Homeric Hymn to Hermes 18-61
He (Hermes) was born at daybreak; at noon he played on the lyra; and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo, on the fourth day of the month's first half, the day that great Maia bore him.
[20] When he had leaped from his mother's immortal limbs, he did not lie for long, waiting in his sacred cradle, but jumped up, and sought out the cattle of Apollo, passing out over the threshold of the lofty cave. But there he found a tortoise, and won delight a thousandfold, for Hermes it was that first made the tortoise a singer. The tortoise met him at the gateway of the courtyard, browsing on the rich herbage in front of the dwelling, walking with waddling feet. When the luck-bringing son of Zeus noticed it he laughed, and said at once: [30] 'Already an omen of great luck for me! I do not despise it. Hail, you with your lovely form, plucked at the dance, companion of the feast, appearing now most welcome! Where did you get that pretty plaything, that glittering shell that clothes you, a tortoise living in the mountains? I shall take you and carry you indoors: you will help me, and I shall not dishonour you, though you will profit me first. It is better to be at home: being out at the gates brings harm. Living, you shall be a charm against baneful witchcraft, but if you die, you could sing most beautifully.'
So he spoke: and lifting it in both hands [40] he went back into the dwelling, carrying his delightful toy. Then he up-ended it, and with a grey iron chisel he scooped out the life of the mountain tortoise. And as swiftly as thought pierces the heart of a man beset by flocking troubles, or as a flashing glances whirl from eyes, so glorious Hermes planned word and deed at once. He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening them by the ends through the back of the tortoise's shell. Then he stretched oxhide over it by his skill, [50] and added arms, with a crossbar fixed across the two of them; and he stretched seven harmonious strings of sheep-gut.
When he had made it, he picked up the lovely toy and tried it part by part with a plectrum. Under his hand it rang out awesomely. Then the god sang to it beautifully, trying out improvisations, like young men mocking each other with taunts at a feast. He sang of Zeus, son of Cronos, and Maia of the pretty slippers, how they used to dally in the partnership of love, telling the whole tale of his own glorious begetting. [60] And he sang the praises of the handmaidens and the shining home of the nymph, and the tripods all about the house, and the abundant cauldrons.
Hymn to Hermes 416-512
But he easily softened the far-shooting son of the glorious Leto just as he wished, mighty though Apollo was. Taking the lyra in his left hand he tested it part by part with a plectrum. Under his hand it [420] rang out awesomely. And Phoebus Apollo laughed with delight as the lovely clamour of the divine sound went through his heart, and sweet longing took hold of his spirit as he listened. Then the son of Maia, playing sweetly on the lyra (lyrei kitharizon), took courage, and stood on the left of Phoebus Apollo. Next, to the clear sound of his playing, he sang, in the manner of a prelude, and the voice that followed was lovely. He told of the immortal gods and the dark earth, how they first came to be and how each acquired his destined portion. Of all the gods he first honoured Memory with his song, Memory, [430] mother of the Muses; for the son of Maia was in her portion. Next the splendid son of Zeus honoured the other gods in order of age, as each had been born, uttering everything in due order as he played the lyra on his arm. And an irresistible passion seized Apollo's spirit within his breast, and he spoke to Hermes these winged words.
'Killer of oxen, schemer, busy worker, comrade of the feast, this invention of yours is worth fifty cows. I think that we shall soon settle our dispute peacefully. But come now and tell me, clever son of Maia, [440] was this marvellous thing with you from your birth, or did one of the immortals, or a mortal man, give it to you as a noble gift, and teach you divine song? For this new-uttered sound that I hear is marvellous, and I say that no man, and none of the immortals who have their home on Olympus has ever learned it except you, you thief, son of Zeus and Maia. What is this skill? What is this music for unresolvable cares? What is this method? Surely there are here to be taken three things, all together, joy and love and sweet sleep. [450] I too am a follower of the Olympian Muses, who care for dances and the bright path of singing, the flowering of song and dance (molpe) and the lovely reverberation of auloi. Yet never before did I care in my heart like this for any of those skilful feats that young men perform at their revels. I am astonished, son of Zeus, at the loveliness of your playing. But now, since you possess such splendid skill, little though you are, sit down, my lad, and take note of your elder's words. There will be glory among the immortal gods for you yourself and for your mother. I will tell you surely. [460] By this spear of cornel-wood, I promise that I shall make you a renowned and prosperous leader among the immortals: I shall give you fine gifts, and shall not deceive you, right to the end.'
Hermes answered him with clever words. 'You ask me subtle questions, Far-worker; but I do not grudge you your initiation in my art. You shall learn it today [...] [474] You are free to learn whatever you desire. But since your spirit is so eager for you to play the lyra (kitharizein), sing and play it, and give your mind to revelry, taking this as a gift from me: and you, my friend, give me glory. Sing well, with this clear-voiced mistress in your arms, you who know how to utter things beautifully and in good order. [480] From now on bring it confidently to the flourishing feast, the lovely dance and the renown-loving revel, a delight by night and by day. Whoever enquires of it cleverly, with skill and wisdom, to him it will teach with its voice all kinds of things pleasing to the mind, being played easily with gentle familiarities: for it rejects toilsome labour. But if anyone ignorantly questions it at first with violence, to him it will chatter mere airy nonsense. You are free to learn whatever you desire; [490] and I will give you this, glorious son of Zeus. For my part, Far-worker, I shall pasture the roaming cattle on pastures in the mountains and the horse-feeding plain; and the cows will mate with the bulls and bear abundant calves, male and female. Keen though you are for profit, you should not now be enraged with anger.'
With these words he held out the lyra, and Phoebus Apollo accepted it. Into Hermes' hands he put the shining whip that he had, and gave him the office of keeper the cattle. Maia's son accepted it with delight. [500] Then the glorious son of Leto, far-working lord Apollo, took his kitharis in his left hand and tried it part by part with the plectrum. It rang out awesomely under his touch, and the god sang to it beautifully.
Then the two turned the cattle towards the sacred meadow, and themselves hurried back, those most handsome sons of Zeus, to snowy Olympus, delighting in the phorminx. So Zeus the counsellor was glad, and united the pair in friendship. And Hermes loved the son of Leto always, as he does even now, having given the lovely kithara [510] as a token to the far-shooter, who played it expertly, holding it on his arm. But for himself he then found out the skill of another clever art, and made the sound of the syringes, which can be heard far off.

(Barker 1984: 42-46.)

Diodorus Siculus V.49


Other literary references in:
W. H. Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, s.v. Hermes, I.2, Hildesheim, Olms 1965 (first edition Leipzig 1916-1924).

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