Hermes was the god of herds and flocks, travellers and hospitality, roads and trade, thievery and cunning, heralds and diplomacy, language and writing, athletic contests and gymnasiums, astronomy and astrology. He was the herald and personal messenger of Zeus, King of the Gods, and also the guide of the dead who led souls down into the underworld.

Hermes was depicted as either a handsome and athletic, beardless youth or as an older, bearded man, with winged boots and a herald’s wand.

Residence: Mount Olympus
Symbols: Talaria, caduceus, tortoise, lyre, rooster and Petasos (winged helmet)
Parents: Zeus and Maia
Consort: Merope, Aphrodite, Dryope, Peitho
Siblings: Aeacus, Angelos, AphroditeApolloAresArtemisAthenaDionysusIlithyiaEnyoEris, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, HephaestusHeracles, Minos, Pandia, PersephonePerseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses and the Moirae
Children: PanHermaphroditus, Abderus, Autolycus, Eudorus, Angelia, Myrtilus
Roman equivalent: Mercury

Hermes Ingenui Pio-Clementino Inv544.jpg
Hermes Ingenui (Vatican Museums), Roman copy of the 2nd century BC after a Greek original of the 5th century BC. 


The son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia in southern Greece. Nursed by the nymph Cyllene, the precocious young boy grew incredibly fast. Within hours of birth, he had wandered out of his cave, killed a tortoise, and stretched seven strings of sheep gut across it to build the first lyre. He then quickly taught himself how to play.


Though he was laid out in swaddling-clothes with a winnowing-basket for a cradle, he escaped and made his way to Pieria, where he stole some cattle that Apollo was tending. To keep from being discovered by their tracks, he put boots on their feet and led them to Pylos. He hid them in a grotto, except for two which he sacrificed, pinning up their hides on rocks, boiling some of the meat for his meal and burning the rest.

Apollo demading his cattle back, Caeretan black-figure hydria, 6th c. BC. (c)

Meanwhile Apollo reached Pylos in his search for the cattle, and asked the locals about them. They told him that they had indeed seen a boy driving some cattle, but they could not say where they had been driven because there were no tracks to be found. So Apollo learned who the thief was by divine science, and made his way to Maia on Cyllene to charge Hermes. Maia, however, showed Apollo the baby in his swaddling-clothes, whereupon Apollo took him to Zeus and demanded his cattle. When Zeus told Hermes to return them, he denied everything, but since his father would not believe him, he led Apollo to Pylos and gave him back his cattle. Then, when Apollo heard the lyre, he exchanged the cattle for that.

And as Hermes was tending the cattle, this time he fashioned a shepherd’s pipe which he proceeded to play. Covetous also of this, Apollo 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 Apollo the pipe. And Zeus made Hermes his personal herald and messenger of the gods beneath the earth.

Statue of Hermes wearing the petasos, a voyager’s cloak, the caduceus and a purse. Roman copy after a Greek original, Vatican Museum.
Hermes wearing a petasos. Attic red-figure cup, c. 480–470 BC. From Vulci.
Hermes Fastening his Sandal, early Imperial Roman marble copy of a Lysippan bronze, Louvre. (c) Tetraktys
Sarpedon’s body carried by Hypnus and Thanatus, while Hermes watches. Side A of the so-called “Euphronios krater”, Attic red-figured calyx-krater signed by Euxitheos (potter) and Euphronios (painter), c. 515 BC.

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