Within the realm of Greek Mythology, Hermes was the ancient god of trade, wealth, luck, fertility, language, thieves, and travel. He was the cleverest and the most mischievous of all the Olympian gods. He was known to be the patron of shepherds and also invented the lyre.
Hermes was the only Olympian god capable of crossing the border between the living and the dead. Thus Hermes symbolized the crossing of boundaries between the realms of gods and humans and fit the role of messenger god perfectly. Hermes was known for his constant search for amusement and his impish character. He was one of the most colorful gods in Greek mythology.
Hermes was intelligent and quick and is present in many significant myths.
Hermes’ mother was Maia, who was one of the seven daughters of Atlas and Zeus. Hermes’ name was derived from the Greek word ‘Herma,’ which refers to heaps of stones. Hermes was also actively associated with being the Greek god of fertility.
But despite that, he never married and was involved in only a few love affairs compared to other gods. Hermes was often depicted as a young, handsome, and athletic man. At times he was also depicted as a bearded older man wearing winged boots and carrying the herald wand.
Listed below are the most important symbols of the Greek god Hermes:
Table of Contents
1. The Caduceus
The Caduceus is Hermes’ most popular symbol. It features two snakes that were wound around a winged staff. At times the caduceus is often mistaken as a symbol of medicine because of its resemblance to the Rod of Asclepius. (1)
Since ancient times, the caduceus has been associated with wisdom, alchemy, negotiation, thieves, trade, and liars. Some experts say that the caduceus also serves as an astrological symbol that represents planet mercury. This wand was capable of putting people to sleep and waking up those in deep slumber. It could also make death gentle. If it was applied to those who were already dead, they could come to life.
2. Phallic Imagery
Hermes was considered a symbol of fertility. Phallic imagery was often associated with the god. Phallic images were often hung in the entrance of households that referred to the ancient concept that it would encourage household fertility. (2)
Phallic imagery was hung outside both private homes and public buildings. It was also carved on emulates, statues, tripods, drinking cups, and vases. It was also thought that exaggerated phallic images protected passersby and inhabitants from outside evil. (3)
3. Winged Sandals – Talaria
The winged sandals are popularly associated with Hermes and connect him to the concept of agility, movement, and speed. Mythology states that these sandals were made by Hephaestus, the craftsman of the gods.
He made these sandals out of imperishable gold, and they let Hermes fly as high and fast as any bird. The Talaria are mentioned in the myth of Perseus and aided him in killing Medusa. (4) The word ‘Talaria’ refers to ‘the ankle.’
There is speculation that the Romans came up with the idea of ‘winged sandals’ or sandals with wings attached to them at the ankles, through sandal straps tied around the ankles. (5)
4. Leather Pouch
The leather pouch is often linked to Hermes because it connects the god to business and commerce transactions. (6)
5. The Winged Helmet – Petasos
The Petasos or the Winged Hat was a sun hat originally worn by the ancient Greeks. This hat was made of wool or straw and had a floppy yet broad brim. This hat was commonly worn by travelers and farmers and was associated with rural people.
Because it was a winged hat, it became linked to the mythological messenger god Hermes. The Greeks also crafted a metal helmet in the shape of the Petasos. It also had holes around the edges of the brim of the hat so that fabric could be attached to it. (7)
Even though the lyre is commonly attached to Apollo, it is also a symbol of Hermes. This is because Hermes invented it. The lyre represents Hermes’ intelligence, quickness, and skill.
7. Rooster and Ram
Within the realm of Roman mythology, Hermes is often depicted riding a rooster to welcome a new day. At times he is also seen riding a ram that shows fertility. (8)
Hermes was the darling of the Greek gods. In Greek poems, he is described as a clever mediator between gods and men. Often worshipped by shepherds, statues of Hermes have been uncovered with a ram.
He was also known to grant fertility to cattle. Travelers also worshiped Hermes, and it was thought that Hermes protected and guided them.
Were you aware of all the symbols associated with Hermes that have been listed above? Do let us know in the comments below.
- Naked power: The Phallus as an Apotropaic symbol in the Images and Texts of Roman Italy. Claudia Moser. University of Pennsylvania.2006.
- Anderson, William S. (1966). “Talaria and Ovid Met. 10.591”. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 97: 1–13.
- Nicholas Sekunda, The Ancient Greeks (Osprey Publishing, 1986, 2005), p. 19.