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Hermes and Prometheus: Morally Good Trickster Gods

What makes these gods tricksters for a righteous cause?
by

Nicole Spencer

on 29 August 2014

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Transcript of Hermes and Prometheus: Morally Good Trickster Gods

Prometheus and Hermes: Morally Good Trickster Gods
What makes a trickster character?
Cunning
Deception
Manipulation
Thievery
Hermes and Prometheus
Hermes and Prometheus are excellent examples of how Tricksters in Greek mythology would use cunning, deception, manipulation, and thievery - typically frowned upon means - to achieve positive ends.
Prometheus
Son of two Titans
essentially Zeus's cousin (Stewart)
Disagrees with Zeus on how to deal with the humans.
Prometheus
Zeus demands sacrifice
Prometheus presents two different bundles full of animal parts for Zeus to select as the parts required for sacrifice.
In one bundle is all the parts useful and edible for man and in the fancier looking bundle the fat and bones.
Zeus selects the one that appears better, leaving the useful parts for man.

Zeus deprives man of fire
Prometheus sneaked a spark from the hearth on Mount Olympus down to Earth in a hollow fennel stalk, walking out with it “as though it were a walking stick” (“Prometheus Gives Fire to Man” 21).
Prometheus is punished, but he is remembered as, “for all generations of readers, a legendary rebel against injustice” (“Prometheus Gives Fire to Man” 23).
Prometheus
Hermes
Hermes steals and hides Apollo's cattle as an infant.
“He twists the cattle around so the tracks look as if the cattle have headed back toward the meadow, and he fabricates sandals for himself… that will disguise his own footprints” (Bungard 457).
Hermes is adept at manipulation:
“[Hermes] proposes his oath… ‘But if you wish, I will swear a great oath by my father’s head, that I am not responsible, nor have I seen any other who stole your cows…’ This is sophistry without a doubt, but not epiorkia, a grave offence for which even the gods pay… Hermes’ unsworn oath is not promissory, yet it does illustrate a trickster’s skill at evading linguistic boundaries” (Fletcher 21).
Hermes
Hermes is the son of Zeus and a nymph, Maia.
Hermes is the Messanger God and patron to merchants, travelers and more.
Hermes
After stealing the cattle he is eventually caught.
“Hermes lies, burps, and sneezes to trick the gods, but then teaches Apollo to play the lyre by singing a theogony, proving himself helpful as well” (Shelmerdine).
Hermes loaned Perseus his winged sandals when he quested to kill the Gorgon Medusa and helped to free Odysseus from Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey.
Both gods demonstrate wavering allegiance and follow their own, personal moral guidelines that effectively seem to benefit the good of mankind primarily – as is the case with Prometheus’s tricks on Zeus and Hermes’s aid provided as a messenger.
Both tricksters are cunning and deceive, steal, and manipulate.
Hermes and Prometheus operate outside typically acceptable behavioral norms, even those accepted by the Greek gods, and defy authority on numerous occasions.
In doing so, the two gods ultimately help the mortals; Hermes and Prometheus operate within their own morally acceptable areas.
“Prometheus Gives Fire to Man." Greek and Roman Mythology (n.d.): 21-23. Mark Twain Media, Inc. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

Bungard, Christopher. "Reconsidering Zeus’ order: the Reconciliation of Apollo and Hermes.” The Classical World 105.4 (2012): 443-69. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

Fletcher, Judith. “A Trickster’s Oaths in the “Homeric Hymn to Hermes.”” The American Journal of Philology. The Johns. Hopkins University Press, 129:1. (Spring, 2008): 19-46. JSTOR. Web. 8 Aug. 2014.

Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. "Tricksters." Tricksters. University of Texas at Austin, 26 Nov. 2007. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

Stewart, Michael. "Prometheus: The Rebel God; a Son of Iapetos and Klymene (Clymene); the Brother of Atlas, Epimetheus and Menoitios.” Michael Stewart, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2014

Works Cited
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