Penpalling & Letters

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Hermes, the herald of gods

In Greek mythology, Hermes is the messenger of the gods and a guide for souls to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. He is an Olympian god and also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of thieves, of orators and wit, of literature and poets, of athletics and sports, of weights and measures, of invention, and of commerce in general. He is represented with winged sandals, covering his head with a winged hat and brandishing the caduceus (a golden stick). His symbols include the tortoise, the rooster, the lamb carried on his shoulders as well as the lyre and the flute.

In Roman mythology, Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercury, who developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce.

Hermes is a messenger from the gods to humans, delivering messages from the Olympus to the mortal world. When wearing his winged sandals he flies freely between the mortal and immortal world. In addition to the lyre and the flute, Hermes was believed to have invented many types of racing and the sports of wrestling and boxing, and therefore, was a patron of athletes.
Hermes serves as the guide for the dead to help them find their way to the Underworld. In many Greek myths, Hermes was depicted as the only god besides Hades, Persephone, Hecate and Thanatos who could enter and leave the Underworld without obstacles. Hermes often helped travelers having a safe and easy journey. Many Greeks would sacrifice to Hermes before any trip.

Hermes is the son of Zeus and Maia, a nymph, one of the seven Pleiades, daughter of Atlas and Pleione. In a cave, hidden from human eyes and particularly the jealous Hera, Zeus' wife, Maia gave birth to Hermes. Hermes was precocious. On his first day of life he crawled away to Thessaly and by nightfall he stole some of Apollo's immortal cattle and also invented the lyre. Hermes drove the cattle back to Greece and hid them, walking them backwards so that their tracks seemed to be going in the wrong direction. When Apollo accused Hermes, Maia refused to believe him as she thought Hermes was with her the whole night. However, Zeus entered the argument and said that Hermes did steal the cattle and it should be returned. While arguing with Apollo, Hermes began to play his lyre. The instrument enchanted Apollo and he agreed to let Hermes keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre.
Later on, Hermes, while taking care of the cattle, invented the flute. Apollo wanted to buy this new musical instrument and offered Hermes his golden stick as payment. Besides, Hermes asked for prediction lectures. Apollo acepted, and ever since, the golden stick, called "caduceus" became one of Hermes symbols. He also learnt how to predict the future by means of pebbles. Zeus, satisfied with the abilities of Hermes, named him his herald and messenger, as well as to serve the gods of the Underworld, Hades and Persephone.

The caduceus is the golden stick carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. The stick was also borne by heralds in general, for example by Iris, the messenger of Hera. It is a short golden stick entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury (Hermes). The legend says that Hermes saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. Separating them with his wand, he brought peace between them, and as a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of peace.
As a symbolic object it represents Hermes (or the Roman Mercury), and by extension trades, occupations or undertakings associated with the god. In later Antiquity the caduceus provided the basis for the astrological symbol representing the planet Mercury. Thus, through its use in astrology and alchemy, it has come to denote the elemental metal of the same name. The caduceus is also a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation.
The two entwined snakes of the caduceus represent number eight as well, and they are the equilibrium symbol between contrary forces. Besides, they represent the ethernal cosmic movement, base of regenaration and infinite.
The caduceus is sometimes mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine because of widespread confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the Rod of Asclepius, which has only a single snake and no wings.

Finally, here you can see a picture of a Greek mailbox, belonging to the Greek postal company ΕΛΤΑ. It was sent to me by my friend, Evi, who actually, inspired me to do this post about the Greek god of messengers and communication. She accompanied the picture together with this text to me: "The Greek mail service is ELTA (ΕΛΤΑ), which you see written on the mailbox. The face is supposed to be the face of Hermes one of the t Gods of Olympus according to our ancient mythology, who was a son of Zeus and Maya (one of Atlas's daughters). In that "godly society" Hermes used to have the role of the herald, he was the one who usually delivered the news to and from the mortal world. He was also the protector of travelers, thieves, gamblers and the trade. Moreover, he was the one who lead the way of the dead to the underworld. The most typical symbols of Hermes were the caduceus and the winged sandals, which enabled him to fly. I think Hermes is the most human-like godly figure of Greek mythology..." Thank you, Evi!

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