyeXog and the office of messenger between gods and men, which in the Rig Veda belong to Agni, the fire, are in Greek mythology attached to Hermes. This Pelasgic Hermes is an ithyphallic deity, the god of fertility and reproductive power, and bestower of riches in flocks and herds. Corresponding to this religious conception we have in mythology such epithets as epiowios, axd/opa, &c. ; and in the hymn to Aphrodite (written perhaps in ^Eolis in the 9th century B.C.), Hermes and the Sileni (Latin Silvani) are the companions of the mountain nymphs. So in Arcadia, one of' the chief seats of his worship, where on Cyllene his birthplace was shown, he was by Penelope the father of Pan. Penelope, the " torch-eyed " (Ahrens in Philol., 1879, p. 205), is a form of Athene, Odysseus of Hermes; and Hermes and Athene are asso-ciated as Hephaestus with Athene in Attica. In the very mixed Attic people, it is not surprising to find the wor-ship of Hermes widespread; it is sometimes said to have been introduced from Samothrace. In Athens Hermes is the god of social life and intercourse in general, of streets and doorways, and of the palaestra. He is worshipped as ayopaios and TrpoirvXaws; and Hermae, pillars supporting a bearded head and furnished with a phallus, stood all over the city. In Bceotia also we find Hermes, especially at Tanagra, where Hermes the champion, and Hermes /cpto^o'pos, the averter of diseases, were worshipped. The Doric god Apollo, with the titles Agyieus and Paion, corresponds most closely to these last aspects of Hermes. As god of social intercourse he easily grows into the impersonation of cleverness, and at last into the patron of thieves. If we pass from religion to mytho-logy, where we find all the successive ways of expres-sing views of nature preserved to us side by side, we find an immense variety of traditions. The most common subject in these tales is the struggle between darkness and light. When it is said that Hermes stole the oxen of Apollo, and after killing two of them nailed their skins on a rock, we have one of a class of myths described at length by Kuhn (Entwiclcelungsstufen der Mythologie). The slain animal is the sun, who is killed every evening; and the hide, i.e., the sky of night, is either hung up on the tree of heaven (as is the Golden Fleece) or fastened with the star-headed nails. Again, when Io, the moon, is watched by the hundred-eyed Argus (Sanskrit rajas, "darkness"), the star-studded sky, Hermes slays Argus with a stone, the same which Cadmus and Jason use, viz., the rising sun. In both cases Hermes is the sun-god as hidden during the night away among the souls of the dead ; hence the Chthonian character so frequently attached to him. The rod with which he lulls men to sleep is the same sceptre that the ruler of the dead, Yama or Rhadamanthus, Minos or Hades, always bears (Kuhn in Zft., iv. p. 123); he is also the sender of dreams; we find him worshipped among the Chthonian deities at Cnidus, and on vases accompanied by the Chthonian dog. We are now able to understand a fact which is perhaps the most interesting point connected with Hermes. Kuhn first pointed out the identity of the Greek 'Ep/Aetas with the Sanskrit Sarameyas, and though the con-nexion has been doubted by various writers, as Mannhardt [Wold- unci Feld-Kulte, ii. pref.) and others, yet no valid objection has ever been offered on etymological grounds (see Benfey in Abhandl. Gott. Ges., 1877). Amid the diffi-culties which still envelop the translation and the mytho-logy of the Vedas, it is, however, even more difficult to dis-cover the original character of the two Sarameyau and their mother Sarama, than it is to determine the nature of Hermes. The two Sarameyau are mentioned twice in the Rig Veda (vii. 55; x. 14); they are two dogs, are said both to guard the way to the abode of the dead and refuse a passage to the impious, and also to act as the messengers of Yama, carry-ing away the souls when the time of death has arrived. Sarama also seems to be regarded as the messenger or the dog of Indra; and Hermes appears regularly as the com-panion and helper of all the light-heroes on their adventures. One epithet of these dogs is Qarvara, spotted, which in its Greek form Cerberus (Benfey, Vedica, p. 149) is the name of the dog that guards the gate of the lower world. Now we find in Borne that two lares prcestites, children of Mercury and Egeria, are said to guard dwellings and streets in the form of dogs; and in the German legend the dog who attends the wild huntsman Wuotan, i.e., the sun hidden during the seven winter months, is closely related to the dwarfs or spirits of the dead, and is called by their name (Kuhn, Westf. Sagen, i. p. 69c). So Hermes, whom we have seen as king of the dead, is as u/uxo-n-o/xiros also the conductor of souls to their future home ; we may there-fore count the dog (or dogs) as ultimately identical in character with the king of the dead. Sonne (on Charis in Kuhn's Zft., x.)has pointed out how these primitive concep-tions commonly pass through the stage of animals before reaching that of gods; and in mythology we have the two stages preserved side by side as distinct beings. The Hindu Kubera, lord of the treasures of the lower world, who may be identified with Pluto or with Hermes, is styled " Lord of the hosts of the Sarameyas."

In this account there has been no room left for the idea of Hermes as connected with the wind. The sun, after he has set at night, is the same as the sun hidden during the dreary months of winter, who then rides abroad in the tempest. The wind is then easily conceived as his servant and messenger, and is often considered to carry away the souls of the dead (see HARPIES). From his connexion with the wind, Hermes is represented with winged shoes. But with Roscher (Hermes der Wind-Gott) to see in Hermes simply the wind is to take a narrow view and to ignore the character of primitive Aryan thought.

In art, besides the Hermae already described, Hermes is in the archaic time represented as a man with pointed beard, wearing a chlamys and the broad hat called petasus; his symbols are the staff (KnpvKeiov) and the winged shoes (talaria). The ideal type of Hermes was probably modelled after the statue by Praxiteles in the Heraion at Olympia. This statue, which was recently discovered by the Ger-man expedition, represented the god leaning with his left arm on a rock and supporting on it the infant Bacchus. The right arm, which is lost, probably held the caduceus. The form shows a perfect combination of agility and strength.

See the works on mythology or religion by Welcker, Gerhard, Rinek, Stuhr, Schwenek, 0. Müller, Eckermann, H. D. Müller, Lauer, Schwartz, Max Müller, Preller, Härtung, Braun, Maury, &c.; also Lehrs, Populärische Aufsätze ; Schümann, Hesiod. Theoij.; Gbttling in Hermes, xxix.; Mehlis, Grundidee des Hermes ; Myri-antheus, Acvins; Haupt in Zft. f. Alterth., 1842; Oestermann, Hermes-Odysseus; H.D. Müllerin Philologus, xiv. ; Kuhn in Haupts Zft. f. D. Alterth., vi. ; Yon Hahn, Sagwissensch. Studien; Roscher, Hermes. As usual, the fullest list of ancient authorities is to be found in Jacobi, Handwörterbuch der Mythologie. (W. M. RA.)

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