|My Favourite Planet > English > People > |
Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
In Greek myth Hermes (Greek, Ηερμες, Ἑρμῆς; also Ἑρμείας, Hermeias; known to the Romans as Mercurius, Mercury), god of dexterity, messenger and guide, was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, daughter of Atlas and one of the Pleiades. He was born in a cave on Mount Kyllene (or Cyllene; Greek, Κυλλήνη), Arcadia, in the Peloponnese. He was the father of Pan
Shortly after his birth he is said to have killed a tortoise and used its shell and intestines to make the first lyre. He later gave the lyre to Apollo as compensation for cattle he had stolen from him (see more about Hermes, the tortoise and the lyre on Stageira gallery page 19
). He was also credited with inventing language itself.
Apart from being inventive, a trickster and a thief, he was a swift messenger and errand boy of the gods, and is often shown with wings on his head, on a cap, petasos (πέτασος, a broad-brimmed sun hat) or helmet, or on his ankles or sandals. His other symbol is the caduceus (Latin; known in Greek as κηρύκειον, kerykeion, herald's staff or wand, see photo below
), a wand entwined with two snakes, and sometimes with wings, which he used to induce sleep and healing.
He was the second youngest of the Olympian gods, which may account for the fact that the elder deities were always sending him on errands. He is often portrayed as a protector of his younger half-brother Dionysus
Hermes was given several epithets, and there were so many stories about or involving him, and so many statues and herms of him on roads, at markets and gymnasiums, outside houses and other buildings, that it seems obvious that he was a very popular deity for all classes of people. However he was not worshipped or honoured with temples in the same grand style as other gods such as Zeus, Apollo, Athena or Artemis; sanctuaries of Hermes were usually quite modest.
Like many of the Greek gods, he was endowed with numerous skills, attributes and responsibilities as patron of various human professions and activities, including trade, thievery and travel - in this world and the next, as he also guided the dead to the underworld (as Hermes Psychopompos, Ἑρμῆς Ψυχοπομπός, Guide of Souls). Thus he was associated with death as well as sleep and dreams.
Hermes' association with markets and commerce may have developed from his more ancient role as the master of animals, wild and domesticated, a herdsman and tender of horses and mules. According to Hesiod, he also regulated the number of animals owned by farmers; animals and their products were among the most important indicators of wealth and purchasing power, especially before the introduction of coinage.
His multi-skilled and multi-tasking existence leads one to think that he was a composite or replacement for various earlier pre-Olympian and local deities. His attributes and responsibilities also overlapped with those of other deities, for example Hypnos (Ὕπνος, Sleep) and his brother Thanatos (Θάνατος, Death) who are also depicted with wings on their heads, as well as Morpheus (Μορφεύς) the god of dreams.
In Greek art Hermes was often depicted as a mature bearded male, but from the Classical period (5th century BC) he was also portrayed as young, clean-shaven and with an athletic build, as was his half-brother Dionysus
. However many later works, particularly herms and Archaistic statues (imitating the style of the Archaic period, 8th - 5th centuries BC), he was still shown with a beard.
He is often shown alone, but from early votive works he carries a ram, in his role as Kriophoros (κριοφόρος, ram bearer), the good herdsman and shepherd later also to become a symbol of Christ.
In a similar role, he carries his infant half-brother Dionysus
to save him from the vengeance of Hera, and takes him to be raised secretly by nymphs (see photos below
As Hermes Psychopompos, he is seen leading the souls of the deceased to the underworld, particularly on funerary monuments and vase paintings. In this connection he also appears with Hades (Pluto), the god of the underworld, and on votive works at sanctuaries of Pan
(his son) and the nymphs.
|References to Hermes|
on My Favourite Planet
|The Herm of Hermes from Pergamon,|
"a copy of Hermes Propylaios by Alkamenes".
Including photos and articles about herms,
showing Hermes with a beard.
Pergamon gallery 2, page 15
|A winged head of Hermes, from Pergamon.|
With photos and articles about sculptures
and paintings of Hermes without a beard.
Pergamon gallery 2, page 16
|A relief of Hermes with his caduceus on a column|
drum from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus:
Selcuk gallery 1, page 3
|Reliefs of Hermes on the Clivus Sacer (Sacred Way),
at the Ephesus archaeological site:
Ephesus gallery 1, page 9
Herm of Hermes of the "Pergamon type".
Pentelic marble. 1st century BC - 1st
century AD. Provenance unknown.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 107.
Marble head of a bearded Hermes.
1st - 2nd century AD. Found at Daphni, Attica.
Probably from a herm. The hair is
tied with a ribbon, and the curls
of the beard end in spirals.
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 1611.
Head of Hermes.
Roman period copy of a 4th century BC
Greek original. Island marble. From Rome.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 159.
Head of Hermes on a tetradrachm coin
from Ainos, Thrace (today Enez, Turkey),
circa 469-452 BC.
Altes Museum, Berlin.
Hermes standing between two sphinxes on the neck of an Attic black-figure
amphora. A late work of the vase painter Sophilos, circa 580 BC.
Found at Marathon, in the tumulus of the Athenians
who died during the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 1030.
Detail of an Attic black-figure amphora with a depiction of
Hermes standing before Zeus, who is sitting on his throne.
Made in Athens around 540-520 BC. Attributed to The Affecter.
British Museum. GR 1837.6-9.66 (Vase B 149).
An Archaistic Herm of Hermes, Curtius B type.
First half of the 1st century AD, "after an
original dating from the later 5th century BCE".
Height 47 cm, width 31 cm, depth 27 cm.
Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden.
Inv. No. Hm 069.
For more information about herms,
see Pergamon gallery 2, page 15.
Detail of a fragmentary altar with a relief of Hermes Kriophoros (ram bearer).
1st century BC copy of a 5th century BC Archaistic prototype.
Pentelic Marble. Found in Athens. Height 44 cm, width 27 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 54.
Fragment of a terracotta plaque showing Hermes carrying
a ram over his shoulders and carrying his kerykeion.
Made in Medma, southern Italy, around 450 BC.
British Museum. GR 1865.7-12.29 (Terracotta 1224).
A bronze kerykeion
"I am Longenaian public
Made in Sicily,
around 450-420 BC.
Fragmentary statue of Hermes Kriophoros (ram bearer).
Roman period, 1st century BC copy of a Classicistic original.
Pentelic Marble. Found near Rome. Height 43 cm.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 83.
Bronze statuette of Hermes
Work of a Peloponnesian
workshop, 550-525 BC.
Helen and Antonios
Bronze figurine of Hermes
Circa 550 BC.
Confiscated from the area of
Andritsaina, Arcadia, Peloponnese.
Inv. No. 12347.
"Youth holding a ram",
perhaps Hermes Kriophoros.
Painted terracotta statuette
from a Boeotian workshop,
mid 5th century BC. 
Helen and Antonios
|In the Archaic statuettes of Hermes from the Peloponnese, he is shown wearing a conical hat similar to the pilos (πῖλος) worn by Odysseus and the twin Spartan heroes the Dioskouroi.
Both bronze figures show a bearded figure wearing a chiton tunic with a zig-zag pattern around the collar and a thin belt around the waist. He carries a ram with his left arm, and originally held
a kerykeion (caduceus) in his right hand. The Andritsaina figurine (centre) has an elaborate floral crest on top of the hat, high sandles with decorated shin pieces and attached wings.
Bronze statuette of Hermes
Museen zu Berlin (SMB).
Ceramic figurine of Hermes
carrying a ram.
Relief of Cryophorus Pastor on a sarcophagus.
Parian marble. 250-300 AD.
From Porta Salaria, Rome.
The young shepherd wears a short tunic,
high shoes and a shoulder bag, and carries
a ram on his shoulders. The iconograpy of
the cryophorus, known since the 7th century
BC, became associated with happiness,
kindness and philanthropy, and was adopted
as a Christian symbol of salvation through
Christ as the "good shepherd".
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Marble relief of Hermes with a ram, on a pedestal on the south side of the
"Clivus Sacer" (Sacred Way), Ephesus. Roman period, 1st - 4th century AD.
Ephesus archaeological site, Turkey.
|Two matching marble pedestals (bases for statues or pillars, or altars?) stand on either side of the bottom of the "Clivus Sacer" (Sacred Way) in Ephesus, below to the northwesten corner of the Upper "State" Agora. The west sides of the pedestals, facing downhill to the lower city, are each decorated with a similar relief of Hermes leading an animal.
The relief on the south side of the street (on the right as you come up the street, see Ephesus gallery page 12) shows Hermes with a ram (photo above). The messenger god is depicted as a naked, athletic youth with winged sandals, walking to the left. In his left hand he holds a winged kerykeion (caduceus), and with his right hand he holds onto the head of the reluctant-looking ram walking behind him. He steps forwards on the toes of his right foot, while his lower left leg is raised behind him, revealing the ram's rather obvious testicles. To his left is an altar, hung with a wreath and with a phiale (libation bowl) on top, indicating that the image is concerned with a sacrifice, perhaps to Apollo.
Only the bottom half of the relief on the north side (photo right) has survived. Hermes walks to the right and holds the head of a male goat with his left hand. It is almost a mirror image of the other relief, so that the depictions of Hermes face each other and the roadway.
Such Roman period images of Hermes leading an animal to be sacrificed (see also the relief from Odessos, Bulgaria below), bring into question interpretations of the earlier Kriophoros images of the god as the "good shepherd", saving or caring for his flock, a notion developed by Christian tradition. It seems that the god was merely bringing the ram to the slaughter.
The adjacent side of each pedestal, facing the roadway, has a relief of a Delphic tripod with an omphalos and a plaque containing an image of the Mistress of Animals (Potnia Theron), a deity associated with Artemis.
The workmanship of the reliefs is quite poor, although a lot of work has been put into the details, such as the fleece of the ram.
The reliefs may refer to the healing god Asklepios, Apollo's son, and have been associated with an Asklepion or healing centre thought to have been located nearby. Alternatively, they may have been connected with the adjacent Prytaneion, or the Upper Agora.
The pedestals have been dated to somewhere between the 1st and 4th centuries AD (according to one source circa 3rd century AD), which is rather vague, and little seems to have been published about them. On one hand it is wonderful to see them on the street of Ephesus, but strange that they have been left here and not sheltered in the museum.
The relief of Hermes with a male goat on
the north pedestal on the Clivus Sacer.
Small marble votive relief of Hermes.
2nd - 3rd century AD. From Odessos (Οδησσός; today Varna, Bulgaria),
a Thracian settlement colonized by Miletus in the late 7th century BC.
Hermes stands naked, holding in his disproportionately large left
hand his caduceus, which rests on a cloak which is draped over
the arm. In his right hand he holds a bag or purse. To his left
stands a ram, and to his right a cockerel stands on a small altar.
Varna Archaeological Museum, Bulgaria.
Marble statue of Mercury/Hermes,
with winged ankles, wearing a winged
helmet and short cloak, and carrying
a caduceus and a purse.
Roman copy of an early
4th century BC Greek original.
Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums,
Rome. Inv. No. MC 60.
Restored marble statue of Hermes,
wearing a winged helmet and short
cloak, and carrying a caduceus.
2nd century AD, Antonine age,
with forms and motifs of the
Classical period. Height 150 cm.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Inv. No. Sk 198.
From the Natali collection, Rome.
Acquired in 1766 by Bianconi.
|Marble statue of Hermes.
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD copy of a late 5th century BC original
attributed to Naukydes of Argos, a sculptor in the school of Polykleitos.
Found in 1890 by archaeologists of the French School in Athens,
at ancient Troezen in the Peloponnese.
Hermes is shown naked except for a chlamys cloak and petasos hat.
With his right hand he holds onto the horns of a ram.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 243.
|Marble statue of "Hermes Loghios".
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD copy of a 5th century BC
bronze original attributed to Pheidias.
The statue was restored in the 17th century by Alessandro Algardi
who added the arm, outstretched with an oratorical gesture. This led to
the interpretration of the figure as Hermes Loghios, the god of eloquence.
Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of Rome.
Inv. No. 8624. Boncampagni Ludovisi Collection.
|Marble statue of the "Hermes Ludovisi" type or "Hermes Loghios" type.
Flavian period, 2nd half of the 1st century AD, copy of a 5th century BC original.
Found in 192 at the Villa Imperiale, Anzio.
Naked Hermes wears a winged petasos and carries a cloak and cadeceus on
his left arm. The lower legs and feet are missing, and as in the "Hermes Loghios"
statue above, it is thought that his right arm was extended forward.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 124479.
Marble head of Mercury/Hermes
wearing a winged helmet.
Roman copy of an early
4th century BC Greek model.
Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania,
Sicily. From the Biscari Collection.
Marble winged head of Hermes from Pergamon.
Roman Imperial period, 1st century AD.
Found in 1909 at the Sanctuary of
Demeter, Pergamon. Height 29 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 2162 T. Cat. Mendel 555.
Small marble head of Hermes.
Roman creation based on a 4th century BC
Greek original. Insular marble.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 141.
Detail of one side of a base for a funeral vase with
a relief of Hermes as Psychopompos (guide of souls).
Marble. 410-400 BC. Found in Moschato, Athens.
Hermes wears a short chiton tunic, chlamys cloak and petasos hat. It is thought that
his herald's staff was rendered in paint. Two other sides of the base also have reliefs:
the front shows a young girl and a youth picking apples from a tree, an allusion to
the Elysian Fields and the afterlife; the third shows a priest holding a sacrifical knife.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 4502.
Detail of the Myrrhine lekythos.
A 5th century BC marble funerary vase
found in Syntagma Square, Athens.
Hermes Psychopompos (Guide of Souls)
leads the dead Myrrhine to the underworld.
On the left her relatives bid her farewell.
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 4485.
See Athens Acropolis gallery page 11.
Marble relief, known as the "Orpheus Relief", showing
Hermes, Eurydice and Orpheus in the Underworld.
Found at Torre del Greco, Bay of Naples. Height 118 cm, width 100 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6727. Carafa di Noja Collection.
|The relief was made in 1st century AD, during the Augustan period, and before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is thought to be a copy of a Greek original of the second half of the 5th century BC, in the High Classical style of the sculptures of the Parthenon, and has been attributed to Alkamenes, pupil of Pheidias.
This is one of six almost identical surviving Roman period reliefs; two other almost complete examples are in the Villa Albani, Rome and the Louvre, Paris. The type is the earliest extant depiction of the well-known myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld (Hades).
Distraught with grief by the death of his bride Eurydice, Orpheus descended to the Underworld in search of her. He charmed the gods there with his music and they permitted him to return with Eurydice to the land of the living, on the condition that he did not look back at her during the long journey back. However, when they had almost reached the boundary of the Underworld, Orpheus could not resist his longing to see her face. He turned and lifted her veil to look at her, breaking the condition set by the gods, and she was forced to remain in the realm of the dead.
In the relief Eurydice is shown unveiled, and she and Orpheus touch each other tenderly. But Hermes, as Psychopompos (Guide of Souls), has already taken hold of her arm to lead her back down to Hades.
The names of the figures are inscribed above their heads. Hermes is also identifiable by the petasos (broad-brimmed sun hat) hanging behind his head. The name of Orpheus, with his Phrygian cap and lyre, is written back-to-front, perhaps to indicate that he comes from the world of the living.
Hermes in a scene from the underworld. Hermes, as Hermes Psychopompos (Ἑρμῆς Ψυχοπομπός),
guide of souls, leads Herakles, who is carrying a bearded male with a cornucopia, probably Hades,
god of the underworld, through the River Styx. He wears a petasos (πέτασος, a broad-brimmed
sun hat, originally from Thessaly) and a chlamys (χλαμύς) cloak, and carries a caduceus
(Latin; known in Greek as κηρύκειον, kerukeion, herald's staff or wand) in his right hand.
Detail of an Attic red-figure bell krater, circa 370 BC.
Berlin, Antikensammlung SMB. Inv. No. 31094.
Marble votive relief for Hermes and the nymphs.
From Greece, 410-400 BC. Found on the Quirinal Hill, Rome.
Hermes is naked, apart from a chlamys cloak over his shoulders and a petasos sun hat
hanging behind his head. He leads three nymphs as all four walk towards the smaller
figure of the worshipping donator on the far left.
On the right stands the river God Acheloos as a bull with a horned human head. The top right
corner of the relief is missing, but the crossed legs of Pan sitting on a rock ledge can be seen.
Altes Museum. Inv. No. Sk 709 a. Acquired in 1889.
An Archaistic votive relief showing three nymphs walking hand-in-hand and being led by
Hermes (as Hermes Psychopompos, guide of souls) into a cave representing the underworld.
They stand before an altar behind which sits Hades, the god of the underworld, holding a
drinking horn. Pan looks on from above, playing his pipes. Hermes wears his trademark
petasos (πέτασος, a broad-brimmed sun hat) and a chlamys (χλαμύς, a short cloak).
Pentelic marble, Hellenistic period.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 176.
See similar reliefs depicting Hermes, Pan, nymphs
and other deities below and on the Pan page.
Relief of Hermes Psychopompos and a female figure on a marble column
drum from the later Temple of Artemis, Ephesus. 325-300 BC.
|Found by the British archaeologist John Turtle Wood at the southwest corner of the later temple, during excavations in 1871. According to Pliny the Elder, thirty six of the temple's columns were decorated with sculpture. Around this column drum, the best preserved, is a sculpted relief of seven figures, two of which have been destroyed.
The three figures in the photo above seem to be the focus of the group. A woman is flanked by two male figures. To her left, the naked, winged youth with a sheathed sword at his side is thought to be Thanatos (Death). The figure to her right is clearly Hermes as Psychopompos. The theme of the scene appears to be the death of the woman, whose identity is unknown, but is thought to be one of the tragic heroines of Greek myth, perhaps Eurydike, Alkestis or Iphigenia.
Hermes stands naked with a cloak wrapped around his left arm. He holds his caduceus in his right hand. He appears to be stepping forward and looking up - at what can only be guessed.
Height 1.84 metres, diameter 1.97 metres.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1872.8-3.9 (Sculpture 1206).
|"The Atalante Hermes"
Found at Atalante, Phtiotis. Pentelic Marble. 2nd century AD copy
of a 4th century BC type with Lysippean features.
A funerary statue of a youth depicted as Hermes. The nude figure has
a chlamys (riding cloak) over his left shoulder and wound around his
left arm. In his left hand he probably held a caduceus, Hermes' wand.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 240.
The so-called "Capitoline Antinous", a marble statue
of Hermes previously believed to be a portrait of
Emperor Hadrian's deified young favourite Antinous.
From Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli. Roman period
copy of a 4th century BC Greek orginal.
Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 741. From the Albani Collection.
Marble relief of the gods Okeanos (god of the rivers), Hermes and Poseidon.
From Nikomedia (Izmit), Turkey. Roman Imperial period, 2nd century AD.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5344 T.
Detail of a black-figure olpe (jug) with Hermes between two sphinxes.
Made in Athens about 600-580 BC, in the manner of the Gorgon Painter.
From Nola, Campania, Italy.
British Museum. GR 1867.5-8-1010 (Vase B 32). Blacas Collection.
Black-figure hydria (water jar) depicting a scene from
the myth of the Judgement of Paris. Mid 6th century BC.
Paris, right, is approached by Hermes, leading Athena, Hera and Aphrodite.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 59.
Detail of the painting of the Judgement of Paris on the hydria above.
See part of a relief from Delphi below, with Hermes
in a scene thought to depict the Judgement of Paris.
Etruscan terracotta plaques, around 560-550 BC, showing a scene from the Greek myth
of the Judgement of Paris. Paris, left, is approached by a procession of gods (left-right):
Hermes, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite.
From a series of five painted terracotta plaques from a small chamber tomb
in the Banditaccia cemetery, Cerveteri, Tuscany. They are known as the
Boccanera plaques after the two brothers who discovered them in 1874.
The style and colours reflect Corinthian vase painting; other features,
such as clothing details, are typically Etruscan. Hermes carries a staff
or sceptre topped by a figure of a bull.
British Museum. GR 1889. 4-10 1 to 5 (Paintings 5a-e).
Detail of an inscribed Attic black-figure calyx-krater by Exekias, showing Hermes and other
deities taking part in the deification of Herakles and his introduction to Olympus. 530 BC.
Found in 1937 in a well in the Athenian Agora. Side B of the krater
shows the fight between Greek and Trojan warriors over the body
of the fallen Patrokles; in the lower zone lions attacking a bull.
Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens. Inv. No. AP 1044.
|The name ΗΕΡΜΕΣ (Hermes) is painted clearly above the god's head. Typical of Exekias' style are the bold composition and the finely incised drawing of contours and details, such as Hermes' hair and beard, and the patterns of his garments: the meander on the collar of his tunic, and flowers/stars and swastikas on his cloak.
Hermes is finely dressed for the special occasion. He carries a long kerykeion (caduceus), and wears a petasos over his elaborately styled hair. To the right, tendril-like vines, loaded with bunches of grapes, fill the space and seem to dance in the breeze. The grapes are made plastic by the simple trick of indicating the highlighs of individual fruits with simple C-shaped incisions.
|Athena and Hermes on an Attic red-figure lekythos. Made in Athens 475-460 BC.
From the cemetery at Poggio Giache, Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily.
Attributed to the Providence Painter.
On the left Athena, wearing a peplos with a decorated border and
a quiver over her shoulder, holds a spear and offers a helmet to
Hermes. He wears a chlamys, a petasos tied to his neck hangs behind
his head, and he holds a spear in his left hand (not visible in photo).
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
Neck of a red-figure neck amphora showing Hermes with a female figure.
Made in Paestum, 340-330 BC.
The body of the amphora depicts the birth of Aphrodite in quite a different style.
On the neck, a yothful Hermes stands naked apart from a cloak, golden wreath
and a petasos hat hanging from his neck. He has winged ankles and holds a
kerykeion in his right hand. With his left hand he gestures to an elegantly
dressed young woman, sitting on rocks and holding a casket in her right hand.
National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
|Statue of Hermes carrying the infant Dionysus.
A plaster cast of a 2.15 cm high marble statue found in the Archaic temple of Hera
at Olympia, Greece. The original may be the statue mentioned by Pausanias in the
second century AD (Description of Greece, Book 5, chapter 17, section 3), who wrote that
it was made by Praxiteles (around 340 BC), although it may be a Hellenistic copy. 
Plaster cast in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. C113.
Original in the Olympia Archaeological Museum, Greece.
See also a mosaic showing Pan carrying the infant Dionysus in Istanbul.
Head of the plaster cast of the Hermes statue
from Olympia (see above).
Torso of a statue of Hermes
carrying the infant Dionysus.
From the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Marble, Roman period.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Detail of a marble herm of Hermes as a base for
a statue of Hermes carrying the infant Dionysus.
Roman period copy, perhaps of a statue group by Kephisodotos the Elder
(flourished around 400-360 BC), thought to be the father or uncle of Praxiteles.
Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens. Inv. No. S 33.
See more photos and information about herms on
Pergamon gallery 2, page 15.
Late Hellenistic relief on a marble puteal (well-head; Greek, περιστόμιον, peristomion)
showing Hermes carrying the infant Dionysus, followed by a dancing maenad playing
a tympanon and a satyr playing a double flute (aulos). In front of Hermes a seated
nymph waits to receive the infant, and holds out a cloth to cover him.
White, fine crystalline marble. Height 82.5 cm, diameter 82.0 cm.
Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden. Inv. No. ZV 4125.
|The scene is similar to other extant reliefs, particularly a puteal in the Vatican Museums, Rome, dated to the 4-3rd century BC.
According to one version of Greek myths about Dionysus, after his birth, Zeus ordered Hermes to take the infant to be raised secretly either by King Athamas and his wife Ino (Dionysus' aunt), or according to another version, to the Hyades, rain nymphs of Nysa (a mythological place in Phoenicia, Arabia, Ethiopia or Libya). See the Dionysus page of the People section.
Inscribed marble votive relief thought to depict Hermes presenting
the infant Dionysus to a nymph in a cave, witnessed by other deities.
Pentelic marble. From Athens. Dedicated by
Neoptolemos of Melite, about 330 BC. Height 64.5 cm.
Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens. Inv. No. I 7154.
Exhibited in the lower portico (ground floor) of the
Stoa of Attalus, in which the museum is housed.
|Excavated in 1970 south of the Athenian Agora, in the remains of a Late Roman house on the north slope of the Areopagus. It is possibly from the Cave of Pan, above the the Klepsydra on the north slope of the Acropolis.
The relief is thought to have been deliberately mutilated, perhaps by Christians. The faces and objects held by most of the ten figures are missing, making identification difficult. The scene has been described simply as "ten figures watching or participating in a sacrifice in a cave". However, it has also been interpreted as Hermes bringing the infant Dionyus to safety and into the care of a nymph (perhaps one of the Hyades or Ino). The figures have been identified (with some alternative identifications) by comparison with similar reliefs and other sculptures.
Zeus reclines on a rock above the other figures. Below him, from left to right: Persephone (Kore) standing; Dionysus seated, holding his thyrsos; Demeter standing (both arms missing), looking down at Dionysus; Hermes, holding the infant Dionysus in both arms, his left foot resting on a rock behind an altar so that his left knee can support the infant; a nymph facing him receives the infant; Apollo (or a nymph) seated, facing left; Artemis (or a nymph) stands behind him with her right arm raised; Pan sits below them with a wineskin. There may have been another figure, perhaps a nymph, on the broken right side of the relief.
The figures thought to be nymphs (including the supposed Apollo and Artemis) have been described as smaller in scale than the others. But the only figure who appears smaller is the supposed Hermes, who is half a head shorter than the female figure facing him. It seems unlikely that this figure could be the dedicator of the relief, as in such reliefs mortal worshippers are usually shown considerably smaller and separated from deities, usually standing on the edge of the scene (see, for example, reliefs on the Pan page). Two of the few artworks to show a mortal among gods is the much later Apotheosis of Homer (3rd or 2nd century BC) and the so-called "Ikarios reliefs" (perhaps 2nd century BC).
The inscription on the lower border of the relief is a dedication by Neoptolemos, son of Antikles, of the Attic deme of Melite, thought to be the wealthy Athenian citizen known from literary sources and other inscriptions.
[Νεο]πτόλε[μος] [Ἀν]τικλέ[ους] [Με]λιτε[ὺς] [ἀν]έθη[κεν]
Inscription IG II2 4901.
A silver stater of Pheneos showing Hermes
carrying the infant Arkas. Circa 360-340 BC.
Numismatic Collection, Bode Museum, Berlin.
|Hermes, nude except for a petasos and a chlamys (short cloak), holds a kerykeion in his right hand and the infant Arkas in the left. He moves to the left, his head turned back to the right to look at Arkas, who raises his right hand towards Hermes' face.
Pheneos (Φενεός) was a city in Arkadia, northeastern Peloponnese, Greece. It stood at the foot of Mount Kyllene, the mythical birthplace of Hermes, was an important cult centre for the god, and the location of an annual festival of the Hermaea. It also had sanctuaries for Demeter and Asklepios. The obverse side of the coin shows the head of Demeter.
In mythological tales similar to those concerning Hermes and the infant Dionysus, the messenger god also rescued Arkas, the son of Zeus and the nymph Kallisto (and therefore his half-brother). After either Artemis or Zeus' jealous wife Hera had turned Kallisto into a bear, Zeus asked Hermes to take the infant Arkas (Αρκάς; from Arktos, bear) to safety at the home of his mother Maia on Mount Kyllene. Arkas became king of Arkadia, which was named after him, and taught people the art of weaving and bread-baking. Zeus later transformed Kallisto and Arkas into the constellations Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear).
A winged sandal (Latin, talaris, of the ankle;
plural talaria) on Hermes' right foot.
|Bronze statue of Hermes resting.
Found in the rectangular peristyle of the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum.
Thought to have been made locally and modelled on a work by Lysippos
(perhaps the original of the Hermes in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).
Hermes sits on a rock, naked apart from his winged sandals (talaria), and
appears to be resting from the exertions of his tasks as messenger of the gods.
In World War II the statue was moved for safety to a bomb shelter at Montecassini,
from where it was stolen. It was recovered and returned to the museum in 1947.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
A Roman denarius serratus issued by the magistrate
C. Mamilius Limetanus (Gaius Mamilius Limetanus) showing
the head of Mercury with a winged petasos and caduceus. 82 BC.
The reverse side shows Ulysses (Odysseus) standing right,
holding a staff and his extending hand to his dog Argus.
When Odysseus finally returned home to Ithaca, Argus
recognized him and died of joy at seeing his former master.
Numismatic Collection, Bode Museum, Berlin.
Marble herm from Pompeii. 1st century AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Inv. No. 27730.
Marble herm of Mercurius
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
|See more photos and information about herms on Pergamon gallery 2, page 15.
Clay disc depicting Nike crowning Hermes. 2nd century AD.
Nike, the greek goddess of victory, stands behind Hermes, holding a victor's wreath above
his head with her right hand. In her left hand she holds a palm branch. Hermes, naked apart
from a petasos sun hat and winged sandals, sits on what appears to be a rock, perhaps
covered by his cloak. In his right hand he holds his kerukeion (caduceus). The legend
ΠΑΡΝΑΣΟΥ (Parnassos) may refer to the merchant who dedicated the disc to his patron god.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5344 T.
Small ceramic plate with a painting of Hermes.
Found in the Tiber River, Rome.
Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.
Relief on the top of the inscribed funeral stele of the child Sextus Rufus Achilleus,
who died at the age of 7 years and 9 days. The deceased child is depicted as
Hermes, with petasos, chlamys, caduceus and a purse. To the left is a rooster,
and to the right a tortoise.
2nd century AD. Unknown origin.
Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome. From the Kircherian Museum.
The inside of a steatite phiale (libation bowl) with Hermes holding Nike in his outstretched hand.
Either side of him stand a female and male figure. From Asia Minor, 2nd - 3rd century AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Roman bronze balance for measuring liquids, with a counter-weight in
the form of a head of Mercury with a winged helmet. From Herculaneum.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Hermes depicted on part of an Archaic relief thought to show the
myth of the Judgement of Paris, from the Siphian Treasury, Delphi.
Fragmentary slab of the left side of the west frieze of the Ionic treasury,
built for the people of Siphnos around 525 BC (before 524 BC).
The west frieze is thought to have been made by a sculptor from Ionia.
Hermes stands on the left, wearing a chiton and holding his kerykeion in his right hand.
On the right, a headless female figure, thought to be Athena, appears to be mounting her
chariot. The next slab shows another female figure, perhaps Aphrodite, stepping off her
chariot, and the missing third slab possibly depicted the third contestant Hera and Paris.
Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Fresco showing Mercury and Dionysus, protectors of commerce and wine, on the wall of a tavern in Pompeii.
In situ in Thermopolium Lucius Vetutius Placidus, Pompeii.
|The scene is set in a painted lararium (shrine) in the form of a temple with Corinthian columns, on a wall in the thermopolium. Mercury stands on the far left, and Dionysus far right with his panther. In the centre the house gods and the Genius, holding a cornucopia, sacrifice at a tripod altar.
Below the figures are two agatodemone snakes, divinities of prosperity and abundance, either side of an altar.
Mercury with his caduceus and a purse.
A Roman lead ingot stamped with a dolphin, the name of the merchant
Marcus Octavius and a caduceus, the symbol of the money god Mercury.
100 BC - 100 AD. One of a number of ingots from a shipwreck found in the
sea off Cape Passero, Sicily. The lead is thought to have been from mines
in Spain, which the Romans controlled following their defeat of Carthage.
Soprintenderiza per i Beni culturali e ambientali del Mare, Palermo, Sicily. Inv. No. 33.
Exhibited in the exhibition "Storms, war and shipwrecks:
Treasures from the Sicilian Seas", Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2016.
Frescoes depicting Mercury flanked by cupids on the ceiling of the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche
in the Villa Farnesina, Trastevere, Rome. Designed and painted by Raphael and his workshop,
Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni, Giovanni da Udine and Raphaellino del Colle, in
1517-1518, the fresco panels in the loggia depict the "Fable of Cupid and Psyche" from the
novel The golden ass by Apulius (2nd century AD).
See also The Wedding of Alexander the Great and Roxana.
a fresco by Sodoma in the Villa Farnesina.
||Notes, references and links
1. "Youth holding a ram" from Boeotia
The painted terracotta statuette is similar to one in the Louvre, Paris, dated to circa 450 BC, and probably from the same workshop.
"Youth holding a ram". Musée du Louvre. Inv. No. CA 626. Height 18 cm.
2. The Statue of Hermes with the infant Dionysus in Olympia
"The famously smooth and skilful 'Hermes of Praxiteles' in the Olympia museum. Its pedestal is Hellenistic or Roman, the legs except for the right foot are modern; the conception is that of Praxiteles working about 325 B.C., and the finish is glittering, but this is not the original statue; it is a fine Hellenistic copy. This sad but important truth is argued irrefutably by Sheila Adam in The technique of Greek sculpture (1966), pp. 124-8."
Peter Levi, in his translation of Pausanias, Guide to Greece, Volume 2: Southern Greece, note 164, page 248. Penguin Classics, 1979.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Varna Archaeological Museum
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Dresden, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum, Campania
Pompeii archaeological site
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Centrale Montemartini
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Bergama Archaeological Museum
Ephesus archaeological site
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
A relief of the head of Mercury with a winged helmet
and caduceus. From his open mouth protrudes a metal
water spout of a public fountain on a street of Pompeii.
A relief of the head of Mercury with a winged helmet
on the facade of a modern building in Rome.
|Photos and articles © David John|
|Visit the My Favourite Planet Group on Facebook.
Join the group, write a message or comment,
post photos and videos, start a discussion...
|Copyright © 2003-2017 My Favourite Planet | contributors | impressum | index of contents | sitemap|