Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and additionally as a guide to the Underworld. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who travel across them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves and liars, of orators and wit, of literature and poets, of athletics and sports, of weights and measures, of invention, and of commerce in general. His symbols include the tortoise, the rooster, the winged sandals, the winged hat, and the caduceus . In the Roman adaptation of the Greek religion , Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce.
The Homeric hymn to Hermes invokes him as the one "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."
He protects and takes care of all the travelers, miscreants, harlots, old crones and thieves that pray to him or cross his path. He is athletic and is always looking out for runners, or any athletes with injuries who need his help. Hermes is a messenger from the gods to humans, sharing this role with Iris. An interpreter who bridges the boundaries with strangers is a hermeneus. Hermes gives us our word "hermeneutics" for the art of interpreting hidden meaning. In Greek a lucky find was a hermaion. Hermes delivered messages from Olympus to the mortal world. He wears shoes with wings on them and uses them to fly freely between the mortal and immortal world. Hermes was the second youngest of the Olympian gods, being born before Dionysus.
Hermes, as an inventor of fire, is a parallel of the Titan, Prometheus. In addition to the lyre, Hermes was believed to have invented many types of racing and the sports of wrestling and boxing, and therefore was a patron of athletes.
According to prominent folklorist Yeleazar Meletinsky, Hermes is a deified trickster. Hermes also served as a psychopomp, or an escort for the dead to help them find their way to the afterlife . 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 hindrance.
Hermes often helped travelers have a safe and easy journey. Many Greeks would sacrifice to Hermes before any trip.
In the fully-developed Olympian pantheon, Hermes was the son of Zeus and the Pleiade Maia, a daughter of the Titan Atlas. Hermes' symbols were the cock and the tortoise, and he can be recognized by his purse or pouch, winged sandals, winged cap, and the herald's staff, the kerykeion. The night he was born he slipped away from Maia and stole his elder brother Apollo's cattle.
Hermes was born on Mount Kellina|Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Zeus in the dead of night secretly begot Hermes upon Maia, a nymph. The Greeks generally applied the name Maia to a midwife or a wise and gentle old woman; so the nymph appears to have been an ancient one, or more probably a goddess. At any rate, she was one of the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, taking refuge in a cave of Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. They were discovered by the local king Abacus, who raised Hermes as his foster son.
The infant Hermes was precocious. His first day he invented the lyre. By nightfall, he had rustled the immortal cattle of Apollo. For the first sacrifice, the taboos surrounding the sacred kine of Apollo had to be transgressed, and the trickster god of boundaries was the one to do it.
Hermes drove the cattle back to Greece and hid them, and covered their tracks. When Apollo accused Hermes, Maia said that it could not be him because he was with her the whole night. However, Zeus entered the argument and said that Hermes did steal the cattle and they 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.
Hermes goes to demand from Calypso Odysseus's release from the island of Ogygia; Hermes protects Odysseus from Circe by bestowing upon him a plant, moly, which protects him from her shape-shifting spell. Hermes also appears in book 24, where he plays the role of psychopomp and leads the freshly slain suitors and disloyal maids to the underworld. Odysseus, the main character of the Odyssey, is of matrilineal descent from Hermes
In Homer's Iliad, Hermes helps King Priam of Troy sneak into the Achaean encampment to confront Achilles and convince him to return Hector's body.
The body of Sarpedon is carried away from the battlefield of Troy by the twin winged gods, Hypnos and Thanatos . The pair are depicted clothed in armour, and are overseen by Hermes Psychopompos . The scene appears in book 16 of Homer's Iliad:
"[Apollon] gave him [the dead Sarpedon] into the charge of swift messengers to carry him, of Hypnos and Thanatos , who are twin brothers, and these two presently laid him down within the rich countryside of broad Lykia."