Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, was the god of the crossroads, travellers, traders, thieves, etc. His main characteristic was his cunning intelligence. He was the messenger of the gods and was therefore known for his speed. For that reason, he was also associated with runners and athletics in general. Later authors even called him the inventor of wrestling and gave him a daughter called Palaistra. As the god of athletics, he was the patron of many gymnasia. The games organized for him in these gymnasia were called Hermaia.

From the sixth century BC onwards, Hermes was depicted as an athletic young man with a staff and winged sandals. One of the best known statues of Hermes, Hermes with the little Dionysos on his arm, sculpted by Praxiteles, was found in the temple of Hera at Olympia. More frequent – and also older – is the representation of Hermes as a short rectangular column with a head and male genitals. These 'herms' marked frontiers and warded off evil.

© KU Leuven, 2012