It’s my birthday month! Therefore, I’m doing another series on something near and dear to my heart: sneaky trickster gods *evil smile* . I’ve decided to begin with a better-known trickster, a favorite: Hermes!
Now, for those newer to Greek mythology, Greek gods (like many gods) were patrons to particular occupations. Our guy Hermes here, was patron god to travelers, shepherds, and thieves.
Thieves?! Our Hermes, the guy with the winged sandals?! The one who wears the Lennon sunglasses in the Disney movie Hercules?!
Yes! He also aided in Medusa’s murder! *cue dramatic music* This particular messenger god isn’t as squeaky clean as we may think him to be!
Observe the evidence!
Hermes was conceived and born at dawn, all in one day. He was born in a cave, but this brand new cave baby wasn’t like other brand new cave babies. He ventured out, all by himself (he was probably bored, I don’t imagine there is much to do in a cave for an intelligent baby) and saw a tortoise. What did he think when he saw the tortoise? Did he think, “What is this strange armored creature?” No! He thought, “I bet you I can make an instrument outta that.” And he did. By hollowing out the tortoise, Hermes used all manner of found objects to create the lyre. By midday (a few hours after his birth) he was singing songs to honor his father (Zeus, no shock there, I’m sure) and mother (Maia). A strange baby! But that’s not where his tale ends!
By the evening, he began craving meat, as all cave babies do, and sought Apollo’s cows. Out of wicker, Hermes created a pair of sandals for himself, and found Apollo’s cattle. He stole fifty, driving them backwards so that it looked like they headed in the opposite direction they were going. When Hermes neared a safe enough place, he discarded the sandals he made and butchered two of the cows. He cooked the meat for the gods, and, since he, himself, was a god, he could not eat the meat, but only savor the aroma. After his ritual, Hermes got rid of all the evidence and went back home to his mother.
He got in his cradle and acted helpless but Maia wasn’t fooled. She knew her son was cunning and didn’t believe his normal baby act. But Hermes promised his mother, that as the prince of thieves he would be responsible for their place on Mt. Olympus.
Meanwhile, Apollo decided to visit his cows, and saw half of them were missing! Apollo saw the strange tracks but he didn’t believe their clever prints. He headed toward Hermes and Maia’s cave. When he found the cave, he accused Hermes, but Hermes told him he was born just that day, he couldn’t possibly have committed such an act. Apollo didn’t believe him. He took the young god to Olympus to let Zeus decide.
Apollo reiterated his tale, speaking honestly, but when it was Hermes’s turn, his tale was riddled with lies! None of which Zeus believed. With a mighty laugh, Zeus ordered Hermes to take Apollo to the place where the rest of his cattle were hidden. Hermes obeyed and the two gods reconciled. In celebration, Hermes took up his lyre and began to play. Apollo was so mesmerized by the sound that he said that one instrument was worth all fifty (though, technically it was forty-eight but Apollo didn’t know that) of his cows! Hermes gave Apollo the lyre in honor of their friendship and, in turn, Apollo gave Hermes a gold whip, putting him in charge of the cows. The two returned to Olympus where Zeus united them in friendship *crowd goes “Awww!”*.
Hermes made an oath that day, swearing to Apollo he would never again steal any of his possessions. Apollo gave Hermes yet another gift as a result of this, a shining rod called a Caduceus.
The two lived happily ever after, making music, and stealing cows. Though not Apollo’s cows, someone else’s.
Hermes hymn is responsible for many of his symbols, such as the Caduceus (the rod with two snakes), his winged sandals, and the tortoise.
Poor tortoise. I mean, what baby thinks, “I’m gonna disembowel that thing and make an instrument from its innards.” So weird.
Anyway, point made, I’m sure! The defense rests!
Tune in next time for a lesser-known trickster god (who is rapidly gaining popularity due to a specific hero movie series) by looking to the right of the page and clicking the Follow button. I post every other Thursday!
Thank you for reading 🙂
(Apollo gave the sneaky cave baby a whip and a stick…)