Hermes was the son of Zeus; and being the child of so great a father, was of course quite different from other children. Indeed, he was a very wonderful baby; for when he was but four days old, he crept out of the cave, then stood up, and after a few trials began walking along the soft sand, and by and by he began to talk. He talked to the birds, insects, and flowers, and they talked to him, although in a different language.
Everything was new and beautiful, and Hermes was very happy. He clapped his dimpled hands when he saw a tortoise creeping slowly toward the water. " Stop," said he. " Where are you going, little tortoise? I will go too." But the tortoise did not wish to talk, nor did he care for company; but he stopped and blinked his small bright eyes at the blue-eyed little boy. "Ah, you are silent now," cried Hermes; "but by and by you shall sing more sweetly than the birds." But the tortoise had no time to think about the matter, for Hermes killed it, and taking its shell, stretched skin across it, then stretched strings across the skin. So the poor, silent little tortoise lost its life that its shell might be used in making a musical instrument Hermes made each string give a different tone; and. much pleased with his work, he began to sing and to play.
Everything else was silent as the sound of the lyre trembled in the air; and as the soft, sweet music attracted their attention, the birds hopped about Hermes, and the animals drew near to listen. He sang of the ocean, with its white crested waves; of the sandy beach and pink-lined shells. But he sang best of all about his great father, Zeus, and of his beautiful mother, Maia. By and by he grew tired of this pleasant occupation, and, looking about him, saw on the far-away hills the white oxen of Apollo, quietly grazing.
He thought that it would be great sport to drive them from hill to hill. He knew he could show them where the greenest grasses grew. Apollo had so many oxen, surely be would not miss a few. Thus did Hermes try to ease his mind, for although no one had told him that it would not be right to drive the oxen away, he really felt that it would not be treating Apollo fairly. After looking at the oxen for some time, he decided to help himself, Sly little Hermes! In order that Apollo should not find which way they had gone, he tied twigs to his own soft feet and to those of the oxen, then drove them by a crooked path to a far-away cave. He did not feel quite comfortable about it when he came to his cave and went back into his cradle, for he was still the baby Hermes, although so sly and cunning. He did not feel quite right about the oxen. His conscience troubled him. He could not sleep. He began to wish he had not taken them.
Apollo was very angry when he found his oxen missing. His usually good temper was dreadfully ruffled, and he went about in a great hurrv, asking everybody about the lost animals; but no one had seen them. At length he came to an old man who had watched Hermes as he drove the cattle away. At first the old man refused to tell anything; but when Apollo promised him fruitful vines and good harvests, the old man was so pleased that he told Apollo what he had seen, how a little boy with a staff in his hands had driven them away over the hills. Now, Apollo knew who the little boy was, and went at once to the cave where lay Hermes, pretending to be asleep. When Apollo asked for his oxen, Hermes covered his eves and ears, and refused to talk : but Apollo coaxed and threatened, and at last said some cross things.
He went to Zeus, who bade Hermes to come with Apollo and settle the dispute. So the angry sun-god and the naughty Hermes went together to the great hall where all the gods and goddesses were waiting, drinking nectar and eating ambrosia, while the pretty Hebe served them politely. How the gods and goddesses laughed when Apollo said that the little baby-boy, Hermes, had stolen his cattle! But when Zeus said, " Hermes, you must give back the oxen, and put them upon the hillside pasture again," there was no other way to do; so the cattle were brought back, and when Apollo again visited the cave of Hermes, there was peace and friendship between them.
Hermes showed Apollo his lyre, and when Apollo swept his hand across the strings, even the little waves on the blue sea stopped chasing one another to listen; then they too sang the same song, and they sing it to this day. Hermes opened his eyes in wonder, then exclaimed, " Apollo, you are truly the god of light and music. You may keep the lyre. It speaks only to those who know its tones; to all others it is but noise.'
Apollo did not wish to take the lyre without giving something in return, so he gave to Hermes a wand which had the power of making friends of those who had been enemies, and of settling disputes. It is called the Caduceus. Apollo also gave to Hermes the care of his flocks; and if you will look for them, you can see the white oxen of Apollo in his sunny pastures, for Hermes is the wind, and the oxen are the clouds. When Apollo had gone with his lyre, Hermes went out to try the wand. Finding two serpents fighting and lashing the ground with their slender tails, he touched them with the wand, and they twined themselves lovingly about it. Thus, even now, does Hermes heal all difficulties. Zeus was greatly pleased with the peaceful ending of the quarrel. He made Hermes the trusted messenger of the gods, and gave him a winged cap and sandals.
The Legend and Myth about Hermes and Apollo
The Myth of Hermes and Apollo
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