E. PERAKI-KYRIAKIDOU: The Formation of a Symbol: The Case of Hermes

Eleni Peraki-Kyriakidou (Univ. of Thessaloniki)

The Role of Etymology in the Formation of a Symbol: The Case of Hermes

Previous work has shown that there are instances in which the name of a god and that of his symbol share the same etymology, either directly or through the synonymy of the etymologies of the relevant words. Taking into account that in Greek antiquity synonymy was a widely accepted pattern of etymologising, with both a stylistic and an instructive character, the reader realises that this technique has been skillfully applied by the poet to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, especially regarding the relation between the etymologies of the god’s symbols and his name. That text was of major importance in antiquity and contributed greatly to the formation of the image of Hermes diachronically within the Greek world. Etymologies found in later periods clearly reflect the implicit etymologising within the Hymn, the narrative of which is woven around the notion of convergence and philotes: Hermes steals Apollo’s cattle, and Zeus orders both Apollo and Hermes to be reconciled. It is in this ritual-like reconciliation that they exchange gifts, each one offering to the other his symbol (Hermes offers the lyre to Apollo and Apollo offers the staff to Hermes). It is through this exchange of gift-symbols that the reconciliation is materialised and the bond of friendship between the two siblings is confirmed. Since Hermes, the central character of the Hymn, develops as a character from his birth until his establishment as a member of the Olympian gods, his symbols too are presented not as static objects, but rather as objects which move and change name and hands in order to correspond better to Hermes’ development. The aim of this paper is to consider how the symbols, in their process of formation, behave etymologically in relation to Hermes’ name and how this behaviour corresponds to the narrative context.