Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Hermes, God of Thieves - What Does That Mean?

If you've been Hellenic or Pagan for a significant amount of time, or studied Greek myth, you are probably aware that Hermes has been called, among other things, the God of thieves. I am sure that some people in our modern time have used this to paint the Gods in a negative light, or to make them seem less than completely good. The problem, however, is that the title did not mean the same thing in ancient times that it would today. Remember, the Maxims of Delphi, which are the center of the Greek religious world, say to gain possessions justly.

According to Walter Burkert's Greek Religion, page 157, the epithet of Hermes being the God of thievery referred to "secrecy and cunning, not law-breaking." He uses an example of Hermes "stealing" Ares away from His confines, and thus liberating Him. With that in mind, some may also see this in the adventures of Odysseus when Hermes helps steal the men back from Circe after being wrongfully captured or kidnapped. Now others may site the myth of Hermes stealing the herd of Apollo as evidence of Him being the God of actual stealing, but remember, Hermes also created the lyre for Apollo as repentance for the action. In other words, Hermes acknowledged that the action was not ethical, if we are to take the myth as literal, that is. Many Hellenists probably do not, or discount it all together. 

Hermes is also the God of commerce, which means He deals heavily in the legitimate buying and exchanging of goods and services, which takes place in the world just as much, if not more, than theft.

Even if you refuse to accept everything I have said in the above paragraphs, and instead believe that Hermes is the God of literal thievery, remember that very few things carry a universal negative. A mother is broke, has no help, and her baby needs formula. She has only two choices, she can either steal the food, or let her baby starve to death. Therefore, she steals it. I am not condoning crime at all, but would you call her evil? I wouldn't. I think letting her baby die would have been the evil and the immoral, while the rich company who makes the formula isn't going to be harmed. They will still be rich and probably not even notice the loss.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Source : Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, translated by Raffan, John, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1985. Print. (pp. 157).

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