God Hermes in the Odyssey

God Hermes in the Odyssey

 

Hermeis Odysseus’ great-grandpa.

 

Hermes, head, sculpture, 5th cent

Hermes, 5th cent. B.C., Agora of Athens

Bloodlines make for a lot in Greek mythology, esp. when divine lineage is involved:

  • traits inherited,
  • gifts passing down,
  • assistance afforded,
  • cult to be sustained, and more.

 

Hermes, vase painting, judgement of Paris

“The Judgement of Paris” with god Hermes wearing his winged boots & holding his messenger’s staff

 

Hermes and Odysseus

Hermes appears several times in the Odyssey:

  1. Book 5: He visits Calypso, giving her a message from Zeus that she must release Odysseus.
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  2. Book 8: He features a song about the loves of Aphrodite & Ares. After seeing the lovers trapped in the invisible net crafted by the cheated husband, Hermes confesses to Apollo that he wouldn’t mind the fuss and the shame, if this meant laying with the goddess.
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  3. Book 10: He meets Odysseus on his way to Circe’s palace in order to offer the hero a potent herb and some tips on how to resist the witch.
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  4. Book 24: After his great-grandson Odysseus kills the Suitors, Hermes escorts their souls to Hades. Being in charge of this morbid journey is one of the god’s standard functions.

(In Book 11, Odysseus visits Hades while still alive.)

 

 

Hermes Nomios

 

Hermes ram-bearer

Besides being

  • a master of “passages” (traveling back & forth as a divine messenger, leading souls to the land of the Dead) and
  • a superb trickster (much like his Ithacan descendant),  

Hermes was primarily a god of flocks & pastures

God & Human: Fusion of Identities

 

Odysseus escapes Polyphemus' (Cyclop) cave tied under the belly of a ram

Odysseus escapes Polyphemus’ cave hidden under the belly of a ram

In Book 9, Odysseus manages to exit the Cyclop’s cave hidden under the belly of a ram. Polyphemus falls for the trick and talks to his favorite animal, deploring the misfortune of his blinding. To the untrained eye, the following may seem an insignificant detail:

  • Polyphemus starts addressing the animal, not knowing that Odysseus is hidden beneath its belly. The very first word the Cyclop utters  in his speech to the favorite animal (>> the animal+human duo) is – “Ram!”

What we see here, in other words, is a “fusion” of identities (animal – human – god) that will prove vital for Odysseus while he struggles to escape the consequences of Polyphemus’ curse (“daddy Poseidon, avenge me! hunt down this creep Odysseus!”).

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