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Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth Paperback – 12 Jun 1905


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Paperback, 12 Jun 1905
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Product details

  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Lindisfarne Books (12 Jun. 1905)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940262266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940262263
  • Product Dimensions: 19.1 x 13.1 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,640,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 2 Dec. 2004
Format: Paperback
A very clear, interesting and useful text on Hermes as 'thief'. Excellent detail on the difference between "theft" and "robbery" in the original Greek, and how this affects Hermes' actions. His acts of magic, seduction and theft were all done by stealth and trickery, not outright force or obviousness.
I was after a book to give me an insight into the character of Hermes, and his behaviour - this was perfect. It includes the text of the only source that gives much detail on him alone, including his birth and most of his famous accomplishments. The first half of the book (on the trickster/thief/magician becoming Herald/boundary guardian/patron of the marketplace) answered my needs more thoroughly than the text in the second half.
In the days of McWicca books and sensationalising legends, it's wonderful to have a really serious study of a deity - every statement is considered from multiple viewpoints, backed up with what the evidence would have meant to people at the time. Recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Hermes the trickster god 15 July 2004
By C. B Collins Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is somewhat dry and scholarly but well documented and reasoned. The book traces the evolution of the Hermes archatype through various periods of archaic to classical antiquity.
Hermes is presented as the giver of gifts that can be used for good or evil in the story of Pandora. Brown points out that early myths reveal the box to be full of multiple gifts, which could be true gifts or curses depending on the way they are used.
He is also presented as the cunning infant who steals his brother Apollo's cattle and then is so witty when discovered that he angers neither Apollo nor thier father Zeus.
He is sometimes pictured as the common man, the merchant and then at other times as the beautiful brother of Apollo, patrons of male beauty and athletics. Apollo and Hermes often shared altars in Greek cult religion.
His image is the garden statue complete with erect phallus and smiling face. These statues frequently were blocks with a Hermes head emerging from the top and a phallus emerging from the side. These ancient Hermes images were in every garden, every crossroad, every front door entrance. He was the god of boundaries and crossing boundaries and thus his image must honor every crossroads. Trickster, merchant, thief, he is the god of the marketplace where tribes meet and trade. He is the messenger of his father Zeus and also the god who transports the dead into the underworld.
I would recommend this book to students of classical antiquity. It was not entertaining enough for the casual recreational reader.
Excellent. 12 Jan. 2015
By Holofernes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As good as it gets. Clearly written, concise.
5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This starts with wars fought for cows 19 April 2003
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I know more about the very beginning of this book than about the rest of it, but I consider it a fundamental approach to understanding the nature of war as it is understood in ancient cultural situations. Hermes is one of the earliest figures that we might associate with such struggles, being described as an infant in comparison with his older brother Apollo, in early versions of a myth about Greek gods that forms a theme of this book. There might have been a number of scholars who knew what the basic scheme of references cited in this book when it first appeared in 1947 were all about. I assume that today, people may be vaguely aware of a few themes that the book inspires, but not much else. When Homer wrote, cattle were assumed to be the reason for going to war:
"Cattle-raiding, as depicted in Homer, was a public enterprise, led by the kings and participated in by the whole people. It is described as a war--a resort to force, and open force. The institution appears to have been a common heritage of all the Indo-European peoples and to have had everywhere the same general characteristics. To cite one illustrative detail: the Sanskrit word for `war' means literally `desire for more cows.' Coexistent with this institution of warlike plundering, or robbery, and terminologically distinguished from it in the Indo-European languages, was another type of appropriation, called theft. Theft is appropriation by stealth; robbery is open and forcible appropriation." (pp. 5-6).
I do not have a "Homeric Hymn to Hermes" to see how well it departs from this distinction. "Side by side with occasional terminology suitable to the raider appear terms suitable only to the thief. The cattle-raid described in the `Hymn' is not the usual resort to open force, but a peculiarly stealthy operation. There is no more incisive delineation of the contrast between the cunning trickster and the fighting hero than in the `Hymn,' where Hermes, a helpless infant relying only on his phenomenal cunning, challenges Apollo, the embodiment of physical power and the majesty of established authority." (pp. 7-8).
Much modern drama is based on traits ascribed to the god Hermes. "That gift was not merely `stealthiness'; it was `stealthiness and skill at the oath.' `Skill at the oath means guile or cunning in the use of the oath and derives from the primitive idea that an oath was binding only in its literal sense; a cunning person might legitimately manipulate it in order to deceive, as occurs often enough in Greek mythology. In the `Homeric Hymn,' when Hermes uses just such an oath to deny that he has stolen Apollo's cattle, he is said to show `good skill.' " (pp. 8-9).
I have a translation by Richmond Lattimore of works by Hesiod, which confirms that Hermes was responsible for giving Pandora "lies and deceitful words and a stealthy disposition." (p. 9). As Lattimore renders the Greek myth, "but to Hermes, the guide, the slayer of Argos,/ he gave instructions/ to put in her the mind of a hussy,/ and a treacherous nature." Also: "But into her heart Hermes, the guide, the slayer of Argos,/ put lies, and wheedling words of falsehood, and a treacherous nature,/ made her as Zeus of the deep thunder wished,/ and he, the gods' herald, put a voice inside her, and gave her the name of woman,/ Pandora, ..." (HESIOD, pp. 25-27).
HERMES THE THIEF has an index which lists a lot of Greek names. Appendix A didn't help me much. Instead of providing an authoritative text for anything about Hermes, it engages in the kind of speculation that modern philologists use to decide who actually wrote the accounts that we now have. Appendix B, "The Text of the `Homeric Hymn to Hermes,' " only provides the Greek Oxford text for lines 533 and 515 on p. 150, lines 414-417 on pp. 151-152, with an alternate reading on p. 153, lines 418-420 on p. 153, and lines 471-474 on p. 154. Norman O. Brown's explanation of what these last lines mean is, "Hermes says he is willing to be to Apollo in the matter of the lyre what Zeus is to Apollo in the matter of prophecy--a typically impudent statement for Hermes to make." (p. 155).
0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
trickster is only what this message is all about 20 Feb. 2012
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Let us be big steeple people.

The play The Master Builder (1892) by Henrik Ibsen has a Master Builder Halvard Solness and a young woman named Miss Hilde Wangel. In the opening scene, Solness declares:

(Angrily) I don't care to deal with a lot of strangers.

Halvard Solness is to think about retiring now!
He must make room for younger men -
for the youngest of all, perhaps.
He must make room - room - room.

There is a certain body electricity that takes place when people have strong desires. Drama can attempt to personify how people function in real situations. The more complicated the triangular nature of the situation, the more difficult it is to see how anyone is able to move on to something new.

I have a Vintage Book paperback Hermes The Thief/The Evolution of a Myth (1947, 1969) by Norman O. Brown, which attempts to describe changes in Greek culture which took place after the description of the gods in the Iliad so that the messenger duties assumed thereafter by Hermes was more formal than the family member used by Zeus to relay a message in the Iliad. Early in the book Hermes the Thief, strange aspects of magic are described:

One epithet, "the whisperer,"
which was shared by Hermes,
Aphrodite, and Eros, underlines
the connection between Hermes
the master of love-magic and
Hermes the master of magic words.
The epithet implies that a special
virtue is attached to whispered
words. (p. 15).

It is with a touch of the rod
that the sorceress Circe
transforms men into swine.
Because of itas power to
make dreams come true,
it became the symbol of
a golden age of peace
and plenty. (p. 17).

Hermes with a rod in
his hand, as he appears on
Greek vases, is Hermes
the magician with his magic
wand. (p. 17).

Talking as an art of telling everybody what they expect to hear has become a cultivation of stupidity that attempts to remove fundamental desires from any subject that is considered fit for mixed company. I liked reading the news more when there were stories I could talk about. My mother was told when she was a girl never to do anything that you would not want to read in the newspaper if it turned out like amnesty, acid, and abortion, although were not quite as big an issue when my mother was growing up.

When I went to Vietnam, I expected the situation to last so long that everybody would have an opportunity to find out what was going on. The desire to bring it to an end in election years was used by LBJ as an excuse not to seek another term as president in 1968. LBJ died at the age of 64 early in 1973, when a ceasefire agreement was being finalized after a bunch of bombs were dropped. By 1972, Henry Kissinger was announcing that peace was at hand. McGovern thought it sounded like the oldest trick in the book. Hermes with a magic wand could hardly come up with a better way of breaking the news.

Even after American troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam, the United States Supreme Court decided (without hearing arguments in a case in which the United States Supreme Court liked a decision at the United States District Court trial level better than the decision of a Court of Appeals) that Frank Snepp was not entitled any royalties for a book, Decent Interval, in which he wrote about matters he learned while working for the CIA in South Vietnam. When I think of Martin Luther Stonehood, my sympathies are entirely with Frank Snepp and full disclosure of information to the American people for activities that have finally wound down to the bitter end. Current policies, like bombing TV stations, shooting journalists at the scene of ongoing activities, or classifying everything that could blow up the world if terrorists knew how to find it, reflect the kind of fear that The Master Builder feels when the rest of the world would like to leave him behind. People who are not used to looking down from the top of the steeple have no windows in their tree house.
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