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The myth of Hermes


Apollo and Hermes (detail of), Francesco Albani, 1635, oil on copper,

Musée national du Château de Fontainebleau‎, France



Hermes was the God of shepherds, travelers, merchants and all those who lived by their wits! In fact, as soon as he was born, he woke up in the night and pranked Apollo. Hermes went up to Apollo’s pasture, where he kept his cows, and stole fifty of his best cows. To make sure that Apollo would not be able to retrace the cows’ steps, Hermes tied brooms to each of the cow's tails so that they would erase their own tracks. He then hid the stolen cows and sacrificed two of them to the Gods. With the remains of the sacrificed cows he made seven strings and attached them to a tortoise shell, thus creating the first lyre. He then tiptoed back into his crib. However, as all of us know, he couldn't fool his mother, Maia, into believing he had slept soundly throughout the whole night! To avoid his mother's questions, he got out his lyre and played her to sleep.

The morning after, Apollo stormed into the cave where Hermes lay in his basket pretending to sleep. Hermes couldn't fool Apollo this time. An oracle told Apollo that Hermes was the one behind the theft of the cows. Apollo dragged the baby to Zeus on Olympus to seek justice. Zeus listened carefully and made Hermes reveal where he had hidden the cows. Hermes brought Apollo to his hiding place and Apollo forgave him as soon as he got there. Apollo was angered again once he noticed that two cows were missing!

Hermes was not surprised by this and quickly pulled out his lyre to play an enchanting tune. At that point, Apollo was so completely blown away by this melodious music and instrument that he offered his whole herd in exchange for this new instrument. Hermes agreed to this exchange, only if Apollo would trade his magic as well, and so he did. From that moment on the two brothers were best friends! Zeus was so glad of his son's wit that he gave Hermes a golden hat with wings, a pair of winged sandals, and a cape under which he could hide his magic tricks. That is why Hermes is always represented with these elements, as shown in the picture above.