Reading 10: Hermes Fables

Selected Hermes Fables

Perry Index Fable Name Aesopica Versions Reading Selection
Perry 88 Hermes and the Statues Chambry 108 version 1 #10 Primary (1)
Perry 88 Hermes and the Statues Chambry 108 version 2 #10 Primary (2)
Perry 99 The Man and the Statue of Hermes Chambry 2 #10 Optional
Perry 308 Hermes and the Dog Babrius 48 #10 Advanced

"Accordingly forthwith he (Hermes) bestowed upon Aesop the art of fable called mythology, for that was all that was left in the house of wisdom, and said: ‘Do you keep what was the first thing I learnt myself.’ Aesop then acquired the various forms of his art from that source, and the issue was such as we see in the matter of mythology." - Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5.15

About Hermes

In human society, Hermes was the patron of land travel, heralds, commerce, weights and measures, rhetoric, guile, thieves, wrestling, and other sport. Often portrayed as a young man in traveler's or herald's garb, Hermes was an attractive and picturesque deity, somewhat resembling his half brother, the god Apollo. The use of the word 'Hermes' has some idiomatic usages.

Hermes is alive and well. His current employer is the Greek postal system, for which he is their spokesman and mascot.


The Symbols of the Greek God Hermes

  • Lyre
  • Sheep
  • Cattle
  • Pillars
  • Tortoise
  • Roosters
  • Winged helmet
  • Winged sandals
  • Caduceus (staff with two entwined snakes)
  • the Planet Mercury
  • Pouches, purses, and bags

About the Fables

Perry 88 Hermes and the Statue Maker
The two fables titled Ἑρμῆς καὶ ἀγαλματοποιός included in Chambry's edition are very similar. In the fable, Hermes, the overconfident god of the market place, business, weights and balances, etc. is confident of his worth. So when he finds his statue for sale in the agora, he starts up a conversation with the sculptor. Of course, his image has to be more valueable than either Zeus or Hera. The fable gives us some insight and vocabulary into the marketplace and business practices. It also tells us a how Greeks thought of their ever-so-popular god. This fable (Perry 88) is similar to Perry 307 The Sculptor and His Dreams (not part of this reading) where a sculptor tries to decide whether the statue should be on a tomb or on an altar. Hermes says to the sculptor, "My fate hangs in the balance: it is up to you whether I will become a dead man or a god!'

Perry 99: The Man and the Statue of Hermes
The fable titled Ἀγαλματοπώλης gives a little more insight into Hermes worship. The Hermes Cult was a very popular part of the Greek and Roman world. In this case, the sculptor of a wooden statue decides it is better to sell now, for a quick profit, rather than to wait on the god for a return on his investment. The fable Perry 285 The Statue of Hermes and the Treasure (not part of this reading) portrays a statue of Hermes like our modern piggy-bank. When the bank breaks open, the owner of the statue blurts out "You didn't do me any good when I was treating you with devotion, but now that I have wronged you, you give me this immense reward. I do not understand this strange kind of cult!"

Perry 308: Hermes and the Dog
The fable 'The Dog and the Statue of Hermes,' my personal favorite, tells the conversation between a dog, who knows what to do with a tree/post/statue. The dog intends to honor Hermes, the god of athletes. Hermes, kindly asks to be spared the honor.

LSJ Specific Usages of the Greek word 'Hermes'

LSJ: II. prov. and phrases : Ἑρμῆς , οῦ, , nom.

The Hermai (Boundary Stones)

"There was a four-cornered statue of Hermes by the side of the road, with a heap of stones piled at its base." - Babrius 48

Hermai were boundary or mile-stones, carved with the the head and phallus of Hermes.. They were rural markers which were also supposed to ensure the fertility of the herds and flocks and bring luck.
Hermai were erected at boundaries, crossroads and in gymnasia. It was the custom of travellers, of whom Hermes was protector, would each cast a stone on a pile of the base of the Hermai as they passed.

Note: Smyth §227 The dual and plural of  Ἑρμῆς mean 'statues of Hermes'. Decline as

Ἑρμῆ-ς N.A.V. Ἑρμᾶ Ἑρμαῖ
Ἑρμοῦ G.D., Ἑρμαῖν Ἑρμῶν
Ἑρμῇ   Ἑρμαῖς
Ἑρμῆ-ν   Ἑρμᾶς

The above declension is a variant 1st declension with the genitive in -οῦ.

227. Contracts in ᾱ or η from εᾱ or αᾱ have the circumflex in all the cases: nominative feminine -ᾶ, -ῆ, masculine -ᾶς, -ῆς.

More images of Herms can be found at


Defacing of the Athenian Hermai - Alcibiades and Socrates

In Athens the stones were considered a necessary sign of good luck. These were bronze or marble pillars sacred to the god, with sculpting showing only the god's face and genitals. Pausanius mentions the Hermai in the palaistra were well worth seeing: "In the gymnasium not far from the market-place [of Athens], called Ptolemy's from the founder, are stone Hermai well worth seeing." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1.17.2

In 415 BC, on the night before the Athenian fleet was about to set sail for Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War (see Sicilian Expedition), all of the Athenian hermai were vandalized. This was a horribly impious act and many people believed it threatened the success of the expedition. Though it was never proven, the Athenians at the time believed it was the work of saboteurs, either from Syracuse or anti-war doves from Athens itself. In fact, Alcibiades was accused of being the originator of the crime. He denied the accusations and offered to stand trial, but the Athenians did not want to disrupt the expedition any further. His opponents were eager to have Alcibiades' trial in his absence when he could not defend himself. Once he had left on the expedition, his political enemies had him charged and sentenced to death in absentia, both for the mutilation of the herms, and the supposedly related crime of profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries. Socrates was eventually caught up in this political backlash and was subsequently sentenced to death. <citation from>


Hermes and his Fables

Hermes occurs in about twenty fables. My favorite Hermes fable is my favorite dog fable: The Dog and the Statue of Hermes. Hermes was quite a character, He is usally portrayed in a not so appealing image. He was the patron god of thieves - he was a theif even in his own childhood. Hercules dislikes him because he is money-hungry. If you were thinking of having him for your patron god, you could probably do better. Hermes can be found in the following fables:

Hermes 182, 464, 520
... and ants 171
... and Arabs 521
... and axes 474
... and cobblers 519
... and gods' statues 562
... and raven 479
... and sculptor 563
... and Tiresias 475
... and traveller 476
... and two women 462
... and Zeus 10, 27, 329, 522, 524, 569
Hermes (statue) 562, 563, 564
... and treasure 464 (=Perry 285)
... for sale 561

Indexes (and Oxford numbering) are from the Aesopica website by Laura Gibbs


There are no pictures of Hermes in the various versions of Aesops fables. Pictures of Hermes on vases, urns, etc can be found on the Theoi Project site. Images of Hermai can be found at Wikipedia Commons.

Further Reading

Theoi Project: Guide to Greek Mythology: The Hermes Cult
Theoi Project: Guide to Greek Mythology: Hermes
Encyclopedia Mythica: Hermes by Ron Leadbetter

Greek Mythology Link by Carlos Parada
Classical Myth: The Ancient Source by The University of Victoria (Greek Texts)
Classical Myth: The Ancient Source by The University of Victoria (Pictures)

Texts and Questions

Reading 10 - Primary Reading (1) Chambry 108 Version 1


Ἑρμῆς καὶ ἀγαλματοποιός.

[1] Ἑρμῆς βουλόμενος γνῶναι ἐν τίνι τιμῇ παρὰ ἀνθρώποις ἐστίν, ἧκεν ἀφομοιωθεὶς ἀνθρώπῳ εἰς ἀγαλματοποιοῦ ἐργαστήριον. [2] Καὶ θεασάμενος Διὸς ἄγαλμα ἐπυνθάνετο πόσου. [3] Εἰπόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ὅτι δραχμῆς, γελάσας ἠρώτα τὸ τῆς Ἥρας πόσου. [4] Εἰπόντος δὲ ἔτι μείζονος, θεασάμενος καὶ αὑτοῦ ἄγαλμα ὑπέλαβεν ὅτι αὐτόν, ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἄγγελός ἐστι καὶ ἐπικερδής, περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται οἱ ἄνθρωποι. [5] Διόπερ ἐπυνθάνετο ὁ Ἑρμῆς πόσου, καὶ ὁ ἀγαλματογλύφος ἔφη· Ἀλλ' ἐὰν τούτους ἀγοράσῃς, τοῦτόν σοι προσθήκην δώσω. [E] Πρὸς ἄνδρα κενόδοξον ἐν οὐδεμίᾳ μοίρᾳ παρὰ τοῖς ἄλοις ὄντα ὁ λόγος ἁρμόζει. 

Note: Hera is the Greek equivalent of Juno, the wife of Zeus and queen of the gods.


Reading 10 - Primary Reading (2) Chambry 108 version 2

Chambry 108 version 2 text

Ἑρμῆς καὶ ἀγαλματοποιός.

[1] Ἑρμῆς γνῶναι βουλόμενος ἐν τίνι τιμῇ παρ' ἀνθρώποις ἐστίν, ἧκεν εἰς ἀγαλματοποιοῦ, ἑαυτὸν εἰκάσας ἀνθρώπῳ, [2] καὶ θεασάμενος ἄγαλμα τοῦ Διὸς ἠρώτα πόσου τις αὐτὸ πρίασθαι δύναται. [3] Τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος δραχμῆς, γελάσας πόσου τὸ τῆς Ἥρας ἔφη. [4] Εἰπόντος δὲ πλείονος, ἰδὼν καὶ τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ἄγαλμα, καὶ νομίσας ὡς, ἐπειδὴ ἄγγελός ἐστι θεῶν καὶ κερδῷος, πολὺν αὐτοῦ παρὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις εἶναι τὸν λόγον, [5] ἤρετο περὶ αὐτοῦ. Ὁ δ' ἀγαλματοποιὸς ἔφη· Ἐὰν τούτους ὠνήσῃ, καὶ τοῦτον προσθήκην σοι δίδωμι.
[E] Ὁ μῦθος πρὸς ἄνδρα κενόδοξον οὐδεμίᾳ παρ' ἄλλοις ὄντα τιμῇ. 




Questions for Chambry 108 Versions 1 and 2 (Reading 10 Primary) (A side-by-side presentation of the two texts is given below the questions)

Q1 What is the concept of the phrase in line [1] ἐν τίνι τιμῇ? The word τῑμή means what in this context: honour, price, value, etc.? What is the most frequent word(s) for 'price' in Greek? Was the word τιμῇ chosen here because it means both 'honor' and 'value'?

Q2There are a number of genitive stand-alone words in these fables: ἠρώτα πόσου, ἐπυνθάνετο πόσου, ὅτι δραχμῆς, εἰπόντος δραχμῆς, πόσου τὸ τῆς Ἥρας ἔφη, Εἰπόντος δὲ πλείονος, ἐπυνθάνετο ὁ Ἑρμῆς πόσου, One would expect a prepsition like in the phrase ἤρετο περὶ αὐτοῦ, yes? Why then are the genitive usages above good Greek?

Q3 Chambry 108 version 1 line 1 has the phrase εἰς ἀγαλματοποιοῦ .(implying the accusative ἐργαστήριον). Would this type of syntax and use of εἰς (without the accusative object) be allowed in Attic? What is the term and abbreviation lexicons use when a word is implied?

Q4 What does the phrase in Chambry 108 version 1 line 4 περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται οἱ ἄνθρωποι mean?

Q5 Translate the epimythium of Chambry 108 versions 1 and 2.

Q6 How do you parse ἤρετο? How does the word ἔρομαι fit into the speech words (e.g λέγω, εἶπον, ἐρῶ, etc.)? Is ἔρομαι the same word as ἐρῶ?

Q7 There have been a number of mispellings in the various fables we have read. Are these mispellings corrected to the standard proper spelling in most 'official texts' ? (e.g. παρ' ἄλλοις versus παρὰ τοῖς ἄλοις in the Epimythium of both fables. I'm thinking the critical texts of Herodotus, Plutarch, the New Testament, etc.)

Answers can be found here.

Chambry published a multivolume edition of the fables for the Belles Lettres series in 1925/6 (Paris). He later revised this into a single volume, omitting hundreds of the fable variants. In addition, the numeration between these two volumes is not consistent. The texts here are taken from the 1925/6 edition, but the numeration follows the standard single volume edition.


Comparative Analysis of the two Chambry 108 texts

Line [1]
Ἑρμῆς βουλόμενος γνῶναι ἐν τίνι τιμῇ παρὰ ἀνθρώποις ἐστίν,
Ἑρμῆς γνῶναι βουλόμενος ἐν τίνι τιμῇ παρ' ἀνθρώποις ἐστίν,

ἧκεν ἀφομοιωθεὶς ἀνθρώπῳ εἰς ἀγαλματοποιοῦ ἐργαστήριον.
ἧκεν εἰς ἀγαλματοποιοῦ, ἑαυτὸν εἰκάσας ἀνθρώπῳ,

Line [2]
Καὶ θεασάμενος Διὸς ἄγαλμα
καὶ θεασάμενος ἄγαλμα τοῦ Διὸς.

ἐπυνθάνετο πόσου.
ἠρώτα πόσου τις αὐτὸ πρίασθαι δύναται.

Line [3]
Εἰπόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ὅτι δραχμῆς,
Τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος δραχμῆς,

γελάσας ἠρώτα τὸ τῆς Ἥρας πόσου.
γελάσας πόσου τὸ τῆς Ἥρας ἔφη.

Line [4]
Εἰπόντος δὲ ἔτι μείζονος,
Εἰπόντος δὲ πλείονος,
θεασάμενος καὶ αὑτοῦ ἄγαλμα
ἰδὼν καὶ τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ἄγαλμα,

ὑπέλαβεν ὅτι αὐτόν,
καὶ νομίσας ὡς,

ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἄγγελός ἐστι καὶ ἐπικερδής,
ἐπειδὴ ἄγγελός ἐστι θεῶν καὶ κερδῷος,

περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται οἱ ἄνθρωποι.
πολὺν αὐτοῦ παρὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις εἶναι τὸν λόγον,

Epimythium [E]
...ὁ λόγος ἁρμόζει. 
Ὁ μῦθος ...

Πρὸς ἄνδρα κενόδοξον ἐν οὐδεμίᾳ μοίρᾳ
πρὸς ἄνδρα κενόδοξον οὐδεμίᾳ 

παρὰ τοῖς ἄλοις ὄντα
παρ' ἄλλοις ὄντα τιμῇ.


Reading 10 - Optional Reading Chambry 2


[1] Ξύλινόν τις Ἑρμῆν κατασκευάσας καὶ προσενεγκών εἰς ἀγορὰν ἐπώλει: μηδενὸς δὲ ὠνητοῦ προσιόντος, ἐκκαλέσασθαί τινας βουλόμενος, ἐβόα ὡς ἀγαθοποιὸν δαίμονα καὶ κέρδους δωρητικὸν πιπράσκει. [2] Τῶν δὲ παρατυχόντων τινὸς εἰπόντος πρὸς αὐτόν: "Ὦ οὗτος, καὶ τί τοῦτον τοιοῦτον ὄντα πωλεῖς, δέον τῶν παρ' αὐτοῦ ὠφελειῶν ἀπολαύειν;" [3] ἀπεκρίνατο ὅτι ἐγὼ μὲν ταχείας ὠφελείας τινὸς δέομαι, αὐτὸς δὲ βραδέως εἴωθε τὰ κέρδη περιποιεῖν.
[E] Πρὸς ἄνδρα αἰσχροκερδῆ μηδὲ θεῶν πεφροντικότα ὁ λόγος εὔκαιρος.

Chambry 2 Questions

Q1 The word πιπράσκει comes from what word? How do you explain the difference between the 'real lemma' in the big LSJ and Middle LSJ? Can you give some other examples of common words where the same type disparity of occurs?

Q2 Explain the phrase Τῶν δὲ παρατυχόντων τινὸς εἰπόντος πρὸς αὐτόν. How are the genitives used here?

Q3How do you translate/interpret the end of line 2: δέον τῶν παρ' αὐτοῦ ὠφελειῶν ἀπολαύειν;

Q4 List all the words dealing with the marketplace, money, purchases, etc. that occur in the Hermes fables for the primary and optional readings.

Q5 The word κέρδος is very similar to a word used for what animal? (Hint: See reading 1). What are the nom., gen. and gender of each word?

Answers to the questions can be found here.


Reading 10 - Advanced Reading Babrius 48

Ἐν ὁδῷ τις ἑρμῆς τετράγωνος εἱστήκει,
λίθων δ' ὑπ' αὐτῷ σωρὸς ἦν. κύων τούτῳ
εἶπεν προσελθών "χαῖρε πρῶτον, Ἑρμεία·
ἔπειτ' ἀλεῖψαι βούλομαί σε, μηδ' οὕτω
θεὸν παρελθεῖν, καὶ θεὸν παλαιστρίτην."
ὁ δ' εἶπεν "ἤν μου τοῦτο μὴ 'πιλιχμήσῃς
τοὔλαιον ἐλθών, μηδέ μοι προσουρήσῃς,
χάριν εἴσομαί σοι· καὶ πλέον με μὴ τίμα."

Text from Ben Perry's Aesopica (Urbana IL: 1952).

Note: The 'four-cornered statue' was a herm, a rectangular or square pillar decorated with the head of Hermes on top and with male genitalia below which was supposed to bring fertility and good luck. Herms could be found at crossroads and also in the gymnasia, where the athletes trained.

Babrius 48 Questions

Q1 How do you parse εἱστήκει. Is it used transitively, causally or intransitively here? What is the difference in meaning between the intransitive and transitive usages? Would one translate this word as 'stood' or 'had been placed'?

Q2 How do you translate the phrase in B4-B5: μηδ' οὕτω θεὸν παρελθεῖν, καὶ θεὸν παλαιστρίτην.

Q3 Give the full expanded form, lemma and defnition for the following words:B6 ἤν , 'πιλιχμήσῃς, B7 τοὔλαιον, προσουρήσῃς

Q4 Parse εἴσομαί in line B8. From what word is it? Does this word formation 'break the rule(s)'? Should it be written ἔσομαί? (We reviewed the 'to be' vs 'to go' verbs in a previous reading.)

Q5 The phrase μὴ τίμα means what? Note the accent. Why doesn't the accent appear on the last syllable, as it is a contract verb? Is there a hard and fast rule about what negatives to use with the imperative and/or the difference in usage between the two?

Answers to the questions can be found here.


Line Numbering and the Structure of Fables

The lines are numbered for collation and reference purposes. The line numbering format is comprised of three elements: Author+Version+Line Identifier: Author = B/C#.1/C#.2/S/A/H for Babrius, Chambry 1, Chambry 2, Syntipas,  Aphthonius or Herodotus; Line Identifier = T/M/#  where  T=Title, P = Promythium, E = Epimythium or  # = Line number (incremental, but not counting the moral or title); The endomythium, the moral 'inside the story, is simply listed as a line number.

Parts of a fable:
Promythium: A moral that comes before the story, so that the reader / listener can properly decode the meaning
Fable Body: the content of the fable, including the endomythium, but not the promythium or epimythiu.
Endomythium: the moral inside the story (listed as a line number)
Epimythium: The moral added at the end of the story to make sure the point of the fable is clear.


Additional Tools and Aids to Reading

The LetsReadGreek website has vocabulary and a list of helpful questions and leads on some of the more difficult words.  A little of topical vocabulary for each is included, along with a Latin version, some English versions of the fables and some engravings and carvings from older books.  The LetsReadGreek site requires one to have a unicode Greek compatible font. I've been trying to get the site properly configured, so please be patient.  A note, SPIonic is not adequate, you must have one of the Windows or Mac unicode fonts installed.  Gentium is a wonderful and easy to read font downloadable from the SIL website at

I highly recommend using the Perseus website tools for vocabulary, morphology, texts and grammar.  There is a lot there; however, Aesop is not.  Some of the vocabulary in the fables do not exist in LSJ (but maybe in the supplement).  To use Perseus adequately, one must learn Perseus’ betacode style with variations, for questions see the FAQ.  I also suggest bookmarking the base pages in your browser, or better yet, drag them if you can and put each one onto your browser’s toolbar.   The following online tools can be found on the Perseus website:

Note: If you are using the Perseus site, you must set your Perseus configuration to properly display the Greek. This may be done by clicking on the "Configure Display" on the Perseus Menu and selecting the corresponding Greek format (choose Unicode or Unicode with pre-combined accents).