Hermes in relief

I just stumbled upon something kind of odd and I figured it would be worth sharing here in case (a) any of my readers versed in Classical iconography have any information or theories and (b) other Hermes’ devotees find this interesting at least.

Many years ago, I took this photo of a relief in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It depicts Hermes in a very striking and particular pose – left hand on hip, right hand holding a kerukeion pinched between index finger and thumb. His angry expression also caught my eye.

I had no idea what to make of it, but figured it was an anomaly perhaps attributable to the individual artist.

Then yesterday, while doing some research on something else Hermes-related, I came across a page featuring a ton of ancient images of the god, and found these among them:

Now, I note that these are all so closely similar, down to hairstyle, clothing, etc. (though He doesn’t seem as angry in the others), that I suspect perhaps they were all copied from an original source. At the very least, there was some kind of stylized symbolism going on here.

But what does it mean? Is there significance to the way He’s holding that kerukeion? Does it possibly reflect cult ritual in any way? I just don’t know.

Any ideas?

ETA: I looked up the location and dates of these reliefs in case that would shed any light. From top to bottom, they are: (1) 27 B.C.-A.D. 68 Roman; (2) Piraeus, Attica (no date); (3) Roman Imperial period, 2nd century AD; (4) Second half of the 2nd century – early 1st century BC, Delos. So, most if not all are relatively late period, but scattered between Rome and Greece.

I will also add that at least the bottom three are apparently part of larger scenes depicting Hermes leading a procession of Apollon, Artemis and sometimes Athene.

~ by Dver on July 30, 2021.

5 Responses to “Hermes in relief”

  1. The Norse lore and others talk about looking through the arm (hand on hip?) to see into the other worlds. That’s about all I have

  2. So intrigued! No idea but following with interest.

  3. The close stylization between these examples suggests to me that this is a depiction of some particular aspect or epithet of Hermes that is being given this form. (The “Lykeian Apollon” pose, for example, comes to mind in the case of others, where He’s usually contraposto and has one arm draped over his head, which may be a stylized way to indicate one-arm, one-leg without actually having the God without one arm and one leg!) I’m sure that’s an obvious thing to say in certain respects, but the question then becomes whether or not one can piece together what is being depicted here. Figuring out what epithets of Hermes generally go with the kerykeion would be a start…

    There’s a big, multi-volume visual index of classical iconography that I looked at a few times in the university library in Cork…I can’t remember the name of it, but it would be a useful thing to have online now…I would think these would be included there, though if there is an explanation of them therein is another matter altogether.

    • I agree that it’s likely to be representing a particular aspect. So hard to infer much more though without knowledge I, at least, do not possess. Like if any of these small details of posture were obvious indicators of something in overall ancient Greek culture, just as we immediately infer meaning into such things today. But those can be the trickiest things because no one thinks to mention them in texts.

      Considering the technological capabilities we now have, there really ought to be a comprehensive collection of tagged and cross-referenced ancient images, where each museum, university, etc. would upload their own collections and someone would sort everything into categories. I’m sure it would be a great boon to students, researchers, etc. But that’s the sort of cross-discipline, cross-institutional cooperation that rarely happens.

      • Yes…but alas, unless there’s either a grant attached to it with funded staff to do it, or a way to monetize such a thing, it’s less likely to happen, unfortunately. 😦

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