Hermes: The Cunning Greek Trickster, Commerce, and Messenger God

Hermes the cunning greek trickster commerce and messenger godHermes, god of cunning and trickery, is a chaotic god in Greek mythology. He was also the messenger god as well as the patron of thieves, travelers and merchants. Similar to Loki in Norse mythology, Hermes enjoyed causing mischief, and he went out of his way to do so. Read this to find out what kind of trouble he got into.

Who Is Hermes in Greek Mythology?

The Greek god Hermes is a known trickster and messenger god. He was also a god of commerce and luck, and he controlled information moving from one place to the next. Because he was always moving, he was also the patron of travelers. He found his place with those who enjoyed mischief as much as he did.

The gods depended on Hermes to send and bring messages, and he would also have to help in smoothing over problems and disagreements. But he also loved a good trick, and the gods couldn’t always expect Hermes to behave properly. Hermes was a unique character because he wasn’t really bad or good, and he moved between those two sides easily. Any of the tricks he would get up to weren’t that horrific, even if they made people angry.

Hermes was a special god because he could move between worlds. He could travel from Mount Olympus to the human realm all the way to the underworld, without trouble. He could make connections that other gods couldn’t, and he represented the sort of chaos that could be found in the world. However, he was also a beloved and revered god among the Greek people.

What Is Hermes Known For?

Hermes is most likely known for his trickery, such as stealing Poseidon’s trident. But he also is remembered for his ability as a messenger, flying about using his helmet or even winged shoes. His Roman counterpart is Mercury.

What Is Hermes’ Symbol?

Hermes’ symbol is his wing-tipped helmet. This was created by Hephaestus, god of the fire and the forge. Hermes’ staff was also one of his symbols, and this is the staff we see still used today as a symbol of medicine. In addition, his other symbols include tortoises, the lyre, winged sandals, and even goats and roosters.

Origin and Family of Hermes, the Greek Messenger God

Hermes was one of the many children of Zeus. Zeus laid with a woman named Maia, and together they had Hermes. Maia was born of a Titan father and an ocean nymph mother. Their children were all daughters, seven in total, and their names were the Pleiades.

This is also the name given to a constellation of seven stars in the sky. Hermes lived up to the reputation of the other gods, and he had many lovers. As fit his flitting personality, he moved from lover to lover, and he even numbered male lovers among his romances. One of his most famous lovers was Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sex, and beauty.

He used his father’s help to lure Aphrodite to him by stealing her sandal and telling her to go to Hermes to get it back. His other famous lover was Perseus, the great Greek hero who slew Medusa. There were many others, but not all of them were as famous as those two. However, while Hermes had famous lovers, he also had famous children. Find out who they were in the next section.

Hermes’ Children, Their Stories and Famous Names

Hermes and Aphrodite had Hermaphroditus. We all know this name and what this word means, and the child was able to morph into the two sexes. This child of theirs would later merge his physical body with that of his female lovers. This gave him both male and female genitalia. In another coupling with a nymph, Hermes became the father of the very famous Pan.

Pan was the countryside deity of pleasure, music, and he represented the wildlands and the mountains. Like his father and grandfather, Pan had a great sexual appetite and took many lovers. However, he was unique because he had the horns and bottom half of a goat, and he would often play upon the shepherd’s pipes. We can see the symbol of Pan in many places in our culture, such as Mr. Tumnus in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”

Hermes Mythology, the Wild and Unruly God of Chaos

Hermes took part in many myths. Sometimes, he had a minor role, but he was involved in many things because he was the messenger god. Sometimes, he would be called in to fix a problem or simply to get a message sent. Either way, he appears many times in Greek mythology. Some of those times, we get to see just what kind of trickster he was.

– How Was Hermes Born?

Hermes symbolsHermes’ birth took place in a cave, but that’s only because the mother of Hermes, Maia, was purported to be quite shy. She was a half-nymph, half-Titan, and she wanted to escape the sight of the world and the gods. So, she took refuge in a cave atop Mount Cyllene. Despite her hiding away, Zeus eventually found her and, as is not surprising, he wanted to make love to her.

Her hiding might be more like she was trying to escape Zeus’ advances, but we don’t know for sure. Either way, they began to make love, and Zeus would return oftentimes to do so. According to Homer’s poem, “Hymn to Hermes,” Zeus would come at night time to bed her while Hera was asleep, blissfully unaware. Eventually, she had a child, and Homer described the child as:

“a son of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods.”

It was a perfect description of the young child who would become Hermes, the famous trickster and messenger god to the Olympians.

– Hermes Takes His First Steps… and Pretty Early Too!

Hermes grew quickly, and on the first night after he was born, he was able to crawl away from his mother down and out of the cave. On his journey, he came across a tortoise, and he thought that it might be a useful tool. So, he killed it and took out the meat from the shell. When the shell was empty, he stuck reeds into it, and in so doing, created the very first lyre.

This instrument became a great symbol of Greek culture. When we see the image today, we likely still think of ancient Greece.

– Hermes and Apollo and a Bunch of Cattle

Soon after he created the lyre, he continued on his journey, and he came across a herd of cattle. He found out they were his half-brother, Apollo’s herd, and so he decided to complete his first trick. It’s not clear what the reason was, but as we know with trickster gods, they didn’t always need a reason. Hermes stole the cattle and hid them away.

Apollo was around, but he obviously didn’t notice what was going on until it was too late. He was furious that his cattle were all gone. He told Maia, Hermes’ mother, about the theft, and he accused Hermes. Maia was confused because she had just had her child, and she didn’t believe that he would be able to do something like steal cattle so quickly. Maia went to Zeus for help, and Zeus found out that it was true that Hermes did it.

So, he demanded his son return the cattle to his other son. Hermes didn’t want to, but as a peace offering, he gave Apollo his lute instead. Apollo agreed to that, and he took up the lute becoming forever the god that was most closely associated with it. He also became an excellent musician.

– Hermes, the Wily and Great Thief, Full of Trickery

Hermes moved on to do big and “better” things. He stole various objects, especially those that meant something to the gods. For example, he stole:

  • Poseidon’s trident
  • Aphrodite’s girdle
  • Artemis’ arrows

Not only that but he was sometimes credited as being the one who invented fire, which was later given to the humans. And he was said to have been the one to fill Pandora’s box with all the bad things she eventually sprung onto the world.

– Zeus and Hermes: A Dynamic Duo, Keeping Hera at Bay

In one story by the poet Hesiod, Zeus called upon his skilled son to assist him in keeping Hera in the dark about a lover. Zeus was well-known for his philandering, and Hera was known for her jealousy and interference. Zeus fell in love with a mortal, a priestess of Hera named Io, and Hera eventually found out. Because of her wrath and rage against her husband, she took it out on his lover.

She wanted to find a way to get revenge on her, so Zeus took action and turned her into a heifer. Hera knew that he had done that, but she couldn’t identify Io among the other cattle. She decided to set a hundred-eyed monster named Argus out in the herd to find out which was Io. Zeus needed the powers of his cunning son, so he asked Hermes if he would help with this.

Hermes agreed, and he flew onto the scene, and he decided to distract the monster. However, the method he used varied depending on the myth you read. He either:

  • Lulled him to sleep by playing music
  • Hypnotized him with his staff
  • Stated spells or charms in his ear

Either way, it worked, and the monster, Argus, fell asleep, unable to watch for when Io would change back. When the monster fell asleep, Hermes used a rock to kill him and he took Io away. Because of this, Hermes earned the name “Argeiphontes,” meaning “killer of Argus.”

– Hermes’ Role in the Famed “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”

Hermes had a role in the famous epic poems by the poet Homer as well. In the “Iliad,” Hermes joined the Achaeans against the Trojans in the battle. However, he was kind and helped King Priam of Troy to find the body of his son. After his son Hector was slain, in fact, Hermes assisted Priam to find him.

In the “Odyssey,” he had a bigger role. He helped to bring the hero of Homer’s poem, Odysseus, back to the wide-open arms of his wife and son. At the beginning, Hermes visited Odysseus on the island of Aeaea. He was being kept on the island by Circe, the famous enchantress.

She had captured him and turned the hero’s crew into pigs. Hermes flew onto the island and gave Odysseus a magical herb named moly. This would protect Odysseus and anyone from the grip of magic. Odysseus was able to get his men to return to their human form, and he could escape with them.

– The God of Trickery Who Rescued Odysseus Again

On another occasion, Odysseus got captured again by the nymph Calypso. She took him and hid him away on the island of Ogygia. But that didn’t keep Hermes from rescuing the hero once more. He flew to the island but, this time, he had information to bring to the warrior from Zeus.

Zeus demanded that Calypso release Odysseus so that he could return home. In the face of demands by the lord of the gods, Calypso agreed and Odysseus was freed. When he got back to his home, he was just in time to slay all the men who were vying for his wife’s hand to take his place. It was then Hermes who helped take the dead suitors to the underworld.

Hermes in Pop Culture

Hermes is a very well-known Greek deity, and so he appears many times in pop media. He/his symbol appears in:

  • The Disney movie “Hercules”
  • The book series and the movie, “Percy Jackson & The Sea of Monsters”
  • The Goodyear logo, which uses the wings to represent speed and efficacy
  • The FTD flower delivery company, which uses the picture of Hermes with flowers to show that they will deliver speedily
  • The American Medical Association uses the symbol of his staff because he could help bring people from sickness to health


Hermes the cunning greek trickster commerce and messenger god statueTake a look at the main points about Hermes covered in the article above.

  • Hermes is the cunning trickster god and messenger god in Greek mythology. He was also the patron of thieves, travelers, and merchants. He was like Loki, a Norse god, because the both of them enjoyed creating mischief merely for mischief’s sake. His Roman counterpart is Mercury.
  • The gods depended on Hermes in many ways, especially to move information from place to place or to help them out of difficulty, but they couldn’t expect him to always help them out.
  • However, he wasn’t really good or bad, and he would go his own way, causing mischief or helping out if he wanted to.
  • Hermes was unique because he could move between gods, and he could move between worlds. He was one of the only gods who could go from Olympus to the mortal world, to the underworld.
  • He was the representation of the chaos that lingered in the world, and he was one of the 12 major gods on Mount Olympus.
  • Hermes is likely most known for his speed or his ability to perform tricks. His symbols are his staff, his wing-tipped helmet, his winged shoes, tortoises, and the lyre.
  • Hermes was one of the children of Zeus. Hermes was born in a cave, and he grew up so fast that he crawled away as soon as he was born. His first act was to create the lyre out of a tortoise’s shell.
  • He had many lovers which included both men and women. With Aphrodite, he had Hermaphroditus. With a nymph, he had the very famous Pan.
  • Hermes stole many things like Apollo’s cattle, Poseidon’s trident, and Artemis’ arrows. But sometimes he came to help other gods, and Zeus asked him to help protect one of his lovers.
  • Hermes also helped the hero Odysseus a few times in Homer’s the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.” He rescued the warrior from two islands, and he returned him to his wife and son.
  • He appears in the Disney movie “Hercules” and “Percy Jackson & The Sea of Monsters.”
  • He is also used as a symbol to represent speed and efficiency for many companies. Companies such as Goodyear and FTD flower delivery company both use the image of Hermes. The American Medical Association also uses the symbol of Hermes’ staff.

Hermes is a very popular god, even though he was often full of mischief and going against the gods. However, he was usually harmless, and the gods needed him. We don’t know what they would have done without a god to send their messages and to be able to help them out of strange scrapes. What’s special is that the character of Hermes is seen throughout many mythologies, and he is the symbol of speed, connection, efficiency, as well as chaos, because our world is full of it.