ermes was a son of Zeus and Maia and became the god of messages and communications. He was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia.
When he was young he stole fifty of Apollo's prized white cows. Tying leaves and bark to their hooves and his own feet, to disguise any tracks he made the beasts walk backward to confuse Apollo further while leading them to pasture near his mother's cave. Alerted by an oracle to the theft, its perpetrator, and his whereabouts, Apollo entered the cave and, despite Maia's protests that he was only newly born, took Hermes to Mount Olympus to be judged before Zeus. On the way, Hermes told Apollo he could have all the cows back except for the two he had sacrificed to the twelve Olympian gods. Apollo presented Hermes before a tribunal of Zeus and Hermes had to defend himself.
Hermes speech for his defence was so spirited and skillful that Zeus ruled there should be friendly settlement between the two.
After reprimanding him for his dishonesty Zeus decreed that Hermes would henceforth be employed as messenger or intermediary between between men and gods and between Olympus and Hades.
For his skill at eloquence and the spoken word he was to be personal herald to Zeus. Hermes rarely told the whole truth, but he never again lied outright.
As messenger of the gods he carried messages from Mount Olympus to the world of the shades.
Zeus also charged Hermes with the safeguarding of treaties between men, a task no other god had been given and one which was of great importance and responsibility.
On occasion Hermes conducted the shades of the dead from the upper world into the lower world. He led Priam to Achilles to fetch the body of Hector and conducted Hera, Aphrodite and Athena to Paris. He delivered a sword to Heracles and Hades magic helmet to Perseus. As a divine benefactor Hermes saved Ulysses by ordering Calypso to set him free.
As Hermes was noted for his shrewdness and sagacity he was regarded as the inventor of the alphabet, numbers, weights and measures and astronomy. Hermes was the god of travellers and numerous statues were made of him on roads and in cities.
Hermes travelled between Olympus and the world of men with his staff, a winged helmet, and winged sandals. He went with the rapidity of the wind and in later times is depicted with two small wings.
Hermes escorts the soul to the banks of the infernal River Styx, where it embarks on a skiff that Charon ferries across to the realm of Hades. The earliest images of the god appear to have been the long, square marble or wooden pillars called hermae, or herms, that consisted of the god's head at the top and a phallus at the midsection. These were often set up in squares and main roads or as milestones, sometimes with travel directions or other inscriptions.
Hermes fell in love with Chione, daughter of King Daedalion. He had a son Autolycus, who was grandfather of Ulysses. His other children were Erytus the Argonaut, Abderus, Heracles's lover and Cephalus, grandfather of Danae. Sacred to Hermes was the palm tree and the tortoise.