Olympian God of Trade, Eloquence and Messenger of the Gods

Hermes was the Olympian god of trade, travel, commerce, eloquence, thieves, athletes, messenger of the gods and guide of the souls to the Underworld.


Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He escorted the souls of the dead to Charon (the boatman who carried the dead across the river that divided the two worlds), to be transported across the river Styx to Hades.

He was the patron of many, sometimes of conflicting interests, among whom herdsmen, merchants, thieves, travellers and athletes, and had an interest in music and prophecy. He also protected the herds, as well as small animals.

He is also associated with fertility, luck and prosperity, roads and borders. A herma (a pillar surmounted by a head that has a phallus at the corresponding height) was placed at crossings, borders, towns, and on thresholds as a good omen and protection from evil.

Physical Features, Symbols and Character

Hermes is depicted as a young man, sometimes bearded but others without a beard, wearing a wide-brimmed hat (petasus), winged sandals (talaria) and carrying a magical wand (caduceus) and a purse. His wand is entwined by two serpents and sometimes has wings at the top. It can both make someone fall asleep as well as awaken him and could even bring one back from the dead.

Hermes is associated with the lyre (a type of ancient harp), which he is said to have invented, with the rooster. The number 4 was sacred to him.

Hermes is a youthful, trickster god, clever but cunning. He is a friend of mortals and often intercedes between mortals and the gods. As a messenger, he is eloquent and has clear and concise speech.

Hermes at a Glance
Roman nameMercury
Rules over - Patron ofTrade, Thieves, Travelers, Sports, Athletes, Border Crossings
SymbolsTalaria (winged sandals), Caduceus, Tortoise, Lyre, Rooster
Sacred Animals-
ParentsZeus and Maia
Notable SiblingsAres, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hephaestus
ChildrenPan, Hermaphroditus, Abderus, Angelia, Autolycus, Tyche


Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, one of the Pleiades. Zeus slept with Maia one night while she was in her cave, and ten months later she gave birth to Hermes. On the day he was born, Hermes is said to have created the first lyre by using a turtle’s shell, an ox’s skin, wood and a sheep’s intestines as chords.
On that same day, he also stole fifty cows from the flock of Apollo, his older brother, and cunningly obscured the cattle’s tracks to avoid being caught. Apollo finally traced him and took him to Olympus to be judged by Zeus. Hermes continued to lie even before his father, and only when Zeus got serious did he accept the verdict of revealing the location of the cattle. Apollo is still angry at his brother, so Hermes brings out his lyre and starts singing about the gods’ birth feats. Apollo is amused and forgives Hermes, who gives Apollo the lyre as a present. Hermes asks Apollo to grant him, in return, dominion over the flocks and shepherds, which Apollo does.

Hermes as a guide

Hermes often acts as a messenger and guide in myths:

When Hades took Persephone to the Underworld, Zeus sent Hermes to convince him to let her return to the Upper World and then takes her on his chariot and back to Demeter, her mother.

Hermes also escorted Pandora to Epimetheus, who kept her as his wife, and thus all mischiefs in this world began.

After the Great Flood, Zeus sent Hermes to Deucalion to announce to him that he could have any wish come true; Deucalion asked that a new generation of man be born, which was granted.

When Achilles killed Hector, Hermes guided Priam, Hector’s father, to Achilles’s tent, helping him pass unnoticed by use of his golden staff, with which he made all guards on his passage fall asleep.

After the end of the Trojan War, Zeus sent Hermes to Mycenae to warn Aegisthus that his plan to kill Agamemnon on his return from Troy was against the gods’ will. Aegisthus ignored the warning, murdered Agamemnon with the aid of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife. Orestes, her son, murdered both of them but received Hermes’s protection against the Erinyes (Furies, female deities of vengeance).

Hermes is seen in various instances in the Odyssey. He gives Ulysses the antidote to Circe’s magical herbs; Zeus sends him to Calypso to bid her Zeus’s will to let Ulysses return home; and later, when Ulysses returns to Ithaca and slays his wife’s, Penelope’s, suitors, Hermes guides their souls to the Underworld.

Classical Sources

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Apollodorus’s Library, Diodorus Siculus’s Library of History, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Lucian’s Dialogues of the Gods, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pausanias’s Description of Greece and Philostratus’s Imagines.