Celestial Messenger — The Orphic Hymn to Hermes

Hermes, draw near, and to my pray’r incline,
 angel of Jove [Zeus], and Maia’s son divine;

Studious of contests, ruler of mankind,
 with heart almighty, and a prudent mind.

Celestial messenger, of various skill,
 whose pow’rful arts could watchful Argus kill:

With winged feet, ’tis thine thro’ air to course,
 O friend of man, and prophet of discourse:

Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine,
 in arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine:

With pow’r endu’d all language to explain,
 of care the loos’ner, and the source of gain.

Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod,
 Corucian, blessed, profitable God;

Of various speech, whose aid in works we find,
 and in necessities to mortals kind:

Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere,
 be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear;

Assist my works, conclude my life with peace,
 give graceful speech, and me memory’s increase.

This hymn seems to be emphasizing Hermes’ role as messenger and facilitator of communication. He is also however, described as being “studious of contests” and rejoicing in sports (arts gymnastic) which is interesting to me in that he is not usually found to be participating in sporting type activities in the myths that I am familiar with. His role as a thief is only mentioned in passing, even though in the mythology a big deal is made of his theft of Apollo’s cattle.

Hermes is described in this hymn as being a friend of man as well as its ruler who is kind to mortals bringing us the things that we need. The interesting thing is that although he is a guide to the souls of the dead in the classical mythology, the Orphic hymn to him does not speak of it, but instead simply asking that Hermes “conclude my life with peace”. Personally, I find it interesting that the “angel” of Zeus who is with mankind all its life does not seem to continue to guide mankind in the afterlife in the view of the writer of the hymn. I also find it interesting that the Orphic hymn does not mention that he is the inventor of the lyre — which instrument is mentioned prominently in connection with Apollo.

The role of speech is one that cannot be over-emphasized in this hymn, with phrases like “dire weapon of the tongue” and “give graceful speech” being only two examples of the emphasis.

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