As well as being associated with the countryside (where he could be heard playing another of his inventions, shepherds’ pipes), as the archetypal thief and liar Hermes was also linked with trade and commerce, where his trickery and cunning served him well. Counter-intuitively (given his contempt for the truth) but unavoidably (given his possession of the kerykeion), Hermes also became Zeus’ trusted messenger. In the course of his duties, he helped invent that great aid to communication: writing. As Zeus’ messenger he was the patron of mortal heralds, too, identified in art by his broad-brimmed sun hat and winged sandals. And because his duties involved so many journeys, Hermes was the god of travellers.
Hermes’ Other Attributes Photo Gallery
The journeys over which Hermes presided were not only physical. As Psychopompus (Conductor of Souls) Hermes accompanied the spirits of the dead to Hades, while as Oneiropompus (Conductor of Dreams) he sowed true or lying visions in the minds of those whom he lulled to sleep with his staff. Hence Hermes, god of ghosts, became associated with magic and necromancy. Especially in Hellenistic Egypt, the long-lasting cult of Hermes Trismegistus became popular with mystics.
Many Greek gods embodied opposites. Thus Hermes was god of both theft and security. Guard dogs were under his protection, and throughout antiquity statues of Hermes known as hermai (herms) stood at house doors to ward off evildoers. These were simple four-square pillars sometimes topped by the god’s bearded head but always adorned with his erect phallus. When almost all Athens’ hermai were smashed on the eve of an expedition against Sicily in 415 bc, it was interpreted (correctly) as a bad omen. Since a safe house is a happy house, Hermes presided, too, over banquets such as Nestor’s on the beach at Voidhokilia. In fact, whenever a sudden silence fell over a roomful of banqueters, it was commonplace for someone to observe: ‘Hermes has entered the room’.