Classics Hermes
by
Athanassios Vergados
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0245

Introduction

Hermes is a rather complex figure whose traits are often difficult to reconcile with each other. He was regarded as the divine messenger, the conveyer of souls to the Underworld, a god of fertility, the protector of travelers and merchants, the patron deity of rhetoric and language, but also a divine trickster, the god of thieves and liars, and the god closest to humans. His origins have been the object of intense study, and scholars have sought to discover the one single trait from which all other characteristics of Hermes derive. A comprehensive monograph discussing the entire available literary and archaeological evidence is still a desideratum.

General Overviews

While Burkert 2011 gives a brief overview of Hermes’ roles and functions in myth with emphasis on early literature, Eitrem 1912 provides a thorough discussion of Hermes, beginning with the various explanations of his name and presenting the evidence for his cult in the entire Greek world, his epikleseis, attributes, relations to other deities, representation in art, and his nature and origins. For a more recent overview with further bibliography, see Baudy and Ley 2006.

  • Baudy, Gerhard, and Anne Ley. 2006. Hermes. In Der neue Pauly. Vol 5. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Stuttgart, and Weimar, Germany: Verlag J. B. Metzler. Available online.

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    Offers an overview of Hermes as the god of the herm, his role as a pastoral god, as the god of messengers and heralds, and his relation to initiation mysteries. The article further discusses festivals held in Hermes’ honor, as well as the god’s iconography. See col. 426–32.

  • Burkert, Walter. 2011. Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

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    Offers a concise overview of Hermes’ main characteristics, with special focus on the his role as a trickster, the divine messenger, and psychopompos (“leader of the souls to the Underworld”). See pp. 241–245.

  • Eitrem, Samson. 1912. Hermes 1. Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft 8.1. Edited by Wilhelm Kroll. Stuttgart: Alfred Druckenmüller Verlag.

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    The standard, detailed account on Hermes. It covers the meaning and etymology of the god’s name, the evidence for Hermes’ cult throughout the Greek world, his various epithets and attributes, his relation to other gods, the rituals in his honor, and his presence in figurative arts. Finally, it attempts to reconstruct the evolution of Hermes’ divine persona. See col. 738–792.

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