Hermes, God of the Word

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In Greek myth Hermes [hûr’mēz], son of Zeus [zūs] and Maia [mā’ə, mī’ə], was not just the patron god of thieves, merchants, and boundaries. He was also a god of science, art, speech, eloquence, and writing.

Hermes…son of Zeus and Maia, which is, of mind and sense. For the word is engendered from mind and sense. On account of this they also make him winged, as if to be swift. For nothing is swifter than a word. And [that is why] Homer [says] ‘winged words’.” –Suidas [syū’ĭdəs], Greek lexicographer.

Hermes and the goddess Aphrodite [ăfrədī’tē] had a son whose name is a combination of theirs: Hermaphroditos [hər-măf’rə-dī’təs]. According to Ovid in his Metamorphoses, this son of Hermes was attacked and raped by an unconventional naiad (female nature spirit) named Salmacis. The attacker’s prayer that they not be parted resulted in the permanent fusion of their two bodies. Most of the stories in Metamorphoses[mĕt’ə-môr’fō-sēz] are retellings of traditional tales, but Ovid probably made up the story about Salmacis [săl-mā’sĭs].

Another name for Hermes, or a perhaps a god derived from him, is Hermes Trismegistus[trĭs’mə-jĭs’təs, trĭz’-] – “Hermes Thrice-blessed.” This concept of Hermes was a combination of the Greek god and Thoth [thōth, tōt], the Egyptian god of wisdom. Various magical and alchemical writings came to be associated with Hermes Trismegistus who, it was believed, invented a magic seal to keep air out of vessels containing magical compounds.

We owe several English words to Hermes:

herm [hûrm] – a four-sided pillar used to mark boundaries. Sometimes it was surmounted by the head of the god.

hermetic [hər-mĕt’ĭk] – an adjective meaning “airtight” or “impervious to outside influences.” The adverb is hermetically. The word is used both literally and figuratively:
The scientist closed the flask with a hermetic seal.
The survivalist compound was a a hermetic community, insulated from the world at large.

hermeneutic [hûr’mə-nū’tĭk] – from Greek words meaning “interpreter” and “to interpret.” A hermeneutic approach to literature would seek meaning according to methodological principles of interpretation and explanation.

hermeneutics [hûr’mə-nū’tĭks]
– from the same source as hermeneutic, deriving ultimately from Hermes in his capacity of patron of speech, writing, and eloquence. Hermeneutics is the methodological study of the Bible according to certain established principles of interpretation.

Hermione [hərmī’ənē] – the feminine form of the name Hermes.

hermaphrodite [hər-măf’rə-dīt’] – one sense of the word is “an abnormal human being who combines male and female reproductive organs in the same body.” In science, hermaphrodites are plants or animals for which it is normal for both male and female reproductive parts to exist on the same individual. By extension, hermaphrodite may be applied to inanimate objects that combines disparate parts, for example, a hermaphrodite brig.

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