The Greek God of journeys, commerce, trickery, borders, fertility, diplomacy, athletes and personal messenger for the whole Greek Pantheon, Hermes is a guy who gets around a lot. In fact, we see symbols of him almost everywhere we go from the doctor’s office to Dunlop Tyres, but what do these things have in common? With the new addition of Hermes to Lladró’s own pantheon of gods, discover why he’s so popular and what are some misconceptions about him.
1. God of Multitasking
If you look at the list of things Hermes is responsible for or patron of you might notice that even by greek god standards, he’s got a lot of responsibilities and not all of them have a connection to each other. His character is a bit all over the place and that is largely due to the fact that he is a blend of a few different and very old gods, mainly Pan. Not the goat legged Satyr who created the Pan pipes but a much much older version that predates even Ancient Greece!
This ‘original Pan’ presided over borders, journeys, trickery, fertility, wilderness and herding and much like Hermes he guided souls to the afterlife. It is believed that the characteristics of this God was divided to create the Pan we know today and of course Hermes. This supported by the fact that both Pan and Hermes originate from one of the oldest regions in Greece, Acadia and that there are many myths that link the two together typically one being the son of the other.
Known as a Caduceus, it features two snakes intertwined around a staff with wings at the top.
2. Patron of Medicine?
Many might associate Hermes’s staff, known as Caduceus as a symbol of medicine. But did you know that neither Hermes nor his Caduceus traditionally have nothing to do with medicine?
The reason why we see a lot of these in the medical field is because of a well-documented mixup between the Caduceus and the very similar Rod of Asclepius that features a single snake and no wings and is actually the symbol of the greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Because of their similarity the two symbols have been used interchangeably particularly among medical institutions in the United States through the 19th and 20th centuries. Today the U.S. Medical Corps uses the Caduceus as their symbol, arguably responsible for much of the confusion around its use.
Notice how Lladró sculptors have captured every detail, the tension his body is almost tangible.
In actuality, the Caduceus represents diplomacy, negotiation and trade as it depicts two snakes in negotiation and united under a set of wings at its head. In mythology, it was given to ambassadors of the Gods, perfect for Hermes whose main job was that.
3. Shepherd of the Dead
As herald of the gods it was Hermes’s role to travel all over the world delivering messages with his iconic winged sandals allowing him to travel at inhuman speed, but did you know that he was what was known as a psychopomp?
Psychopomps are beings who’s role is to escort the souls of the dead to the next life, in Greek mythology this task fell to Hermes as he could travel faster than anyone else and move freely between worlds this making him uniquely invulnerable compared to the other gods. His kindness as gods go was an asset as gently guided souls between worlds.
4. Mischievous from the Start
As mentioned Hermes was considered a god of mischief, cunning and trickery. Greek Gods certainly were not exempt from being tricksters but Hermes talent for it began literally on the day he was born!
Hermes was born in a cave to the nymph Maia, within a few hours he has grown strong and he decided he’d had enough of cave-living and set out in search of trouble. During his adventure, he discovered a tortoise, killed it and took its shell in order to create the first lyre. In time, he came upon Apollo’s sacred heard of cattle and devised a plan to heard them away and sacrifice their meat in order to draw the attention of his father Zeus and takes his place as an Olympian.
His iconic winged sandals are adorned with Lladró’s signature gold lustre; they draw the eye and give you no doubt as to who he is.
Apollo eventually noticed his cattle were gone and promptly began to track down the thief. To his surprise he found that the culprit was a seemingly innocent baby, one that claimed he didn’t know a thing about Apollo’s lost cattle or even what a cow was. Frustrated and confused, Apollo brought baby Hermes to Zeus hoping that his father would shed some light on the situation, Zeus however finds Hermes’s prank hilarious and instead of punishing him orders Hermes to tell Apollo what he did to the cows and lead him to where the remainder of the cattle are being kept. Hermes explained that he had divided the meat into 12 equal portions for the gods, confused Apollo asked who the twelfth god was, Hermes replied “Me of course!”. Apollo not being the most humble god either was charmed by his half brother’s cheek and boldness and they began their journey to recover the lost cattle.
Along their way, Hermes broke out his lyre and started to play music to impress Apollo, who as a god of music and arts he found this new instrument enchanting. Noticing how enthralled Apollo was, Hermes proposed a trade, his lyre for Apollo’s Caduceus and role as god of herdsman and shepherds which Apollo agreed to.
Upon their return to Olympus Zeus scolded Hermes for lying and stealing, Hermes swore that he would never lie or steal again if Zeus made him herald of the gods, Zeus quickly agreed and was so impressed by his quick wit and ambition that he gifted him a pair of golden winged sandals to help his travel fast. All in one day Hermes earned himself a position amongst the gods and cemented himself as a young trickster much admired by his fellow gods.
5. An Inventor at Heart
At this point we know that Hermes was clever, from his first instance of winning his position as herald to his skills as an orator and diplomat, important when being a herald. But did you know that some people considered him to be the god of invention?
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say this as he did invented the first lyre on the day he was born. He was also credited with inventing gymnastics, astronomy, music, numbers, even fire in some stories. He is also noted to have helped the Fates in inventing the Greek alphabet by creating the characters after being inspired by the flight formation of cranes.
The stance of this piece is reminiscent of athletes preparing for a race, like the athletes he is patron of.
It is no wonder that Hermes’s iconography is so widespread, as a god of travel many of his worshippers would have spread his stories and images far and wide. For example, the statues along roads and borders around Greece are known as Herms. They are placed as boundary markers and symbol of protection for travellers. Furthermore, his relevance to so many people has made his image and symbolism so deep-rooted in modern-day culture.