Ursus (ursus77) wrote in elaion,
Ursus
ursus77
elaion

Hermes the Thief!

Very brief book review


I have read _Hermes the Thief_ by Norman Brown. It claims to trace the evolution of the Hermes cult and myth against a backdrop of evolving Greek society from archaic age to classical age.

In Brown's version, the cult of Hermes is the embodiment of various religious, political and economic forces. In the Archaic age Hermes represented the primitive trade, social customs and beliefs in "magic" the governed interaction between familial and tribal groups.

With the rise of commerce in the time of Homer, Hermes had become the embodiment of the commercial and technical classes and their interests. The landed aristocrats, who placed their faith in gods like Apollo, viewed these new social classes and their god with some antipathy. The Kings, however, represented by the cult of Zeus, came to depend on the commercial classes and favored them in a subordinate role.

By the time of classical Athens, the Hermes cult had been increasingly integrated into Greek religion and culture, and Hermes remained something of a god of the people in the new Age of Democracy.

I find the analysis of religion from social strata more meaningful than from a psychological standpoint, as some other writers on Greek religion have done. I doubt the Ancient Greeks would have had much use for Jungian psychology, so this social perspective is more meaningful as long as it doesn't descend into blatant Marxism.

The author also points out Hermes' connection with "magic" via his role in earlier and more primitive Greek ages. Magic, the author says, was always viewed as trickery, stealth, secrecy and theft. There is an ambivalent quality to this, since it has the power to harm or help depending on the context. But magic, even if used sometimes, always has something of a treacherous edge to it. Much like Hermes.

Norman can get dry and pedantic at times, and some of his theories are debatable, but I think the book is worth a read for fans of Hermes.

Coming at the end of the week: a review of Turcan’s study of the Mysteries, and a response to Kallistos and Yorkshirelad regarding the Mysteries! (Provided work doesn't bog me down, that is)
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