Birth of HermesHermes, the herald and messenger of the gods, was like a breath of fresh air on Mount Olympus. He is a friendly likable young god who became the patron of travelers and merchants, theives and rouges.
The son of Zeus and Maia (a daughter of the Titan Atlas), Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia in southern Greece. The young boy grew incredibly fast and within hours of birth, he had wandered out of his cave, killed a tortise, and stretched seven strings of sheep gut accross it to build the first lyre . He then quickly taught himself how to play!
Stealing Apollo's Cows
The same day, the baby slipped out of his mother's sight and and went searching for adventure. He stumbled upon the pastures of the gods and stole 50 cows from Apollo .
He then disguised his tracks by cobbling together "shoes" made of bark from a fallen oak tree. To make it even harder to track him, he confused the herd's trail by driving the cows backward and traversing sandy places that left no prints.
At the river Alpheus, he stopped to sacrifice two cows. He burned the hooves and heads to leave no trace of his actions. After hiding the cows, he returned home and put on his swaddling clothes to sleep.
First Sacrifice of Flesh to Gods
Meanwhile, Apollo was searching everywhere for the cows. An omen led him to the cave where he found Hermes. The baby god pleaded innocence but Apollo disbelieved him and carried him before Zeus. Though he found his son's cunning ways amusing, Zeus persuaded him to confess and lead Apollo to the herd.
When Apollo detected the two slaughtered cows, Hermes explained that he had divided the meat into 12 equal portions for the gods. Apollo was surprised and asked who the 12th god was. "Me, of course", acknowledged the lovable Hermes. Reportedly, this was the very first sacrifice of flesh to the gods.
God of Herdsman and Shepherd
While Apollo was gathering the cows, Hermes began playing on his new lyre. Enchanted by the music, Apollo offered to exchange the entire herd of cattle for the lyre.
He agreed, and immediately began building another instrument for his own amusement: a reed-pope (or pan-pipe). Equally charmed by this instrument, Apollo asked him what he wanted for it. He agreed to trade if for Apollo's golden staff and with it the honor of being the god of herdsman and shephered and instruction from Apollo's old nurses in how to use pebbles to divine the future.
Messenger of Gods
When Zeus called Hermes to Olympus to reprimand him for stealing and lying, he promised not to do it again if Zeus named him as his messenger and herald. Zeus quickly accepted this offer and told his son that his duties also include protecting travellers, promoting trade, and negotiating treaties.
To ensure speedy delivery of his messages, Zeus gave Hermes golden winged sandals as swift as the wind. He also gave him a round hat to protect him from the sun and a herald's staff.
Hades soon asked Hermes to serve as his herald as well. As the herald of death , he collects and guides the dead to the Underworld.
Usually in disguise, Hermes often visited earth on his own. Despite his rougishness, he trully enjoyed helping travelers. Word of his acts of kindness soon spread. Many travelers who became lost or suffered hardship called upon Hermes to help and he often assisted them quickly.
Copyright 2005-20, Greek-Mythology-Gods.com