“No one ever knows about all my cats”: the inscrutable divine trickster Hermes

I am busy with birthday fun for my daughter this week, so the amazing Molly Ringle offered to do a guest post about one of my favorite mythological characters from her series. Hermes.

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Thank you for having me back, Kaitlin!

I am always happy to ramble about the Greek myths, and by the end of my Chrysomelia Stories trilogy (Persephone’s Orchard, Underworld’s Daughter, and Immortal’s Spring), Hermes had become one of my sentimental favorites, and the favorite of many readers. Today I’m giving a brief sketch of who he is, and why I love him.

You might know of Hermes as a deliverer of messages between gods, or between gods and humans. Which he is. But he’s more than that.

You might know him as a trickster and thief, and he definitely is. But not just that.

You might think of him as untrustworthy, and you’d be right. But that’s not the whole story either.

You might even know he’s a psychopomp: a guide who brings departed souls to the Underworld. Again true, but it’s only one of the many jobs he performs.

In fact, he has so many facets, and is always coming and going on so many mysterious errands, that the more I studied Hermes, the more I decided no one (except Hermes himself) knows all the things he does. He’s a variety of things—nimble, clever, mischievous, untrustworthy, playful, dangerous, seductive, helpful, adaptable, irreverent, dark and light and good and bad all at the same time. He fascinates me, and when starting my mythology-based series of novels, I knew I wanted him to be one of my major characters. And indeed, after Hades and Persephone, he’s one of my main secondary characters.

However, he’s never one of my point-of-view characters. That is, I never got fully inside his head and showed his thoughts, his errands, his loves, his motives. And that’s mainly because I feel like even I, the writer, cannot possibly fathom the depths of the mind of the divine trickster. In Underworld’s Daughter, when another character discovers a trick he’s pulled, and remarks, “Your cat’s out of the bag,” my Hermes character answers, “No one ever knows about all my cats.” I still believe that. While I do reveal some of his secret plans, I’m certain there are lots more that I know nothing about.

Hermes is the quickest thinker, the nimblest thief, and one of the most charismatic of all the gods. In mythology, on the day he’s born, as an infant, he steals all of Apollo’s cattle, covers his tracks, gets caught anyway, then charms Zeus and everyone else—including Apollo—into not holding a grudge and indeed forgiving and liking him. In my version, he’s the one to call on when you need anything (or anyone) stolen or acquired; he’s a con man and sometimes plays tricks even on his friends, but he also protects and avenges them. He’s unpredictable, but mainly benevolent. Chaotic good, some might call him.

One of the interpretations that helps me understand Hermes, and ties together all his diverse personality traits, is that he’s a god of boundaries, and the transgressing of them. As the god of travelers, he helps keep you safe on the road: his name comes from the piles of stones called herms that people used to build at crossroads or countries’ boundaries to mark the way. As a psychopomp, he guides souls across the living world/Underworld boundary. As a thief and a trickster, and the patron god of thieves and tricksters everywhere, he embodies the irreverent transgression of the taboo against stealing and deceiving—stepping over the boundary between lawfulness and crime.

But even with his dark side, Hermes is generally considered a bringer of good things. He’s often described in myth as youthful, playful, and light-footed; he flies through the air in the sunlight and starlight on his winged sandals. Yes, he’ll screw you over sometimes and drive you crazy. But he’ll also surprise you with unexpected gifts. For example, as an apology for the cattle incident, he gave Apollo the lyre he (Hermes) had just invented, and graciously let Apollo become the god of music even though Hermes himself was just as enchanting a musician.

As I have one of my characters say, “It’s wise to leave room in our lives for the chaotic, the unexpected. Hermes has always been excellent at providing those elements. It’s part of the reason I like him, despite the trouble he causes. Ultimately you will find he brings more good than harm.”

And anyway, haven’t we all had friends like that?

Excerpt from Immortal’s Spring, in which Hekate encounters Hermes at a Dionysia festival:

Hermes’ presence stole up beside her. She smiled without turning, and didn’t even look when he slid his arm around her waist and said in her ear, “What a fetching young woman. I must fondle her.”

“Hello, Hermes.”

“Hush, my darling. We are all masked tonight. No names.” He drew her forward and began dancing with her.

“You’re not even trying to disguise your voice. And I can sense who you are, stupid.”

“Oh, come now. I’m many terrible things, but never stupid.”

She conceded with a shrug, and spun in the dance in harmony with him.

His mask covered the top half of his face, a fitted piece of leather that sparkled with scattered gold leaf. Mistletoe wreathed his head. “It makes me happy to see you at another of these,” he said.

“I thought it time to come back.”

“I agree. Hey, Aphrodite gave me a new perfume. I tried putting it on my mask. Smell it and tell me what you think.”

Hekate leaned her face close and inhaled. She was about to tell him she could hardly smell anything when he took advantage of her proximity and kissed her on the mouth.

She planted her hand on his face and shoved him, though her annoyance was mixed with laughter, and she didn’t bother trying to escape from his arms.

He was grinning. “Such a simple trick, and you fell for it. Now who’s stupid?”

 

Like what you read? For the months of October and November 2016, Persephone’s Orchard will be free on all major ebook retail sites! Download today and get started on the series. Find out more below:

Molly Ringle is the author of the New Adult Greek mythology series that begins with Persephone’s Orchard and continues in Underworld’s Daughter and concludes with Immortal’s Spring. She has also written ghost stories in The Ghost Downstairs and Of Ghosts and Geeks—and, to some degree, in What Scotland Taught Me. She stays within the bounds of reality (though still fiction) in her romance novel Summer Term. She lives in Seattle with her family, is happy when it’s cool and cloudy, and gets giddy about fandom, things that smell good, and gorgeous photos of gardens.

Visit Molly Ringle at her website, Goodreads, or Twitter.

 

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One thought on ““No one ever knows about all my cats”: the inscrutable divine trickster Hermes

  1. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Chthonic Deities | Kaitlin Bevis

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