Got any good Hermes cultus trivia? Ever since I was a kid he was always my favorite (makes sense, he's a very childish god) but all the stuff I've found is prosaic, centered around the market and the gymnasium. His connection with magic seems surprisingly thin, given that his qualities - trickster, psychopomp, flight, invisibility, communication, boundary crossing, cunning - in total seem highly evocative of magic. I'm also surprised he and Hecate don't appear together more often. What gives?
The neat thing about Hermes - the thing that always makes me grin - is that he’s initially an archaic God:
peasant or his forefathers knew that the stone heaps sometimes
covered a dead man and that the stone erected on top was a tombstone.
Accordingly, the god who dwelt in the tone heap had relations with the
dead. Although the people brought libations and food offerings to the
dead in their tombs, they also believed in a common dwelling place of
the dead. Such contradictions are hardly noticed by simple people.
This abode of the dead, the dark and gloomy Hades, was somewhere far
away from the earth. On leaving their earthly home, the souls needed
someone to show them the way, and nobody was more appropriate for
this function than the protector of wayfarers, who dwelt in the stone
heaps. Hermes, the guide of the souls, is known not only from
literature but also from pictures, in which he is represented with a
magic rod in his hand, permitting the souls, small winged human
figures, to ascend and sending them down again through the mouth of a
large jar. Such jars were often used for burial purposes. […]
Olympus Hermes was a subordinate god, the messenger of the gods, and
we know him chiefly as such. I take no account of the later additions
to his functions, which made him a god of commerce, of gymnastics,
and of rhetoric. He was especially popular in one of the backward
provinces of Greece, Arcadia, the land of the shepherds. Here, too,
the herms were especially popular in cult. Attention has recently be
drawn to a series of Arcadian herms, some of which are double or
triple and inscribed in the names of various gods in the genitive.
Other gods than Hermes were also embodied in these stone pillars, a
relic of the old stone cult, which has left many traces.” -
Martin Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion. (P. 8 - 10. Italix mine)
And here, as he will have later, he has deep and abiding associations with the dead; and we can see echoes of what will become Hermes Chthonios, who flits through Homer’s Odyssesy guiding the dead, putting men to sleep, and waving his caduceus about: this is much the same Hermes that we see pictured and directing the Keres, those same disembodied ghosts that return alongside Dionysos during Anthesteria!
And of course, on the third night of Anthesteria (Khýtroi), Hermes himself is offered the pottage that this night takes its name from. Harrison, in Themis, writes and quotes:
“Not only does ‘no one taste of the Pot’ but
They have the custom of sacrificing at this feast, not to any of the Olympian gods at all, but to Hermes Chthonios.” (P. 294.)
And here again, I think, we see an indication of just how archaic Hermes is. He is, of course, also an Olympian god and one of the Gods of the State, but he was absorbed into that stream from his status before it existed, and he retains traces of it into the Hellenized period.
But as antiquity goes on, and long-term contact with the Egyptians takes place, Hermes is increasingly syncretized with the Egyptian God Thoth (Tehuti), or sometimes simply identified with that deity outright. This intermingling gives Hermes entirely new attributes by late antiquity: he becomes, among other things, the God of All Knowledge, and patron of literature:
“Hermes, the patron of literature, was
rightly considered of old to be a god common to all the priests
and the one presiding over the genuine
learning relating to the gods, one and the same among all. Hence
our predecessors were wont to ascribe to him their discoveries
in wisdom and to name all their respective works Books of Hermes.” - Iamblichus, On the Mysteries of the Egyptians. (Part 1, Chapter 2.)
Plutarch briefly touches on something similar in De Iside et Osiride(“Concerning Isis and Osiris”) when he mentions “the belief that Prometheus
is the discoverer of wisdom and forethought, and
Hermes the inventor of grammar and music.”
And it is from these streams that we find the neo-Platonic Hermes Trismegistus emerging out of late antiquity (and yes, I totally poached that paper’s references to Plutarch and Iamblichus).
Hermes is that the God never really goes away. He might change shape, like he does in plenty of Myths, and hymns, and what have you. But the God, and his cult, doesn’t entirely diminish until almost all the other cults of the Mediterranean do; and even then, because of the admiration of neo-Platonists he still significantly manages to outlast other cults.
And then even after people stop worshipping Hermes, the God, they still write and copy and later print books bearing the God’s name well into the Renaissance, when other weird bits of antiquity re-emerge into the culture of the day. But Hermes, and the Corpus Hermeticum, were particularly revered. And because they were held in such high esteem by our predecessors, they are still read today.
Which makes me grin, y’know, because 2,700 years after the God’s first heyday, people are using the internet to find and read books still bearing his name. Now that is a very special type of longevity.
This sarcophagus was found among the grave goods in the intact Tomb of Sennedjem in Deir al Medina, the settlement of the builders and craftsmen that undertook the construction works on the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Found in 1886, it was identified to date back to the Nineteenth Dynasty, during the reign of King Ramesses II (1279-1212 B.C.E.). This sarcophagus belongs to one of the members of the family of Sennedjem, one of the necropolis workers who were responsible for building and decorating royal underground tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
The man’s mummy was housed within two sarcophaguses. This outer anthropoid (mummy-shaped) sarcophagus pictures the man wrapped in bandages standing in the Osiride-form with his arms crossed and his left hand holding Knot of Isis (also known as the Tjet Tyet, Tet, Tit, Tat, That) and the right the Djed Pillar, the emblem of Osiris (now partly damaged). The body is decorated with various Hieroglyphic texts painted in intersected rows, between two of which appears a funerary scene involving the deceased and other protective deities , such as Anubis, Nut, Isis and Nephthys. The deceased is depicted with black hair on one side and white hair on the other. Over the head is a wig typical to the style of the Ramesside Period embellished with a frieze of leaves and fruits. Hanging down from the neck is a broad shoulder-to-shoulder necklace known as the ‘usekh collar’ decorated with multiple strings. It is fastened to the shoulders with clasps in the shape of the lotus flowers, symbol of rebirth.
Primo periodo intermedio (2192 a.C. al 2040 a.C.); forse proveniente da Akhmim, ora a Hildesheim (Germania), Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum
Pietra calcarea, pittura su intonaco, h 48.5 cm.
Pe capì perché ‘e figure che faceveno l’egiziani sò così strane, bisogna scordasse pe n’attimo er modo nostro de vedè ‘e cose. Noi semo abituati che n’immagine deve da esse er più possibbile uguale a quello che vò rappresentà, come fosse na fotografia. E’ perché venimo da secoli de arte classica, ndove er concetto de base era ‘a “mimesi”, ossia che l’arte deve esse copia daa reartà.
Ma ce sò dee vorte in cui l’esattezza è meno importante daa riconoscibbilità. Te faccio n’esempio. Quanno che vai a un bagno pubblico, cerchi ‘a figurina omo o donna pe capì qual è ‘a porta giusta. Mo, nun è che l’omo è veramente fatto così, ‘a testa tonda, du zeppi pee gambe e du zeppi pee braccia, e ‘a donna uguale ma co na cosa triangolare che sarebbe er vestito: ma è pe fatte capì ar volo, “questo è n’omo e questa è na donna”, che magari vai pure de fretta che taa stai a fà sotto e nun te ne frega gnente che l’omo magari cià la barba o la donna i capelli lunghi e le ombre o i muscoli o i particolari l’occhi er naso ‘a bocca: “omo” / “donna”, tanto basta. E’ come si ce fosse scritto, “omo” e “donna”: solo che na figura ‘a ponno capì pure i stranieri che parleno n’antra lingua o li regazzini che ancora nun sanno legge.
Ecco. L’egiziani, quanno che te fanno er faraone o ‘a reggina o er dio Osiride, nun je interessa de fatte vedè che faccia ciaveva pe davero o de mettetelo in prospettiva o sotto na certa luce: te vonno dì, “questo è er faraone” o “questa è ‘a dea Iside”. Che anfatti pure ‘a scrittura loro, i geroglifici, aa fin fine è fatta così, na figurina stilizzata pe dì na parola, un concetto.
Quinni, prima de tutto, tocca fà capì che sò esseri umani. E ‘a faccia è de profilo, perché se capisce mejo che è na faccia si se vede ‘a linea der naso fronte mento; invece l’occhio è visto de fronte, perché se capisce mejo che è n’occhio. Infatti si te do un fojo de carta e te dico “disegname un occhio” sicuro a palla che me ‘o fai de fronte, caa pupilla e ‘e cija, piuttosto che de profilo che pare un ventajo un bocciolo un boh ma che è. E così, er busto de fronte ma ‘e gambe de profilo. E ‘e mani uguali, ‘a destra come ‘a sinistra, perché sò mani e basta. Dopo de che, pe specificà, er faraone cià un certo cappello e er dio Anubbi cià ‘a faccia de cane e ‘o scrivano er blocco notes, ma pe er resto sò tutti uguali, ma no perché l’egizziani s’assomijoveno tutti: non più de quanto s’assomijiamo noi, pure che in tutti i bagni der monno l’omino e ‘a donnina sò fatti a ‘o stesso modo.