I thought it would be appropriate to offer you Hermes as my final business leadership profile from Greek mythology for 2014. After all, he’s well known in mythological circles as the god of both travel and hospitality!
Helpful Hermes was also the messenger of the Greek gods. Not bad work if you can get it, especially if your dad happens to be the CEO of Mount Olympus, Inc. (I’m referring to that thunderbolt blast from ancient Greece’s past, Zeus).
Hermes was a bit of a prankster who had a weak spot for mortals, especially the more unsavory ones. In the contemporary business world, you might recognize Hermes as a “right-hand man” sent by a company’s head honcho to make problems disappear (or fire employees, the way George Clooney did in the movie Up in the Air).
Do any of your rising stars fit this profile? Let’s discuss:
Precocious Hermes Became Daddy’s Herald after Stealing Big Bro Apollo’s Cattle: Greek mythology resources confirm Hermes as the son of Zeus and a lovely mountain nymph named Maia who wasn’t Zeus’s wife. (Maia was the daughter of Atlas, which means she was a minor goddess.)
Born in an isolated cave, Hermes was a quick-witted baby who allegedly got involved in a cattle-rustling scheme his first day of life. This greatly pissed off his immortal victim (and older brother): Apollo, god of the sun. A little trickster from day one, Hermes protested his infantile innocence.
Oh, Hermes did commit the crime. But Zeus was so pleased his newest son was such an industrious, speedy hustler that he basically told Apollo to “let it go.” Zeus then appointed young Hermes as the messenger of the gods.
I’d like to think that the cliche “robbing the cradle” just might have something to do with Hermes’s earliest adventures in larceny.
As a Swingin’ Single God, Hermes Carried a Lot of Responsibilities: Too clever for his own good, Hermes was burdened with many business-related tasks and responsibilities. According to Theoi.com, Hermes was the Greek god of:
“animal husbandry, roads, travel, hospitality, heralds, diplomacy, trade, thievery, language, writing, persuasion, cunning wiles, athletic contests, gymnasiums, astronomy, and astrology. He was also the personal agent and herald of Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes was depicted as either a handsome and athletic, beardless youth, or as an older bearded man.”
In other words, Hermes was no typical worker-bee drone. In fact, I consider him kindred spirits with Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe from Pulp Fiction:
“I’m not here to say ‘please’. I’m here to tell you what to do.”
Would You Trust a Business Executive Wearing Winged Sandals and a Winged Hat?: Hermes is probably one of the most commonly known deities online and in print, due to the iconic visuals representing his attributed powers.
With his winged sandals, Hermes flew all around ancient Greece, heeding Zeus’s commands and helping both honest business owners and dishonest swindlers. The wide-brimmed, winged traveling hat Hermes wore gave him the power of invisibility. It allowed Hermes to do his own and Zeus’s “dirty work” undercover while wearing it.
Hermes also schlepped around a herald’s staff, which he used to open and close mortals’ eyes while escorting their souls to the underworld, ruled by Hades. A picture of Hermes’s staff reveals a long stick entwined by two snakes/serpents whose heads meet under a pair of wings.
You probably recognize it as a caduceus, the mistaken, mixed-up symbol of modern medicine. (Read about the staff of Asclepius…) The caduceus was considered one of Hermes’s main symbols of power, identifying him as Zeus’s private concierge and the general messenger of the gods.
Hermes Cooled His Immortal Co-Workers’ Anger by Being Inventive: On his birth day, Hermes committed another naughty deed. He killed an innocent, unsuspecting tortoise.
But then he filled the shell with cut reeds, stretched an animal hide over it, and fitted it with seven strings made from animal intestines. And voilà–baby Hermes invented the first lyre.
He strummed the impromptu instrument to soothe his mother’s nerves before settling back into his cradle. (What a smooth operator Hermes was!) After using his lyre to douse Apollo’s anger regarding the whole cattle-plundering brouhaha, Hermes gave it to his big bro as a peace offering.
Yes, Hermes may remind you of the bad-boy son (or naughty-girl daughter) who entertains your employees at company picnics and holiday parties. But there’s no denying he had a knack for inventing clever contraptions. Other inventions attributed to Hermes (via Theoi.com) include:
“…the alphabet, numbers, astronomy, music, the art of fighting, gymnastics, the cultivation of the olive tree, measures, weights, and many other things.”
One of Hermes’s Sacred Symbols Was a Handbag (But Don’t Hold It Against Him…): The objects held sacred as Hermes’s symbols were a hodgepodge of odd items: the palm tree, the tortoise (well, he wanted to repay the one he had transformed into a lyre somehow), the number four (why, I don’t know), and several species of fish.
But there’s a lesser-known symbol attributed to Hermes that reminds me of a French luxury brand. And by coincidence, its founder shared the Greek god’s name. Hermes had a purse (excuse me, a leather pouch).
The fabled Hermès was founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a harness-making shop. The company later branched out to saddles in 1879. But it wasn’t until 1922 that the house of Hermès became associated with ultra-exclusive, expensive handbags (i.e., the Kelly and the Birkin).
A modern image of right-hand-man Hermes wouldn’t be complete without a Hermès messenger saddlebag at his side!
Hermes Made a Guest Appearance in Jason and the Argonauts: I’m confident I’ve mentioned one of my favorite films to watch (especially while folding laundry), Jason and the Argonauts, in a previous blog post. I have no choice but to summon a repeat performance of this Ray Harryhausen special-effects extravaganza, given its appropriateness.
In the film, someone who seems to be an old priest or seer gives counsel to Jason of Thessaly. At a crucial moment, they get into a philosophical discussion regarding whether the Greek gods and goddesses who purportedly live on Mount Olympus are real.
And then, BAM! The elderly seer is actually Hermes, messenger of the gods, sent by Zeus himself to escort Jason up to Mount Olympus for a mortal-to-immortal powwow.
Not only does Hermes transform into his younger, winged self, he grows to his full Olympian height and scoops up Jason with one hand. You must watch the scene to appreciate Ray Harryhausen’s superb stop-action wizardry.
(Bonus trivia: A British actor named Michael Gwynn handled Hermes’s 15 minutes of celluloid fame. A veteran of many BBC television series, Mr. Gwynn is no longer with us…)
If you are an employer, do you have a Hermes or two on staff? If you own a family business, does your son, daughter, or some other “young whippersnapper” fulfill the responsibility of “right-hand man” for you?
What ideas (or inventions) does your modern-day Hermes contribute that make you proud to be associated with him or her? Have you ever caught this employee in a slightly shady or bald-faced lie? If yes, how did you handle the situation and reprimand your inventive herald?
Just remember: Although you can temporarily punish Hermes, s/he’s so quick (mentally and physically) that you won’t stay mad at him or her for long. With Hermes by your side, expect a creative, sometimes unpredictable leader to stir things up within your organization!
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at email@example.com for a no-obligation project quote today!