Hermes’ job within the Greek pantheon was an important one. Being both swift and cunning and possessing magical winged sandals, he was able to travel with great speed to and from Olympus acting as the Gods’ messenger to the mortal world. Unfortunately, given Zeus’s proclivities, it seems likely that this was abused constantly, first grade classroom-style.
Poor guy, it’s hard to feel like your job is important if you just have to deliver love notes from Zeus.
The nice thing is that Hermes was actually a very important figure in Greek mythology. With his winged sandals, the iconic caduceus, his winged helm, and both his speed and cunning, Hermes was more than a bit player in Greek tales. Not only did he act as a messenger between the gods themselves, he was also able to carry messages and pleas to the Gods from mortals. On top of all this, he also played the role of psychopomp, ushering the spirits of the recently deceased to the afterlife. Hermes was thought to be quick witted and was the patron of tricksters and thieves as well as travelers, athletes, herdsmen and orators. The tone of stories that include Hermes have a very similar tone to those about Prometheus. Like the great Titan that brought fire to man in spite of the Olympians’ wishes, Hermes is also seen as interceding on behalf of humans more than is really proper. There seems to be a genuine sense of compassion for the short lived creatures of the earth within the Messenger that isn’t always as apparent in his fellows. For instance, Hermes takes an active interest in the great hero, Odysseus, relaying important information to him personally and appears during the Trojan War to help both sides when needed.
As a trickster god, Hermes does share some qualities in common with trickster gods from other cultures like Loki, though Hermes is rarely malicious in his sport. Where Loki might play a mean trick that leads to serious trouble, Hermes is more about out witting gods and mortals for his own pleasure or for the sake of mortals he has taken an interest in. Though he is sometimes described as a thief or a robber, it’s clear that he is generally seen as a positive force for mankind.
Part of what makes Hermes such an interesting figure within the Greek pantheon is the seemingly disparate spheres of influence he is ascribed within the literature. Hermes was seen as the god of travel, of nature and herdsmen, of thieves and robbers, the protector of commerce and trade, and the patron of both sexual and verbal intercourse. While other gods also have fairly wide areas of influence, Hermes as a god of transience seems to have a little something to do with just about everything! It makes sense, when you think about it. Life is largely about travel and movement and transience in one way or another. This being the primary trait we associate with Hermes, it seems only logical that he would be connected to many other aspects of life and existence through that.
Nowadays we still remember Hermes through his symbols, though many are unaware of their meaning. His winged sandals and cap have made their way into western pop culture and the Caduceus, the winged staff of the messenger surrounded by two snakes, is seen here in the United States outside medical establishments, though this is due to a mix-up with the Rod of Asclepius. Either way, Hermes’ symbols are still alive and well.
Fortunately for Hermes, the retirement of the Greek Pantheon from the realm of active religions likely means a well deserved rest for his poor tired feet.
I imagine it must be nice not having to avoid Hera to deliver Zeus’s inappropriate messages to pretty young mortal women.