GOD OF DREAMS OF OMEN
Dreams of omen were messages sent by the gods and the ghosts of the dead. Hermes presided over these, both in his role as the Herald of the Gods (the agent of all divine messages), the God of Sleep, and as Guide of the Dead, who traversed the paths between the lands of the living and the dead.
"Dreams (Oneiroi) are beyond our unravelling - who can be sure what tale they tell? Not all that men look for comes to pass. Two gates there are that give passage to fleeting Oneiroi; one is made of horn, one of ivory. The Oneiroi that pass through sawn ivory are deceitful, bearing a message that will not be fulfilled; those that come out through polished horn have truth behind them, to be accomplished for men who see them." - Homer, Odyssey 19.562
"[Hermes] held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men’s eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber; with this he roused them [the ghosts of the newly dead] and led them on, and they followed him, thinly gibbering ... Hermes led them down through the ways of dankness. They passed the streams of Oceanus, the 'Leukas Petre' (White Rock), the 'Pylai Helion' (Gates of the Sun) and the 'Demos Oneiron' (Land of Dreams), and soon they came to the 'Leimon Asphodelon' (Field of Asphodel) where the Psyche (souls) ... have their habitation." - Homer, Odyssey 24.1 & 99
"She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes] ... a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes
"A sculptor was selling a white marble statue of Hermes which two men wanted to buy: one of them, whose son had just died, wanted it for the tombstone, while the other was a craftsman who wanted to consecrate the statue to the god himself ... In his sleep, the sculptor saw Hermes himself standing at the Gate of Dreams (Pylai Oneiroi). The god spoke to him and said, 'Well, my fate hangs in the balance: it is up to you whether I will become a dead man or a god!" - Aesop, Fables 563
(from Babrius, Fabulae 30)
GOD OF RUSTIC DIVINATION
Hermes presided over the rustic art of divination by pebbles, practiced in the highlands of shepherds and cattle-herders.He was said to have learned the art from certain Nymph known as Thriai, given to him by Apollo in a trade for the music of the pipe.
"[Apollon to Hermes:] `As for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods ... But I will tell you another thing, Erikydes (all-glorious) Son of Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, Daimon Eriounes Theon (luck-bringing genius of the gods). There are certain holy ones, sisters born - three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassos. These are teachers of divination apart from me [divination from pebbles], the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods' sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response - if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia [and preside over this primitive form of divination." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 550
"Hermes was tending the cattle, this time he fashioned a shepherd’s pipe which he proceeded to play. Covetous also of this, Apollon offered him the golden staff which he held when he herded cattle. But Hermes wanted both the staff and proficiency in the art of prophecy in return for the pipe. So he was taught how to prophesy by means of pebbles, and gave Apollon the pipe." - Apollodorus, The Library 3.115
GOD OF GUILE
Hermes was the god of guile in its many aspects: including deception, crafty words, persuasion, and the wiles of thieves and merchants. He also employed the sleep to maze the minds of men.
"May Maia's son [Hermes], as he rightfully should, lend his aid [to Orestes in the slaying of the murderers of his father, using a false identity and guile to gain access], for no one can better sail a deed on a favoring course, when he would do so. But by his mysterious utterance he brings darkness over men's eyes by night, and by day he is no more clear at all." - Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 811
GOD OF THIEVES & CATTLE HUSTLING
Another role of Hermes, derived from his function as the god of cattle, was thievery. A major form of banditry in ancient Greece was cattle-hustling.
"Autolykos ... excelled all mankind in thieving and subtlety of oaths, having won this mastery from the god Hermes himself." - Homer, Odyssey 19.396
She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes], of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle rustler, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes
"[Infant Hermes to his mother Maia:] `I will go to Python to break into his great house [the temple of Apollo], and will plunder therefrom splendid tripods, and cauldrons, and gold, and plenty of bright iron, and much apparel; and you shall see it if you will." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 178
"[Apollo to Hermes:] `O rogue, deceiver, crafty in heart
... I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well-built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night, gathering his goods together all over the house without noise. You will plague many a lonely herdsman in mountain glades, when you come on herds and thick-fleeced sheep, and have a hankering after flesh ... you comrade of dark night
. Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the Arkhos Pheleteon (prince of robbers) continually." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 282
Hermes ... to rejoice is thine ... in fraud divine
." - Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes
Into the house came Hermes in the shape of a young man, unforeseen, uncaught, eluding the doorkeeper with his robber’s foot." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3.373
GOD OF LANGUAGE, LEARNING & CRAFTY WILES
Hermes came to be regarded as the god of language, alongside Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). He was said to have been the inventor of writing, which in ancient Greece was first employed in the missives carried by heralds and the stock-taking of merchants and property owners. In addition, he was sometimes said to have taught mankind their many tongues, and so was the god of the "babelisation" of language, so to speak.
As well as writing, he presided over eloquence and persuasion, skills employed by those under his patronage: heralds, merchants, thieves and conmen. Similarly he was the god of crafty thoughts and wiles, and the use of persuasive deception and trickery.
GOD OF SPEECH, CRAFTY WORDS & ELOQUENCE
"Also the Guide, Argeiphontes [Hermes], contrived within her [Pandora, the first woman] lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature
at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods [Hermes] put speech in her." - Hesiod, Works and Days 80
She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes], of many shifts, blandly cunning
." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 4
lato, Cratylus 400d & 408a ff (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods :]
Sokrates : Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . This name 'Hermes' seems to me to have to do with speech; he is an interpreter (hêrmêneus) and a messenger, is wily and deceptive in speech, and is oratorical. All this activity is concerned with the power of speech. Now, as I said before, eirein denotes the use of speech; moreover, Homer often uses the wordemêsato, which means 'contrive.' From these two words, then, the lawgiver imposes upon us the name of this god who contrived speech and the use of speech--eirein means 'speak'--and tells us : `Ye human beings, he who contrived speech (eirein emêsato) ought to be called Eiremes by you.' We, however, have beautified the name, as we imagine, and call him Hermes. Iris also seems to have got her name from eirein, because she is a messenger."
"Many people ... resorted to the temple of Hermes asking for the gift of wisdom [and offered him rich presents] ... Now when on the appointed day they arrived of the distribution of the gifts of wisdom, Hermes as the god of wisdom and eloquence and also of rewards, said to him who, as you may well suppose, had made the biggest offering: ‘Here is philosophy for you’; and to him who had made the next handsomest present he said: ‘Do you take your place among the orators’; and to others he said: ‘You shall have the gifts of astronomy or you shall be a musician, or you shall be an epic poet and write in heroic metre, or you shall be a write of iambics." - Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5.15
Hermes: This is what they call a son of Zeus and Maia, which is, of mind and sense. For the word is engendered from mind and sense. On account of this they also make him winged, as if to be swift. For nothing is swifter than a word. And [that is why] Homer [says] 'winged words'. They create [images of] him as the youngest of all [the gods], because the word does not grow old; but they also make him quadrangular on account of the firmness of the true word. They also say he was responsible for profit and an overseer of the businesses: consequently they set up the statue of him weighing a purse." -Suidas s.v. Hermes
GUIDE OF THE DEAD
"To Hermes ... are attached traditions from the poems of Homer: that Hermes is the minister of Zeus and leads the souls of the departed down to Haides." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 8.32.4
Those who, by permission of the Parcae [Moirai], returned from the lower world ... Mercurius [Hermes], son of Maia , in constant trips." - Hyginus, Fabulae 251
"And Hades shuddered [at the slaughter of the Sack of Troy] and looked forth from his seat under earth, afraid lest in the great anger of Zeus Hermes, conductor of souls, should bring down all the race of men." -
Tryphiodorus, The Taking of Ilias 568
"Hermes thy [Persephone's] musterer of ghosts." - Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44.198
GOD OF SLEEP
Hermes was often described as the bringer of sleep and dreams. The Daimones who personified these were Hypnos (Sleep) and the Oneiroi (Dreams). Although Hermes and Hypnos are distinct entities in Homer, they may have originally been regarded as one and the same.
"He [Hermes] caught up the staff (rhabdos), with which he mazes the eyes of those mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers. Holding this in his hands, Kratus (strong) Argeiphontes winged his way onward." - Homer, Iliad 24.339
"There were sentries ... but about these the courier Argeiphontes drifted sleep, on all [with his wand]." - Homer, Iliad 24.443
"And he [Hermes] took the rod that lulls men’s eyes for him, at his pleasure, or awakens others when they slumber." - Homer, Odyssey 5.4
"[Hermes] held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men’s eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber." - Homer, Odyssey 24.1 & 99
"Odysseus stepped quickly over the threshold into the palace [of King Alkinous of the Phaiakians]. He found the Phaiakian lords and rulers pouring libations from their cups to the Euskopos (Keen-sighted) Argeiphontes (Radiant One) [Hermes] to whom by custom they poured libation last when they turned their thoughts to the night’s rest." - Homer, Odyssey 7.137
"May Maia's son [Hermes], as he rightfully should, lend his aid ... by his mysterious utterance he brings darkness over men's eyes by night, and by day he is no more clear at all." - Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 811
"[Hermes] grasped in his fist the wand that charms to sleep, put on his magic cap, and thus arrayed ... sprang from his father’s citadel down to earth [to slay the monster Argos Panoptes]. There he removed his cap, laid by his wings; only his wand he kept ... Cyllenius [Hermes] saw all Argus’ eyelids closed [after soothing him with the music of a shepherd's-pipe] and every eye vanquished in sleep. He stopped and with his wand, his magic wand, soothed the tired resting eyes and sealed their slumber." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.583
"[Hermes] saw that his wand, the wand he wields to bring and banish sleep, shone with a polish." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.730
"Mercurius [Hermes] with his wand that soothes to slumber touched her [Khione] on the lips; touch-tranced she lay and suffered his assault [he lay with her]." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.301
GOD OF ASTRONOMY & THE CALENDAR and GOD OF CONTESTS, ATHLETICS, GYMNASIUMS, THE GAMES