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From Greek and Roman Mythology & Heroic Legend, by Professor H. Steuding, Translated from the German and Edited by Lionel D. Barnett. The Temple Primers, London: J. M. Dent; 1901; pp. 46-51.


Greek Religion from the Beginning of the Homeric Age :

V.  Hermes, the Satyrs, and Pan.   § 82.  Arkadia, mountainous and shut in on all sides by chains of lofty hills, was tenanted from earliest times, as it is to this day, by herdsmen who cared for nothing more than the welfare of their herds. Hence they paid especial worship to the deities which bestowed on their sheep and goats nourishment and growth, and furthered their increase. Hermes, who himself bears the by-name Arkas, ‘the Arkadian,’ has here his home. He is said to have been born in a cavern of Mount Kyllene, on the summit of which he had from the oldest times a sanctuary; perhaps the story is a memory of his former connection with the gods of the depths of the earth. In the districts lying round the mountain, particularly in Pheneos and Stymphalos, festivals with competitions were held in his honour; hence he was looked upon as their patron (Ἑ. ἀγώνιος, ἐναγώνιος), and found adoration in all race-courses and wrestling-schools. He even developed into the model of the skilful (εὔκολος, διάκτορος ?) pupil of the wrestling-school, and thence also into the ‘bestower of grace’ (χαριδώτης).


§ 83.  In his old places of worship however he was still chiefly represented as the good shepherd, with the ram under his arm (κριοφόρος), and as such he has come down to us in many works of art. And as he leads home the herds and lost sheep, so as ἐνόδιος, ὅδιος or ἡγεμόνιος he guides wayfarers on unknown paths. Stone-heaps with pillars in them, which served as fingerposts, were hence sacred to him, so that the latter were often adorned with a head of Hermes, or on cross-roads even with three or four heads, and were called hermai or hermaia.

§ 84.  In early times all wealth consisted in herds, and cattle even served as commercial standard (compare Lat. pecunia); thus Hermes νόμιος and ἐπιμήλιος developed into the bestower of prosperity and fortune in general. He figured early in Sekyon near to Kyllene, in Athens, Sparta, and many other cities, as patron of market-traffic (Ἑ. ἀγοραῖος, ἐμπολαῖος), and thus became the god of tradesfolk, who spread his worship in all quarters, and even brought it to Rome; here he was confused with the old Roman deity of merchandise, Mercurius.

§ 85.  Regarded thus, he later bears the purse as token. On the other hand he carries as herdsman’s god the hooked stick to catch the cattle, which was used also as a traveller’s staff. Wayfarers and pedlars are in times of undeveloped commerce the natural heralds and messengers, hence the herdsman’s stick passes over into the herald’s staff (κηρύκειον, caduceus). After the transformation of Hermes into the god of luck this finally becomes the magical wishing-rod which raises treasure and bestows fortune; it is then represented as a twisted forked twig or a snaky staff. As a wayfarer Hermes wears the traveller’s hat (petasos), which like his shoes is usually furnished with wings to indicate his swiftness.

§ 86.  As herdsmen sometimes stole the herds of others, so Hermes on the very evening after his birth drove off from a meadow at the foot of Olympos the fifty white golden-horned kine of the gods, cunningly effaced their trail, and hid them in a cavern. Thus he is accounted the patron of thieves and 48 a pattern of their cunning and shrewdness (Ἑ. δόλιος). In this connection the story ran that he stole his arrows from Apollon, and at the bidding of Zeus carried off Io in the form of a cow from the watcher Argos (§ 126); here again the theft of kine by herdsmen is the basis of the tale. To their god was also ascribed the invention of the herdsmen’s pipe (αὐλός, σῦριγξ) and thence of the lyre.

§ 87.  As guide on unknown paths (Ἑ. πομπός, πομπαῖος), Hermes becomes the leader of departed souls in their journey to the nether world (Ἑ. ψυχοπομπός) as well as of their kindred, Dreams (ἡγήτωρ ὀνείρων); here and there he himself is worshipped as a subterranean god (Ἑ. χθόνιος), hence he may well have been in his original character a god ruling over souls.

§ 88.  When he was inserted into the circle of the Olympian deities he was made the son of the father of the gods, Zeus, and Maia (‘Mother’), the nymph of Mount Kyllene, and became the messenger of the gods, a quality which suits his former character, and already appears in the foreground in the later parts of the Iliad.

By older art he is commonly figured as a mature man with a peaked beard, but in works of Ionic origin often as a youth. Subsequently the latter is the standing representation; he is then clad only in a chlamys or is quite naked, as he appears in the magnificent statue of Praxiteles dug up at Olympia. The child on his arm here is the young Dionysos, whom he is bringing to the nymphs to be nursed.

Black and white engraving of the seated Hermes by Praxiteles from Olympia.

§ 89.  With the herdsman’s god Hermes is associated his son Pan, likewise an Arkadian, and the Satyroi, sprites much like Pan, and worshipped by the Argive peasantry busied with cattle-breeding and the cultivation of the vine. The Argives assigned to these gnome-like spirits of earth’s fruitfulness the form of a goat, for this necessarily seemed to them the animal of chief procreative power. In passing over to human form the Satyrs preserved from this earlier stage the goat’s ears and little tail as their characteristic token, as well as their connection with wine.


§ 90.  As Pan (‘the grazer’) was like them represented in the form of a goat, he may well be regarded as the type of these same spirits of fertility, remodelled after their own likeness by the Arkadian herdsmen into the figure of a divine herdsman. Thus it is especially his function to make the herds increase and thrive. Like the herdsmen themselves he dwells in summer in the caves of the mountains, and in winter goes down with them into the plain; in the hot hour of midday he rests, at eventide he blows the shepherd’s flute or syrinx; his secondary occupations are hunting, fishing, and the craft of war. It is he too who inspires herds, and hence armies also, with the sudden panic terror that drives them headlong in senseless flight. He is the lover of the moon-goddess Selene, probably because moonshine gives to the herds a suitable dewy pasture.

From Arkadia, where with Hermes he held almost the first rank, his worship spread through Argolis to Athens, to Parnassos, and as far as Thessaly. Later his similar character, probably through his connection with the Satyrs watching over the culture of the vine, brought him into the train of Dionysos. finally the philosophers, giving a new interpretation to his name (τὸ πᾶν = the All), and identifying him with the great goat-shaped god of Mendes in Egypt, made him the omnipotent ruler and vital spirit of all nature, on whose death all nature’s life perishes likewise. He was represented as bearded, with the legs, tails, ears, and horns of a goat, but often also as human, and only characterised by a brutish expression.

Next :
Olympian Deities :

VI.  Poseidon and his Circle.

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