In this post we present an original analysis of Homer’s Hymn to Hermes. There seem to be many interesting things appearing in front of our eyes once we look at the text with the proper attention.
Our source for the ancient Greek text: Hymn 4 to Hermes
Our source for the English translation: HOMERIC HYMN TO HERMES
Ancient Greek: Ἑρμῆν ὕμνει, Μοῦσα, Διὸς καὶ Μαιάδος υἱόν, Κυλλήνης μεδέοντα καὶ Ἀρκαδίης πολυμήλου, ἄγγελον ἀθανάτων ἐριούνιον, ὃν τέκε Μαῖα, νύμφη ἐυπλόκαμος, Διὸς ἐν φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
English: Muse, sing of Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, lord of Cyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks, the luck-bringing messenger of the immortals whom Maia bare, the rich-tressed nymph, when she was joined in love with Zeus
NovoScriptorium: Homer invites the ‘Muse‘ to tell him about Hermes. As we have explained in previous analyses, a very possible -for us, almost a certainty- explanation on every call upon the ‘Muses‘ constitutes an indirect way of Homer and some other ancient writers to denote that what they are going to narrate comes from a Museum; a place where Knowledge was stored. Briefly, Zeus and Mnemosyne ( = Memory) gave birth to the Muses (the 9 protectors of Knowledge) -the relation is more than obvious. We have a good number of ancient excerpts that clearly talk about the different Museums during the ‘historical’ times. As nothing comes out of nothing, it appears rather certain that we have to deal here with a more ancient tradition that simply continued. But on this we will have a proper analysis at some future article.
Second important thing to note before proceeding in our analysis is the well-established fact -known already from Antiquity, not some modern invention- that Mythological narrations of Greeks (at least of the Myths recorded before the syncretic Hellenistic and Roman years) contain, within the same text (depending on how it is read), information on nature, history, theology at the same time. We also know that, like Aristotle wrote, ‘Mythology is the history of Greeks before the Cataclysm‘.
Additionally, as we have presented here (Greek Mythology: What are its divisions and the reasons it should be studied) “The Mythological (A)eon was defined from the Cataclysm of Ogygos to the beginning of the Olympiads, which they also call Heroic, because during that (a)eon the Heroes lived, thought to be the descendants and successors of the gods. Mythological was named because it presents the heroic deeds mixed with myths, according to the ancient custom.”
It will become clear that Homer uses here the art of ‘parallel narration’, i.e. he presents historical information covered with the cloak of Myth, adding notions/perceptions on religion, society, etc.
With the above in mind, let us now begin.
Hermes is called ‘lord of Cyllene and Arcadia‘. Therefore, he is referred to as some regional archon/king of an unknown era. A ruler of a significant part of the Peloponnese. Arcadia is called ‘rich in flocks‘, something that denotes stockraising. The first historical information received is that we are dealing with an era when humans have managed to domesticate animals. Of course this is very general, but certainly deteriorates us within a specific Time range of Human History. In other words, we are talking about a period necessarily after the so-called ‘Hunters-Gatherers‘ one.
We will focus only on the ‘historical’ information that can be possibly derived from the Myth, leaving the rest of the elements out of the present discussion. We will also correct some parts of the ‘official’ English translation for greater accuracy, with the aid of the Liddell & Scott Lexicon.
Ancient Greek: ἔσω ναίουσα παλίσκιον
English: lived within a deep, shady cave
NovoScriptorium: Hermes and his mother appear to live in a ‘deep and shady‘ cave. Therefore, there appears to be a strong possibility that the era described belongs to a time when humans were still living -at least some of them- in caves.
Ancient Greek: τότ᾽ ἐγείνατο παῖδα πολύτροπον, αἱμυλομήτην, ληιστῆρ᾽, ἐλατῆρα βοῶν, ἡγήτορ᾽ ὀνείρων, νυκτὸς ὀπωπητῆρα, πυληδόκον, ὃς τάχ᾽ ἔμελλεν ἀμφανέειν κλυτὰ ἔργα μετ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσιν. ἠῷος γεγονὼς μέσῳ ἤματι ἐγκιθάριζεν, ἑσπέριος βοῦς κλέψεν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος τετράδι τῇ προτέρῃ, τῇ μιν τέκε πότνια Μαῖα. ὃς καί, ἐπειδὴ μητρὸς ἀπ᾽ ἀθανάτων θόρε γυίων, οὐκέτι δηρὸν ἔκειτο μένων ἱερῷ ἐνὶ λίκνῳ, ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἀναΐξας ζήτει βόας Ἀπόλλωνος οὐδὸν ὑπερβαίνων ὑψηρεφέος ἄντροιο. ἔνθα χέλυν εὑρὼν ἐκτήσατο μυρίον ὄλβον: Ἑρμῆς τοι πρώτιστα χέλυν τεκτήνατ᾽ ἀοιδόν: ἥ ῥά οἱ ἀντεβόλησεν ἐπ᾽ αὐλείῃσι θύρῃσι βοσκομένη προπάροιθε δόμων ἐριθηλέα ποίην, σαῦλα ποσὶν βαίνουσα
English: For then she bare a son, of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods. Born with the dawning, at mid-day he played on the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo on the fourth day of the month; for on that day queenly Maia bare him. So soon as he had leaped from his mother’s heavenly womb, he lay not long waiting in his holy cradle, but he sprang up and sought the oxen of Apollo. But as he stepped over the threshold of the high-roofed cave, he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along.
NovoScriptorium: Homer calls Hermes “παῖδα πολύτροπον” ( ‘πολύτροπος’ means ‘he who had been in many places‘ but also, metaphorically, it denotes someone with ‘a versatile/nimble mind‘), “αἱμυλομήτην” (the word denotes someone who is ‘seductively deceptive‘), “ληιστῆρ᾽” (the word means ‘grabber‘ and ‘robber‘) , “ἐλατῆρα βοῶν”(means the ‘cattle driver‘), “νυκτὸς ὀπωπητῆρα” (the word οπωπητήρ = οπτήρ means ‘spy’, hence the phrase should be translated as ‘a spy of the night‘), “πυληδόκον” (the word πυληδόκος denotes he who ‘guards near/at the gate‘). He is also named as ‘one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds‘. In this excerpt we notice the following:
We are talking about an era when people can ‘drive cattle’, i.e., the animals can be considered as domesticated beyond any doubt. Social innovations and changes were taking place then. Some ‘versatile/nimble’ minded people were the pioneers of this new era; an era of ‘wonderful deeds’. But every good seems to be condemned to face an evil in this world; the social changes that progress brought gave birth to the caste of thieves, robbers, deceptors, grabbers. And, hence, bore the necessity to find a cure for this social malady. And this is how the ‘spies of the night’ and the ‘guardians of the gate’ appeared.
Ancient Greek: οἴκοι βέλτερον εἶναι, ἐπεὶ βλαβερὸν τὸ θύρηφιν
English: It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors
NovoScriptorium: A more exact translation would be ‘it is better in the house, outside the gate is harmful’. This could have two different interpretations. In connection to the previous information about the appearance of an outlaw caste, it could indicate an era of great social turbulence and insecurity. Secondly, it could just denote that it is better to stay in a house rather than live outside a house (in a cave, for instance). We also notice that while Hermes lives in a cave, there are also houses in the same society. Therefore, it is possible that we deal here with a transitional period where people begin to organize themselves in towns and cities, abandoning their previous habit of living in caves and natural shelters.
Ancient Greek: ἔνθ᾽ ἀναπηρώσας γλυφάνῳ πολιοῖο σιδήρου αἰῶν᾽ ἐξετόρησεν ὀρεσκῴοιο χελώνης. ὡς δ᾽ ὁπότ᾽ ὠκὺ νόημα διὰ στέρνοιο περήσῃ ἀνέρος, ὅν τε θαμειαὶ ἐπιστρωφῶσι μέριμναι, ἢ ὅτε δινηθῶσιν ἀπ᾽ ὀφθαλμῶν ἀμαρυγαί, ὣς ἅμ᾽ ἔπος τε καὶ ἔργον ἐμήδετο κύδιμος Ἑρμῆς. πῆξε δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐν μέτροισι ταμὼν δόνακας καλάμοιο πειρήνας διὰ νῶτα διὰ ῥινοῖο χελώνης. ἀμφὶ δὲ δέρμα τάνυσσε βοὸς πραπίδεσσιν ἑῇσι καὶ πήχεις ἐνέθηκ᾽, ἐπὶ δὲ ζυγὸν ἤραρεν ἀμφοῖν, ἑπτὰ δὲ θηλυτέρων ὀίων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς. αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τεῦξε, φέρων, ἐρατεινὸν ἄθυρμα, πλήκτρῳ ἐπειρήτιζε κατὰ μέρος: ἣ δ᾽ ὑπὸ χειρὸς σμερδαλέον κονάβησε: θεὸς δ᾽ ὑπὸ καλὸν ἄειδεν ἐξ αὐτοσχεδίης πειρώμενος
English: Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain-tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once. He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut. But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvellously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches
NovoScriptorium: Homer beautifully describes the invention of a musical instrument. Materials used for its construction are mostly of animal origin, which shows that ‘Hermes the cave man’ is very well aware of the anatomy of every animal that he must have had killed -and eaten- before. With this excerpt Homer most likely wishes to denote that Music or more complex musical instruments than before (if there were any before this), appeared together with the other innovations of the discussed era. Further, it is very interesting that ‘Hermes the cave man’ is described as using a tool ‘γλυφάνῳ πολιοῖο σιδήρου’ which means ‘chisel made of grey/whitish iron‘ (instead of ‘a scoop of grey iron’). This three words indicate knowledge of Metallurgy. More specifically, it appears that we are talking about Cast iron:
“Grey cast iron is characterised by its graphitic microstructure, which causes fractures of the material to have a grey appearance. It is the most commonly used cast iron and the most widely used cast material based on weight. Most cast irons have a chemical composition of 2.5–4.0% carbon, 1–3% silicon, and the remainder iron. Grey cast iron has less tensile strength and shock resistance than steel, but its compressive strength is comparable to low- and medium-carbon steel. These mechanical properties are controlled by the size and shape of the graphite flakes present in the microstructure”
“White cast iron displays white fractured surfaces due to the presence of an iron carbide precipitate called cementite. With a lower silicon content (graphitizing agent) and faster cooling rate, the carbon in white cast iron precipitates out of the melt as the metastable phase cementite, Fe3C, rather than graphite. The cementite which precipitates from the melt forms as relatively large particles. As the iron carbide precipitates out, it withdraws carbon from the original melt, moving the mixture toward one that is closer to eutectic, and the remaining phase is the lower iron-carbon austenite (which on cooling might transform to martensite). These eutectic carbides are much too large to provide the benefit of what is called precipitation hardening (as in some steels, where much smaller cementite precipitates might inhibit plastic deformation by impeding the movement of dislocations through the pure iron ferrite matrix). Rather, they increase the bulk hardness of the cast iron simply by virtue of their own very high hardness and their substantial volume fraction, such that the bulk hardness can be approximated by a rule of mixtures. In any case, they offer hardness at the expense of toughness. Since carbide makes up a large fraction of the material, white cast iron could reasonably be classified as a cermet. White iron is too brittle for use in many structural components, but with good hardness and abrasion resistance and relatively low cost, it finds use in such applications as the wear surfaces (impeller and volute) of slurry pumps, shell liners and lifter bars in ball mills and autogenous grinding mills, balls and rings in coal pulverisers, and the teeth of a backhoe’s digging bucket (although cast medium-carbon martensitic steel is more common for this application).” (Source: Cast iron)
Of course, no one even dares to suggest that the primitive cave men ever got involved in Metallurgy. But, if we are talking about the transitional era ‘from caves to houses’, there is a good possibility for Metallurgy to have appeared. Archaeological evidence so far shows that already from the Neolithic Age the use of some metals had started. Similarly, in the Greek peninsula, archaeological evidence so far shows that, indeed, during the Neolithic Age there were still some inhabited caves while organized towns and cities existed in parallel. Therefore, we cannot at all exclude that Homer describes here another real scene from that transitional era. We suggest here a read of the following articles: A 23,000 years built wall found at the prehistoric Theopetra Cave in Thessaly, Greece. The oldest Anatomically Modern Human footprint in Europe? and Alepotrypa Cave & Ksagounaki, Greece; A burial complex and Megaliths from the Neolithic Age
Ancient Greek: αὐτὰρ ἄρ᾽ Ἑρμῆς Πιερίης ἀφίκανε θέων ὄρεα σκιόεντα, ἔνθα θεῶν μακάρων βόες ἄμβροτοι αὖλιν ἔχεσκον βοσκόμεναι λειμῶνας ἀκηρασίους, ἐρατεινούς. τῶν τότε Μαιάδος υἱός, ἐύσκοπος Ἀργειφόντης, πεντήκοντ᾽ ἀγέλης ἀπετάμνετο βοῦς ἐριμύκους. πλανοδίας δ᾽ ἤλαυνε διὰ ψαμαθώδεα χῶρον ἴχνι᾽ ἀποστρέψας: δολίης δ᾽ οὐ λήθετο τέχνης ἀντία ποιήσας ὁπλάς, τὰς πρόσθεν ὄπισθεν, τὰς δ᾽ ὄπιθεν πρόσθεν: κατὰ δ᾽ ἔμπαλιν αὐτὸς ἔβαινε. σάνδαλα δ᾽ αὐτίκα ῥιψὶν ἐπὶ ψαμάθοις ἁλίῃσιν, ἄφραστ᾽ ἠδ᾽ ἀνόητα διέπλεκε, θαυματὰ ἔργα, συμμίσγων μυρίκας καὶ μυρσινοειδέας ὄζους. τῶν τότε συνδήσας νεοθηλέος ἄγκαλον ὕλης ἀβλαβέως ὑπὸ ποσσὶν ἐδήσατο σάνδαλα κοῦφα αὐτοῖσιν πετάλοισι τὰ κύδιμος Ἀργειφόντης ἔσπασε Πιερίηθεν ὁδοιπορίην ἀλεγύνων, οἷά τ᾽ ἐπειγόμενος δολιχὴν ὁδόν, αὐτοτροπήσας. τὸν δὲ γέρων ἐνόησε δέμων ἀνθοῦσαν ἀλωὴν ἱέμενον πεδίονδε δι᾽ Ὀγχηστὸν λεχεποίην
English: Hermes came hurrying to the shadowy mountains of Pieria, where the divine cattle of the blessed gods had their steads and grazed the pleasant, unmown meadows. Of these the Son of Maia, the sharp-eyed slayer of Argus then cut off from the herd fifty loud-lowing kine, and drove them straggling-wise across a sandy place, turning their hoof-prints aside. Also, he bethought him of a crafty ruse and reversed the marks of their hoofs, making the front behind and the hind before, while he himself walked the other way. Then he wove sandals with wicker-work by the sand of the sea, wonderful things, unthought of, unimagined; for he mixed together tamarisk and myrtle-twigs, fastening together an armful of their fresh, young wood, and tied them, leaves and all securely under his feet as light sandals. The brushwood the glorious Slayer of Argus plucked in Pieria as he was preparing for his journey, making shift as one making haste for a long journey. But an old man tilling his flowering vineyard saw him as he was hurrying down the plain through grassy Onchestus.
NovoScriptorium: First, let’s provide the reader with an example of how tricky is the writing of Myths aiming to provide several different kinds of information. Here Homer names the oxen as ‘βόες ἄμβροτοι’. The word ‘άμβροτος’ means the ‘one who does not die‘; and literally, ‘the one who cannot be eaten‘. Later in the narration Hermes slaughters two of these oxen. Ostensibly, this is a contradiction. But it is exactly contradictions such as this that lead us to other than the obvious interpretations. We are convinced, after years of study, that this is done on purpose by the writers.
Anyhow, this excerpt confirms that we are dealing with an era when animals are well domesticated. Moreover, there appears to be a similar domestication of, at least, the vine. Archaeological evidence so far confirms that wine was produced in the Greek peninsula at least since the 5th millennium B.C. (Dikili Tash, Greece; the earliest winemaking in Europe (5th millennium B.C.)) As for other domesticated seeds check: Neolithic in the Greek peninsula; early 7th millennium domestic seeds at Franchthi Cave. Another interesting thing is that ‘the gods’ own cattle. In the Iliad Homer informs us that there were two recognising factors of wealth: if someone owned a lot of gold or if someone owned a great number of oxen. Hence, ‘the gods’ belonged to the wealthy in our case. Again, as we have explained in several previous articles, we must have in mind that ‘the gods’ were humans of the distant past.
Ancient Greek: σὺν δ᾽ ἐφόρει ξύλα πολλά, πυρὸς δ᾽ ἐπεμαίετο τέχνην. δάφνης ἀγλαὸν ὄζον ἑλὼν ἀπέλεψε σιδήρῳ… ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃ: ἄμπνυτο δὲ θερμὸς ἀυτμή: Ἑρμῆς τοι πρώτιστα πυρήια πῦρ τ᾽ ἀνέδωκε. πολλὰ δὲ κάγκανα κᾶλα κατουδαίῳ ἐνὶ βόθρῳ οὖλα λαβὼν ἐπέθηκεν ἐπηετανά: λάμπετο δὲ φλὸξ τηλόσε φῦσαν ἱεῖσα πυρὸς μέγα δαιομένοιο.
English: began to seek the art of fire. He chose a stout laurel branch and trimmed it with the knife ((lacuna)) . . . held firmly in his hand: and the hot smoke rose up. For it was Hermes who first invented fire-sticks and fire. Next he took many dried sticks and piled them thick and plenty in a sunken trench: and flame began to glow, spreading afar the blast of fierce-burning fire.
NovoScriptorium: In this excerpt ‘Hermes the cave man’ discovers and systematizes the use of fire. The discovery of fire had been a turnpoint in the evolutionary history of Man. We are not sure where this first took place neither we know anything about the time it happened. What is slightly confusing is that the use of fire definitely didn’t take place during the transitional period ‘from caves to houses’, but much earlier. It is though possible that Homer attempts to provide information for more than one different eras simultaneously (something that he does a lot in his two famous epics). What we should keep from here is the suggestion that fire was discovered by humans when they were still living in caves.
Homer also describes ‘Hermes the cave man’ using ‘σιδήρῳ… ἄρμενον’, which means ‘iron tool/weapon‘. As we previously examined, knowledge of Metallurgy is suggested here.
Ancient Greek: ὄφρα δὲ πῦρ ἀνέκαιε βίη κλυτοῦ Ἡφαίστοιο, τόφρα δ᾽ ὑποβρύχους ἕλικας βοῦς εἷλκε θύραζε δοιὰς ἄγχι πυρός: δύναμις δέ οἱ ἕσπετο πολλή. ἀμφοτέρας δ᾽ ἐπὶ νῶτα χαμαὶ βάλε φυσιοώσας: ἀγκλίνων δ᾽ ἐκύλινδε δι᾽ αἰῶνας τετορήσας. ἔργῳ δ᾽ ἔργον ὄπαζε ταμὼν κρέα πίονα δημῷ: ὤπτα δ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ὀβελοῖσι πεπαρμένα δουρατέοισι σάρκας ὁμοῦ καὶ νῶτα γεράσμια καὶ μέλαν αἷμα ἐργμένον ἐν χολάδεσσι: τὰ δ᾽ αὐτοῦ κεῖτ᾽ ἐπὶ χώρης: ῥινοὺς δ᾽ ἐξετάνυσσε καταστυφέλῳ ἐνὶ πέτρῃ, ὡς ἔτι νῦν τὰ μέτασσα πολυχρόνιοι πεφύασι, δηρὸν δὴ μετὰ ταῦτα καὶ ἄκριτον: αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα Ἑρμῆς χαρμόφρων εἰρύσατο πίονα ἔργα λείῳ ἐπὶ πλαταμῶνι καὶ ἔσχισε δώδεκα μοίρας κληροπαλεῖς: τέλεον δὲ γέρας προσέθηκεν ἑκάστῃ. ἔνθ᾽ ὁσίης κρεάων ἠράσσατο κύδιμος Ἑρμῆς: ὀδμὴ γάρ μιν ἔτειρε καὶ ἀθάνατόν περ ἐόντα ἡδεῖ᾽: ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ὥς οἱ ἐπείθετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ, καί τε μάλ᾽ ἱμείροντι, περῆν ἱερῆς κατὰ δειρῆς.
English: And while the strength of glorious Hephaestus was beginning to kindle the fire, he dragged out two lowing, horned cows close to the fire; for great strength was with him. He threw them both panting upon their backs on the ground, and rolled them on their sides, bending their necks over, and pierced their vital chord. Then he went on from task to task: first he cut up the rich, fatted meat, and pierced it with wooden spits, and roasted flesh and the honourable chine and the paunch full of dark blood all together. He laid them there upon the ground, and spread out the hides on a rugged rock: and so they are still there many ages afterwards, a long, long time after all this, and are continually. Next glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, flat stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honourable. Then glorious Hermes longed for the sacrificial meat, for the sweet savour wearied him, god though he was; nevertheless his proud heart was not prevailed upon to devour the flesh, although he greatly desired.
NovoScriptorium: ‘Hermes the cave man’ slaughters the oxen. He then uses his previous invention, the fire, to cook the animals’ meat. His described excitement about the smell of burning flesh is probably an indirect way for Homer to inform us that the cave men, before the discovery of fire, have been eating their meat raw. ‘spread out the hides on a rugged rock‘ denotes the existence of skin processing, which preceded the discovery and use of fire. ‘Hermes the cave man’ knew what to do with the slaughtered animals and their hides, as it is obvious from the text. What seems to have changed is the cooking of the animals’ meat.
Here we notice one of those ‘special contradictions’ of which we briefly discussed above. ‘Hermes the cave man’ performs a ritual to honour the gods, while himself is a…god, too. Obviously, what we have here is a parallel narration. What Homer probably suggests here is that the cave men had some kind of religion/religious beliefs. And that they decided to honour the Divine through something that massively changed their lives; fire. And so this is how animal sacrifices begun. Moreover, a ‘god honouring the gods’ apparently denotes that none of them is actually a deity, but, rather, as we have shown multiple times so far in our analyses, they are all Men. It is very likely that some kind of social inequality (wealthy-poor, upper class-lower class, etc) is indirectly implied here.
Ancient Greek: Διὸς δ᾽ ἐριούνιος Ἑρμῆς δοχμωθεὶς μεγάροιο διὰ κλήιθρον ἔδυνεν αὔρῃ ὀπωρινῇ ἐναλίγκιος, ἠύτ᾽ ὀμίχλη. ἰθύσας δ᾽ ἄντρου ἐξίκετο πίονα νηὸν ἦκα ποσὶ προβιβῶν
English: And luck-bringing Hermes, the son of Zeus, passed edgeways through the key-hole of the hall like the autumn breeze, even as mist: straight through the cave he went and came to the rich inner chamber, walking softly
NovoScriptorium: Hermes enters his ‘μέγαρον’, according to the text. The word means ‘hall‘ but also ‘big house‘ and ‘palace‘. Then, the text continues, ‘Hermes the cave man’ ‘ἰθύσας δ᾽ ἄντρου ἐξίκετο πίονα νηὸν’. ‘ιθύνω’ means ‘I drive in a straight line‘ or ‘I govern, I drive, I direct‘. ‘πίων’ means ‘fat/fatty‘ or, metaphorically, for soils, ‘rich‘, and the same for people. ‘νηός’ = ‘ναός’ = ‘temple.’ Homer adds that Hermes reaches the ‘rich temple‘ (‘πίονα νηὸν’) on foot (‘ἦκα ποσὶ προβιβῶν’). Hence, instead of driving something in a straight line, here Hermes quickly walks himself in a straight line to reach the ‘rich temple‘. This temple, the passage that leads to it, the hall, all of them exist inside the ‘άντρον’ = ‘cave’. Archaeological evidence has indeed confirmed that cave men were shaping the space of the caves they inhabited. Not coincidentally, even until the historical years, there were countless religious structures inside caves or the caves themselves were considered as ‘sacred’. This most likely had been the echo of the distant past of Men. So, ‘Hermes the cave man’ not only had shaped the interior of his cave to a ‘palace’, but also he honoured the gods in a specific place; a temple. The need of Man to connect with the Divine, as Homer clearly describes, dates back very deep in Antiquity. The reader might be interested to read the following articles: Neanderthal stone ring structures found in French cave (~175,000 years old), Dietary behaviours of Neanderthals, Palaeolithic in the Pindus Mountains of Western Macedonia (Greece); Neanderthals exploited raw materials at altitudes as high as 2,200m,
Ancient Greek: βέλτερον ἤματα πάντα μετ᾽ ἀθανάτοις ὀαρίζειν, πλούσιον, ἀφνειόν, πολυλήιον, ἢ κατὰ δῶμα ἄντρῳ ἐν ἠερόεντι θαασσέμεν
English: Better to live in fellowship with the deathless gods continually, rich, wealthy, and enjoying stories of grain, than to sit always in a gloomy cave
NovoScriptorium: the ‘deathless gods’, in our opinion, represent here the upper class of the transitional era. The individuals that innovated the construction of the house, towns and organized polities must have been indeed honoured for this benefaction by the rest of the people-and deified after death, as we have pointed out. We already know from the Iliad that even living persons were honoured as ‘gods’ in the demos. Hence we don’t seem to be at all in a wrong direction. To support the claim, the life of ‘the gods’ as described in this excerpt, is ‘rich, wealthy, and enjoying stories of grain’ (obviously, no ‘god’ would ever be in need of ‘wealth’ or ‘grain’, theologically and philosophically speaking – hence it is clear that we are talking here about Men). The comparison/contrast is with living ‘in a gloomy cave’. Therefore, during the transitional era ‘from the cave to the house’ there have been people living in organized towns and cities, with Agriculture and wealth, while there were still people living in caves with the previous, more primitive way of living.
Ancient Greek: εἶμι γὰρ ἐς Πυθῶνα μέγαν δόμον ἀντιτορήσων: ἔνθεν ἅλις τρίποδας περικαλλέας ἠδὲ λέβητας πορθήσω καὶ χρυσόν, ἅλις τ᾽ αἴθωνα σίδηρον καὶ πολλὴν ἐσθῆτα
English: For I will go to Pytho to break into his great house, and will plunder therefrom splendid tripods, and cauldrons, and gold, and plenty of bright iron, and much apparel
NovoScriptorium: Our previous conclusion is further supported by this excerpt. Πυθώ ( =Pytho) was the more ancient name of the well known region of Delphi, a place were Apollo reigned. At Pytho one would find a ‘μέγαν δόμον’ ( = ‘big building/house’ which implies construction capabilities and the analogous Knowledge behind it), where he can steal (because Hermes, in the text, threats to do exactly this) the following items (all of them are symbols of wealth, prestige and uniqueness):
‘τρίποδας περικαλλέας’ (‘splendid tripods’ is a clear indication of Art and, almost certainly, Metallurgy, as tripods were usually made of some kind of metal),
‘λέβητας’ (‘boilers/cauldrons’; this directly implies Metallurgy but, also, allows us to hypothesize on possible applications of these -something that we will avoid here, as there are no further references on their usage),
‘gold’ (this directly implies Metallurgy. We already know form the Iliad that owning gold is one of the social signs of wealth),
‘plenty of bright iron’ (again, Metallurgy is implied here; it is very likely that the inclusion of iron among the items that denote wealth and prestige has to do with the social trend at the time. In other words, its production and use must have been in its first steps and, hence, it was the privilege of the few to have and use it. It would certainly give an advantage -in terms of Power- to the upper class against the lower classes that were still using wood and stone tools),
‘πολλὴν ἐσθῆτα’ (that is, ‘much apparel, gown’. This directly implies that the use of manufactured clothes -a new fashion- from materials other than animal skin was relatively new at the time and was clearly considered as a privilege of the ‘elite’)
Ancient Greek: ὦ γέρον, Ὀγχηστοῖο βατοδρόπε ποιήεντος, βοῦς ἀπὸ Πιερίης διζήμενος ἐνθάδ᾽ ἱκάνω, πάσας θηλείας, πάσας κεράεσσιν ἑλικτάς, ἐξ ἀγέλης: ὁ δὲ ταῦρος ἐβόσκετο μοῦνος ἀπ᾽ ἄλλων κυάνεος: χαροποὶ δὲ κύνες κατόπισθεν ἕποντο τέσσαρες, ἠύτε φῶτες, ὁμόφρονες
English: Old man, weeder of grassy Onchestus, I am come here from Pieria seeking cattle, cows all of them, all with curving horns, from my herd. The black bull was grazing alone away from the rest, but fierce-eyed hounds followed the cows, four of them, all of one mind, like men.
NovoScriptorium: This excerpt repeats that animals were well domesticated in this specific era. Here, besides cattle, we read about trained dogs in Man’s service. We are aslo informed that the old man who Apollo speaks to was a ‘βατοδρόπος’ ( = ‘an acanthus breaker’, ‘a weeder’), i.e., he was clearing the field from unwanted weeds in order to help his crop grow properly. This is a sign of conscious cultivation, i.e. Agriculture.
Ancient Greek: βήματα δ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἀνδρὸς τάδε γίγνεται οὔτε γυναικὸς οὔτε λύκων πολιῶν οὔτ᾽ ἄρκτων οὔτε λεόντων
English: But these others are not the footprints of man or woman or grey wolves or bears or lions
NovoScriptorium: We have a notable description of animals that one could find in abundance during the era under discussion. Bears and grey wolves still exist -in very low numbers- in the Greek peninsula, while lions have been extinct many centuries ago. This element, in theory, could be crucial in providing a relative chronology for the era in discussion. If we could roughly know when lions disappeared from the Greek peninsula, then this date could act as the ‘time maximum’ of this epoch, in its attempted chronological calculation. It appears though that this is not but another controversial issue in modern Archaeology. Please take some time to read the following papers: “A Lion’s Eye View of the Greek Bronze Age” and “The Early Mycenaean Lion Up to Date“, both by Nancy R. Thomas. Hence, we must try to evaluate this element in a different way. These three different species are presented as ‘prevailing species’ of the era in discussion. Hence, if we could collect statistically satisfying quantities of their bones, then maybe we could arrive in a position to make a proper estimate of the described era. In other words, if we ever find a time interval where fossils from these animals appear to be very big in numbers compared to other time intervals.
Ancient Greek: παπτήνας δ᾽ ἀνὰ πάντα μυχὸν μεγάλοιο δόμοιο τρεῖς ἀδύτους ἀνέῳγε λαβὼν κληῖδα φαεινὴν νέκταρος ἐμπλείους ἠδ᾽ ἀμβροσίης ἐρατεινῆς: πολλὸς δὲ χρυσός τε καὶ ἄργυρος ἔνδον ἔκειτο, πολλὰ δὲ φοινικόεντα καὶ ἄργυφα εἵματα νύμφης, οἷα θεῶν μακάρων ἱεροὶ δόμοι ἐντὸς ἔχουσιν: ἔνθ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἐξερέεινε μυχοὺς μεγάλοιο δόμοιο Λητοΐδης, μύθοισι προσηύδα κύδιμον Ἑρμῆν
English: He peered in every corner of the great dwelling and, taking a bright key, he opened three closets full of nectar and lovely ambrosia. And much gold and silver was stored in them, and many garments of the nymph, some purple and some silvery white, such as are kept in the sacred houses of the blessed gods. Then, after the Son of Leto had searched out the recesses of the great house, he spake to glorious Hermes
NovoScriptorium: The cave of Hermes is named ‘μέγας δόμος’ ( = great dwelling, building). ‘άδυτος’ means ‘the innermost part’ but also ‘the place from where it is very difficult to exit’. The ‘great dwelling’ of Hermes had at least three places like this and, moreover, there were keys and a locker for each one of them. The word ‘μυχός’ means ‘the innermost place’ and ‘the depth’ (instead of ‘every corner’). In other words, we are still talking about a cave, shaped to fit the needs of people. Hermes and his mother own ‘gold and silver’. Beyond doubt, Metallurgy is implied here. Then Homer tells us about the clothes of Hermes’ mother. The crucial detail is this one: “such as are kept in the sacred houses of the blessed gods“. This is a clear indication that ‘the gods’ are the wealthy of the era. Hermes apparently owns things that only the ‘gods’ are considered to own. But, there is an explanation for this; Hermes is a thief, a robber, a grabber. This tells us indeed of social inequalities and crime at some distant past era.
Ancient Greek: Λητοῦς δ᾽ ἐρικυδέος υἱὸν ῥεῖα μάλ᾽ ἐπρήυνεν ἑκηβόλον, ὡς ἔθελ᾽ αὐτός, καὶ κρατερόν περ ἐόντα: λαβὼν δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ χειρὸς πλήκτρῳ ἐπειρήτιζε κατὰ μέρος: ἣ δ᾽ ὑπὸ χειρὸς σμερδαλέον κονάβησε: γέλασσε δὲ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων γηθήσας, ἐρατὴ δὲ διὰ φρένας ἤλυθ᾽ ἰωὴ θεσπεσίης ἐνοπῆς καὶ μιν γλυκὺς ἵμερος ᾕρει θυμῷ ἀκουάζοντα: λύρῃ δ᾽ ἐρατὸν κιθαρίζων στῆ ῥ᾽ ὅ γε θαρσήσας ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ Μαιάδος υἱὸς Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος: τάχα δὲ λιγέως κιθαρίζων γηρύετ᾽ ἀμβολάδην — ἐρατὴ δέ οἱ ἕσπετο φωνή — κραίνων ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς καὶ γαῖαν ἐρεμνήν, ὡς τὰ πρῶτα γένοντο καὶ ὡς λάχε μοῖραν ἕκαστος. Μνημοσύνην μὲν πρῶτα θεῶν ἐγέραιρεν ἀοιδῇ, μητέρα Μουσάων: ἣ γὰρ λάχε Μαιάδος υἱόν: τοὺς δὲ κατὰ πρέσβιν τε καὶ ὡς γεγάασιν ἕκαστος ἀθανάτους ἐγέραιρε θεοὺς Διὸς ἀγλαὸς υἱός, πάντ᾽ ἐνέπων κατὰ κόσμον, ἐπωλένιον κιθαρίζων. τὸν δ᾽ ἔρος ἐν στήθεσσιν ἀμήχανος αἴνυτο θυμόν, καὶ μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα: βουφόνε, μηχανιῶτα, πονεύμενε, δαιτὸς ἑταῖρε, πεντήκοντα βοῶν ἀντάξια ταῦτα μέμηλας.
English: Very easily he softened the son of all-glorious Leto as he would, stern though the Far-shooter was. He took the lyre upon his left arm and tried each string in turn with the key, so that it sounded awesomely at his touch. And Phoebus Apollo laughed for joy; for the sweet throb of the marvellous music went to his heart, and a soft longing took hold on his soul as he listened. Then the son of Maia, harping sweetly upon his lyre, took courage and stood at the left hand of Phoebus Apollo; and soon, while he played shrilly on his lyre, he lifted up his voice and sang, and lovely was the sound of his voice that followed. He sang the story of the deathless gods and of the dark earth, how at the first they came to be, and how each one received his portion. First among the gods he honoured Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following. And next the goodly son of Zeus hymned the rest of the immortals according to their order in age, and told how each was born, mentioning all in order as he struck the lyre upon his arm. But Apollo was seized with a longing not to be allayed, and he opened his mouth and spoke winged words to Hermes: “Slayer of oxen, trickster, busy one, comrade of the feast, this song of yours is worth fifty cows”
NovoScriptorium: In this excerpt Homer underlines the importance of Music in Man’s life. As it appears, Music was born together with what we, more or less, perceive as ‘civilization’ even today. Hermes then starts singing a song about the story of the ‘gods’ and ‘dark earth’. It is not at all a coincidence that Homer places him to honour Mnemosyne ( = Memory, the ability to memorize). This is an indirect confession that what is written in this Hymn was received by a Museum in order to preserve Memory of older times. Considering the content of Hermes’ song, it is likely that with the above description Homer wants to inform us that anyone who tells analogous stories/songs works in the same direction of preserving Memory (Knowledge of the distant past). How can anyone honour ‘first among the gods’ anyone else rather than the ‘father of gods and men’, Zeus? or at least, some deity of the ‘Olympian’ council? This is another one of those obvious -and very useful- contradictions; the stories of ‘the gods’, among other allegories, refer to Men of the distant past. We don’t deal with Theology in this text, but with History. It is very reasonable to honour Mnemosyne first, because Zeus himself, as described in the Hymn, is no deity but a common man, of high position perhaps, that has needs and desires. Let’s not forget that Hermes was the product of his extramarital relationship with Maia. Obviously, there is nothing even close to the Divine here.
Another interesting thing is that in the end of the excerpt Apollo says to Hermes that ‘πεντήκοντα βοῶν ἀντάξια ταῦτα μέμηλας’ which means ‘what you have invented/devised are worthy of fifty oxen‘. Gold and oxen were the symbols of wealth. Therefore, in this indirect way, Homer tells us that Music is a precious invention for Man, for all the pleasure it can bring to his mind, body and soul and, simultaneously, that whoever composes and sings songs about Memory (of ‘the gods’ and ‘dark earth’) does indeed something very valuable.
Ancient Greek: τίς τέχνη, τίς μοῦσα ἀμηχανέων μελεδώνων, τίς τρίβος; ἀτρεκέως γὰρ ἅμα τρία πάντα πάρεστιν, εὐφροσύνην καὶ ἔρωτα καὶ ἥδυμον ὕπνον ἑλέσθαι. καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ Μούσῃσιν Ὀλυμπιάδεσσιν ὀπηδός, τῇσι χοροί τε μέλουσι καὶ ἀγλαὸς οἶμος ἀοιδῆς καὶ μολπὴ τεθαλυῖα καὶ ἱμερόεις βρόμος αὐλῶν: ἀλλ᾽ οὔ πω τί μοι ὧδε μετὰ φρεσὶν ἄλλο μέλησεν, οἷα νέων θαλίῃς ἐνδέξια ἔργα πέλονται. θαυμάζω, Διὸς υἱέ, τάδ᾽, ὡς ἐρατὸν κιθαρίζεις.
English: What skill is this? What song for desperate cares? What way of song? For verily here are three things to hand all at once from which to choose, — mirth, and love, and sweet sleep. And though I am a follower of the Olympian Muses who love dances and the bright path of song — the full-toned chant and ravishing thrill of flutes — yet I never cared for any of those feats of skill at young men’s revels, as I do now for this: I am filled with wonder, O son of Zeus, at your sweet playing.
NovoScriptorium: This excerpt provides us with the information that Music already existed before Hermes. What he actually did was to invent a stringed instrument and change the course of this Art. ‘εὐφροσύνη’ (gleefulness), ‘ἔρως’ (eros) and ‘ἥδυμος ὕπνος’ (the pleasant sleep) go together, as Apollo says. These three are proclaimed as the desired effects of Music. Followingly, Apollo calls himself ‘a follower of the Olympian Muses‘. Apollo had direct contact with the Muses, their Music and songs (The Muses’ songs were about the old era, the Mythological times). The poets like Homer wrote poems inspired by the Muses, i.e. they had an indirect contact with the distant past somehow. What is confirmed here is that Apollo was a man who had been living in the distant past, being ‘contemporary with the Muses’. Why do we say that he was a man and not a ‘god’? Again, because there is nothing Divine in receiving simple human pleasures. What remains as a question is how all those stories survived Time. The simplistic (and irrational, in our opinion) explanation of an ‘oral tradition’ is not at all convincing. Especially when there are Mythological references about the existence of Writing in the very distant past. Obviously, none of us can claim when exactly Men -in the Greek peninsula and the World- begun to write. Please take some time to read the following articles: How old is the Greek language and its writing?, Writing in Neolithic Europe; an Aegean origin?
There are also indications of very old Writing in China: Writing in Neolithic China?
We restrict/limit our analysis mainly in the Greek peninsula because what we examine here is information provided by the Ancient Greek Tradition.
Ancient Greek: ταῦτ᾽ ἔχε, Μαιάδος υἱέ, καὶ ἀγραύλους ἕλικας βοῦς ἵππους τ᾽ ἀμφιπόλευε καὶ ἡμιόνους ταλαεργούς. [ὡς ἔφατ᾽: οὐρανόθεν δὲ πατὴρ Ζεὺς αὐτὸς ἔπεσσι θῆκε τέλος: πᾶσιν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ οἰωνοῖσι κέλευσεν καὶ χαροποῖσι λέουσι καὶ ἀργιόδουσι σύεσσι καὶ κυσὶ καὶ μήλοισιν, ὅσα τρέφει εὐρεῖα χθών, πᾶσι δ᾽ ἐπὶ προβάτοισιν ἀνάσσειν κύδιμον Ἑρμῆν, οἶον δ᾽ εἰς Ἀΐδην τετελεσμένον ἄγγελον εἶναι, ὅς τ᾽ ἄδοτός περ ἐὼν δώσει γέρας οὐκ ἐλάχιστον.
English: Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules. So he spake. And from heaven father Zeus himself gave confirmation to his words, and commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of omen and grim-eyed lions, and boars with gleaming tusks, and over dogs and all flocks that the wide earth nourishes, and over all sheep; also that he only should be the appointed messenger to Hades, who, though he takes no gift, shall give him no mean prize.
NovoScriptorium: From this last excerpt we learn about the fauna which existed during the transitional era ‘from caves to houses’ in the Greek peninsula. We read about oxen, horses, mules, lions, boars, dogs, sheep and other ‘flocks’.
What we have examined here is a written document from Antiquity that clearly describes epochs of the distant past and some of their characteristics:
At some distant past Humans were living in caves, ignorant of the use of fire.
The use of fire is described as a turnpoint in Man’s Evolution.
At some other distant past Humans were living in caves and houses at the same time.
During the transitional period ‘from caves to houses’ a series of advancements took place. Among them, Agriculture, Metallurgy, Music, the making of Clothes, the making of works of Art.
We know very little of the period, the time interval when Man ignored the use of fire. And we know equally very little for the time interval that starts from the first use of fire until the turnpoint of Agriculture.
For the transitional period ‘from caves to houses’ though, it appears that there are some strong analogies with modern archaeological findings from the Greek peninsula. It is confirmed that Metallurgy appears to have begun during the Neolithic period. It is confirmed that Agriculture, Arts, Crafts, etc. were integral parts of the Neolithic societies. It is also confirmed that there were many inhabited caves even in the Bronze Age and, for sure, during the Neolithic Age, while towns, cities, even imposing palaces existed in parallel. Latest archaeological evidence from the Aegean has shown that the whole process that led to the so-called Neolithic Agricultural societies had begun some millenia before. Please take some time to read the following article:
Mesolithic findings from the Aegean suggest a ‘polycentric neolithization’ in the Eastern Mediterranean – Settlement at Maroulas site on Kythnos island; the earliest identified so far in the Aegean area, contemporaneous to the PPNA of the Near East
Until now though, we do not have enough documented and published evidence to make any further claims in relation to our analysis. At first glance, the main period described in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes seems to be the Neolithic and most likely the so-called Early Neolithic. From the following excerpt we may receive an indication of how rapidly massive social changes took place in the Greek peninsula during the transitional era ‘from caves to houses’.
Ancient Greek: ἠῷος γεγονὼς μέσῳ ἤματι ἐγκιθάριζεν, ἑσπέριος βοῦς κλέψεν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος τετράδι τῇ προτέρῃ, τῇ μιν τέκε πότνια Μαῖα.
English: Born with the dawning, at mid-day he played on the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo on the fourth day of the month; for on that day queenly Maia bare him.
‘Hermes the cave man’ evolved very quickly ‘from dawn to evening’…
Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: P.D.K.