30 Days of Hermes: Representing Cultural Values

Day 16: How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?

Whilst Hermes is so adaptable, He is originally from a time when Gods ruled the Multiverse. They were fallible with human qualities we could relate to, frightening and we were often victim to their whims. Of course Hermes can be all of these things: as inventor of fire He plays a large part in the cosmology of human evolution, and it was also He that made the first sacrifices to honor the deathless Ones. He empowers both Gods and Humans, Hermes is friend to all who seek Him out. Even His brother Apollo whom He tricks and steals from over and over, cannot help but barter, deal or trade with Hermes; the macrocosmic drama played over and over in ancient marketplaces. In His dealings, Hermes always manages to come out on top….and why not? The ancients knew life was not always fair, but the real trick is doing business in a way which makes you profit and popular. That takes charisma and Hermes exudes it. Business savvy and social prowess are a few of the values which never seem to die, immortal as Hermes Himself.

Hermes also values His progeny and children, familial connections which are very much central to Hellenic culture. Here, the modern American family is only the immediate members; grandparents and other extended family are usually farther away and not such a central part of daily life. This is a real tragedy as household worship included several generations, who often lived under the same roof. This also ties in with the concept of hospitality, a huge part of most pagan pantheons.

Mercury and Argus, circa 1659 by Diego Velázquez.
Mercury and Argus, circa 1659 by Diego Velázquez.

Knowledge, cleverness, strength and loyalty are valued in both ancient culture and today’s modern Hellenic pagan. Hermes encourages the pursuit of intellectualism, a sharp wit and exemplifies loyal connections, especially in His close relationship with Father Zeus. Hermes strength is shown in His character and brave acts of fortitude. His loyalty and strength are brought together in the other famous myth concerning Hermes as the slayer of Argos Panoptes. Story goes, Zeus was having an affair with a beautiful nymph named Io and to hide her from jealous wife Hera, Zeus turned Io into a cow. Of course, Hera is wise to the tricks of Zeus so sends the one hundred-eyed giant Argus to guard the heifer, keeping Zeus away. So Zeus asks Hermes for help in this situation… to help steal away the heifer (something He is good at). After trying to do this job in a most compassionate way, through playing sleepy music, Hermes has no other choice but to slay the giant to help Io escape. Some accounts say the giant was lulled to sleep and then Hermes took his head… other stories suggest He killed Argus by stoning. This sucks, but Hera was so grateful of the help Argus gave took His eyes and placed them in Her sacred animal… the “eye” of peacock feathers.

“Heaven’s master [Zeus] could no more endure Phoronis’ [Io’s] distress [a captive of Hera’s guard, the hundred-eyed giant Argos Panoptes], and summoned his son [Hermes], whom the bright shining Pleias [Maia] bore, and charged him to accomplish Argus’ death. Promptly he fastened on his ankle-wings, grasped in his fist the wand that charms to sleep, put on his magic cap, and thus arrayed Jove’s [Zeus’] son [Hermes] sprang from his father’s citadel down to earth. There he removed his cap, laid by his wings; only his wand he kept.
A herdsman now, he drove a flock of goats through the green byways, gathered as he went, and played his pipes of reed. The strange sweet skill charmed Juno’s [Hera’s] guardian. ‘My friend’, he called, ‘whoever you are, well might you sit with me here on this rock, and see how cool the shade extends congenial for a shepherd’s seat.’
So Atlantiades [Hermes] joined him, and with many a tale he stayed the passing hours and on his reeds played soft refrains to lull the watching eyes. But Argus fought to keep at bay the charms of slumber and, though many of his eyes were closed in sleep, still many kept their guard. He asked too by what means this new design (for new it was), the pipe of reeds, was found. Then the god told this story [of Pan and his pursuit of the Nymphe Syrinx] . . .
The tale remained untold; for Cyllenius [Hermes] saw all Argus’ eyelids closed and every eye vanquished in sleep. He stopped and with his wand, his magic wand, soothed the tired resting eyes and sealed their slumber; quick then with his sword he struck off the nodding head and from the rock threw it all bloody, spattering the cliff with gore. Argus lay dead; so many eyes, so bright quenched, and all hundred shrouded in one night.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses ).

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