Kornia Kyriaki

The topic of this essay, as indicated by its title, is the relationship of Hermes, the God, with the language, both spoken and written. Hermes is a divinity with many facets, in both forms, as the Greek Hermes and as the Egyptian Thoth. According to the traditions and mythologies of these people, he is the one who gave language to men. This side of the God is most clearly seen in Egypt that in Greece.

Hermes in Greece

Let´s see however, what is said about the relationship of the God with the language, beginning with Greece. According to the Greek mythology, Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia, daughter of Atlas. It is said that the first thing he did, the same day he was born, was to use the back of a turtle to make the lyre. In relation with this, it is told that when he saw the turtle, Hermes said:

“Our meeting, turtle, is a good omen. While living, you preserve from harmful spells. But when you die, I’ll make you sing sweetly!“(1)

And so, he began to play the lyre and accompany it with songs. In this passage, we see for the first time the relationship of God with the sound from the beginning. Let´s not forget that spoken language is primarily sound. We read about Hermes in the Greek mythology:

“He is a scholar and an incomparable speaker, an effective mediator and a merchant who brings benefits, counselor of men and interpreter of things ( the same word interpreter = hermeneut, comes from the Hermes name),because language , any type of discourse produced by the human voice , is formed by the contact with the air, it is the breath of the wind, and it could not be outside the jurisdiction of the god of the air” (2)

It was Hermes who gave human voice to the first woman that was shaped by the gods and it is him also the one who gave her the name of Pandora. It is also said that he forged in her chest lies and misleading words.

Rhetorical skill

The rhetorical skill of Hermes it is made visible at several times in Greek mythology: When Hades kidnapped Persephone, Hermes descended into the underworld by Zeus and managed to convince the ruler of the dead to allow Persephone to return to the world with his mother.When Zeus joined with Io at Argos, to make this union not perceived by anyone, Hermes brought together the inhabitants of Argos and spoke in such a ravishing way that kept them for many hours attending his words.

When Heracles descended to Hades to take the Cerberus and saw the Gorgon Medusa who faced him threatening, it was Hermes who stood at his side and told him not to be afraid of the Gorgon Medusa, what he was seeing was nothing more than a spectrum. And finally, it was Hermes who advised King Atreus on how to deal with his brother Thyestes and finally get back the throne.

In the Greek mythology Hermes is well known as the messenger of Zeus. In all the cases we have cited, as well as in many others, Hermes carries the orders of Zeus.
In the Orphic Hymn to Hermes, we see Apollo giving to Hermes the caduceus (symbol of recognition as official messenger of the gods) and its courier condition at the same time.

In Greek mythology we can read:

… for ancient peoples, from all the elements, only air was available exclusively from the gods and it was their communication media.”(3)

It is also said that Hermes is the father of Angelia (whose name means, advance, statement). It is well known the myth by which Hermes, on his first day of birth and after had made the first lyre with the tortoise shell, stole the oxen from his brother Apollo, because he was starving . To do this he devised a plan in order to not be perceived. The cunning and skill of the God are evident from the first hours of his life. When he returns home and his mother scolds him, he speaks in such a way that seems an adult, even though he is nothing but a newborn.
When he has to face Apollo and Zeus to give explanations about the robbery, once again he finds a way to mitigate the wrath of his brother and calm his father. Use disarming arguments such as:

“How could I, I, that am a newborn, have done something
like this? How can I steal?(4)

And addressing Zeus, he expresses how much he loves and respects him , because he is his own father. And ends asking him, how it is possible that he (ZEUZ) stays indifferent, letting Apollo destroy him. He can use the language with such dexterity that approaches the limits of perjury, although it does not perjure. In that way, he says to Apollo,

“Do you want me to swear on the head of our father that I did not steal your cows?“(5)

Ultimately he paid no such oath. Also, he swears to Zeus he did not take Apollo´s oxen to his house, and that even he didn´t cross the threshold of his house. Although in reality, Hermes lies, however, he did not not perjure, because it is true that the oxes were not taken to his home, but to Pylos, and as he return home , he entered by the the keyhole . But Zeus is omniscient. Naturally he realizes that his young son is lying, but he cannot get angry with him.

Even Apollo calms himself down. Hermes gives him the lyre that he so desired, an exchange for which he gets many compensations. Apollo promises that he himself will manage him to be accepted in the Olympus, even though his mother is not a goddess. This is the most important compensation. He also gives his shepherd’s staff (and thus Hermes becomes the protector of shepherds), the caduceus (symbol as the official messenger of Zeus), the possibility of exercising himself a form of divination, protect animals and become the conductor of the dead .

However, things are not offered to him just like that, but he is the one that claims them. It is Hermes, that having offered the lyre to Apollo says,

“But do not want it all for yourself! Now you have to give me something in return” (6)

In order to verify the relationship of Hermes with the language, it is also important to note that , in his effort to appease Apollo, he begins to sing about the gods, about how they were born and what honors were attributed to each one.

According to Zelinski , Hermes was also revered for have given to mankind the gift of language. Although for all athletes he was the symbol of fight and that the Hermas were I every play ground. In the beginning, traders and messengers were the ones who had more need than the wrestlers. It is even said that on sacrifices, the tongue of the victims was cut to be offered to Hermes (Tradition of Hermes as symbol for fighting comes from the fact that he had taught it to his son Arpalicos all the tricks for a fight that made him invincible.

Thoth in Egypt

Let’s look at what Egyptians believed about Thoth. Again our primary source is mythology. In Egypt, as in Greece, Hermes comes in many forms. Often appears as the first son of Ra and other times as a child of Geb and Nuth. In the latter case, is brother of Isis, Nephtis, Seth and Osiris. It was a moon god and also the god of letters and sciences, inventions and wisdom. He was the custodian of the gods’ files.

Hermopolis was the primary Thoth cult center. There it was thought that Thot was the real creator of the world. He was represented with the form of an Ibis that incubated the egg´s world. Specifically, they believed that the world was created by the sound of the voice of Thoth.

God of Language and Wisdom

So then, Thoth created the world with the sound of his voice, opening his lips “the first time it was awakening inside the mind.” From the sound of his voice were created four gods and four goddesses. For that reason, the city that was later called Hermopolis, was called Khmounou, meaning “City of Eight “. More specifically, it is said that Thoth created four pairs: Four frogs (females) and four snakes (males).

These pairs were:

Nun and Nunnet, symbolizing primordial water
Kak and Kaket, symbolizing the darkness
Niut and Ni, symbolizing immobility
Heh and Hehet, symbolizing space.

These gods continued the work of creation through language (verb). According to ancient texts, they continue singing continuously, and thus , ensure the normal march of the sun.

Thot played an important role in the resurrection of Osiris. It is known that he relates to magic. He helped to Osiris resurrection with his magical qualities, which he saw multiplied and reinforced by the accuracy of his voice. It is known that the correct pronunciation of a language contributes significantly to its efficacy. Although it is not created in magic, which in our days has been misrepresented and misunderstood, as many other things , it cannot be set as doubt the fact that it is often not so important what it is said but how it is said, or at least, both are equally important.

For speakers of antiquity this was a certainty and was the alpha and omega of his powers of persuasion. Thoth was the Lord of Wisdom. He discovered all the arts and sciences, including in the count were arithmetic, geography, topography, medicine, divination, magic, music with stringed instruments and air. But Thoth was, above all, the discoverer of writing. It was regarded as the inventor of the hieroglyphs and called “Lord of the divine language.” It was the first magician. Those who were engaged in magic, the disciples of Thoth, said they could enter the crypt in which the God had placed all his books relating to magic, and read and learn the phrases that can surrogate the forces nature, even the gods themselves. Precisely because of his omnipotence, God took the name of Thoth, which means three times too big and that the Greeks translated as Hermes Trismegistus. It is also said that the name Thoth means Secretary of the gods, inventor of language and writing, lord of all secret and hidden knowledge.

Thoth the Scribe

To the Egyptians, all inventories and all accounts were under the responsibility of Thoth. He was also the custodian of records of the gods and he was responsible for transcribing the story. It was he who instituted the succession of kings, writing the name of the future pharaoh in the leaves of the sacred tree of Heliopolis. Also he wrote in a Palm bud the years of the happily realm the God gave to the Pharaoh. Like the Greek Hermes, the Egyptian Thoth is the messenger of the gods.






It is also the secretary. We read: “Ra told it, Thoth wrote it.” Thoth is also the one, with an
ibis form, that is present in Weight of the heart of the deceased, and records the trial .You can even, in addition to his record duty, read aloud the judgment court, as it can be seen in some of the representations.



The wife of Thoth

The wife of Thoth is Seshet, which is in turn goddess of writing and history. The ideogram of her name means “the secretary”. She herself is regarded as the discoverer of the letters and she is called “Lady of the house of books”.

Often appears as the wife of Thoth, Maat, the goddess of Truth and Justice, which assists in the heart of the dead weight. Thoth is the right arm of justice.

In mythology we read: “Hermes, that is wisdom, knowledge and scripture personified, is also the column and the sacred hieroglyphic alphabet. He is the Speaker Column both the language of the priests, and the language of mere men. These columns were in Egypt the guardians of all knowledge and it is known that this custom passedfrom an early  age to ancient Athens, where adorned boundary sets, which bore the name of Hermas, offered walkers sacred axioms of ethics and constituted a kind of indoctrination. Everything that is written is Hermes. Hermes is the educator par excellence, the prophet and the divine law -decrypter” (7)

Thoth is one that has the 7 Keys of the Mysteries and transmits them to men. It acts as an intermediary between the gods and men and is Language incarnated , represents the power of Atum in the world.

It is well known that the art of explanation, interpretation, took its name from Hermes himself. It is also known that, just because of having given the language to men, he has been characterized as Counsel (Logos = language = Logios lawyer, scholar).


According to a fragment of an anonymous author cosmogony, who Reitzenstein had bought in Egypt, written on papyrus and which subsequently led to Strasbourg, the creation of the world is the work of Hermes, which he made by order of his father Zeus.

It is a very interesting text that cites how Hermes created the world and provide form after having submitted the elements and have ended the dispute that existed between them.

A Transcription of a passage that makes a reference to this topic that is of interest to us, which is, the relation of Hermes and Language:

“With these things in mind Hermes went through the pale air,
But he was not alone, besides him his good son Logos (Language) was,
Ornate with agile wings, always true and authentic,
With pure persuasion on the lips that will not lie,
Swift messenger of his father clear intelligence.” (8)

The antiquity of this testimony is not considered before the third century. Iamblichus, in his book “The Mysteries of Egypt” (VIII, 1) cites the testimony of Manetho, in which Hermes had written 36,525 books. According to Seleucus, which is also referred by Iamblichus, the works of Hermes could reach 20,000. According to Lactantius,

“He wrote books, and really many books dealing with the knowledge of divine things. Proclaimed the greatness of the supreme and only God and called to the Lord and Father with the same names as us.” (9)

At another place relates,

“For Trismegistus, who came to discover, not knowing
how almost all truth, he often described the strength and greatness of the Logos” (Word,
Language). (10)

Enclosed is a Hermetic text showing the relationship of Hermes with Language:

“Thank you Father, energy of my powers. Thank God, Power of my energies.
Your own language (Logos) sings hymns through me. Receive from me the Whole with
words, as a spiritual offer “(Poimandres XIII, 18) (11)

According to Bonardel,

“the role of Hermes is to make properly echo all things. Hermes makes echo the universe singing the hymn of rebirth.” (12)


According to the above, our ability to use language, to speak and write, is a gift from God, either or Thoth. This capability is an exclusive privilege of man and is an extraordinary power.
In our time, in which language is the primary way we communicate, it is important to take conscience of this power and the correct use of it. Because, language itself has both the power of creation and destruction. It is our hope that we can all use this divine gift for creation, as it is proper of mankind .

1. Mitología griega. Tomo II Editorial Athinon, pag. 165
2. Mitología griega. Tomo II Editorial Athinon, pag. 176
3. Mitología griega. Tomo II Editorial Athinon, pag. 176
4. Himnos Homéricos. Biblioteca de Hestia, Atenas 1977, pags. 69-99
5. Himnos Homéricos. Biblioteca de Hestia, Atenas 1977, pags. 69-99
6. Himnos Homéricos. Biblioteca de Hestia, Atenas 1977, pags. 69-99
8. L. Bernard. Mitología Universal, pag. 85
9. Thadaios Zelinski, “Hermes Trismegisto”, Ed. Ekati, 2001, pags. 28 – 29
10. Francois Bonardel, “El Hermetismo”. Ed. M. Kardamitsa, 1994. Pag. 25
11. François Bonardel, “El Hermetismo”. Ed. M. Kardamitsa, 1994. Pag. 26
12. François Bonardel, “El Hermetismo”. Ed. M. Kardamitsa, 1994. Pag. 63
13. François Bonardel, “El Hermetismo”. Ed. M. Kardamitsa, 1994. Pag. 64
1.Fernando Schwarz, “Manual of Ancient Egypt.” Nea Akropoli Ed . Athens, 1988 , p. 69 – 70
2.Thadaios Zelinski , ” Hermes Trismegistus and its origins in Arcadia “, Ed Ekati . Athens, 2001 , p. 28-29 , 34
3.François Bonardel , ” Hermeticism .” Ed M. Kardamitsa . Athens , 1994 . Pg 21, 25, 26, 63-64
4. F. Schwarz and L. Winckler . Article ” What is Hermetics” . Magazine ” Nea Akropoli ” # 51 January 1991. Page 16
5.Sakis Koukouvis Monograph ” The Hermetic texts .” March, 1999
6.Notes from the field Symbology Theological NA
7.L. Bernard , Universal Mythology . Ed Christou Giovani . Athens. Pag 82-85
8. Felix Guirand , Universal Mythology . Ed Merminga . Athens. Pag 70-75
9.Greek Mythology . Volume II. Editorial Athinon . Athens , 1986 . Pg 165-176
10.Homeric Hymns . Library of Hestia , Athens 1977. Pags . 69-99