A Fable of Hermes . . . and a modern day moral for Wall Street

(I have recently finished my third thriller novel, Business As Usual, which should be published within the week.  In doing research on the global drug trade, Wall Street insider trading and the pharmaceutical industry, I came across a fable of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, when he was a young child. I believe the moral within this fable is appropriate and timeless.)


“Better to live in fellowship with the deathless gods, continually rich, wealthy, and enjoying stores of grain, than to sit always in a gloomy cave.  And as regards honor, if Zeus will not give it to me, I will seek to be a prince of robbers. And if Apollo shall seek me out, I think another and a greater loss will befall him. For I will break into his great house, and will plunder there from splendid tripods, and cauldrons, and gold, and plenty of bright iron, and much apparel.”   – Hermes to his mother: Homeric Hymn of Hermes

Hermes: the messenger, herald of the gods, carrier of souls to the underworld, born of deceit.  The illegitimate son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes became the patron of thieves and merchants, as well as the god of commerce and deal-making. He also serves as the muse to those who play chess; where feint and deception are often the gambits of success.

The many legends attributed to Hermes (also known as Mercury by the Romans) display a dual nature, at one moment a thief and liar, at the next a sympathetic helper of those in trouble. It is said by scholars of mythology that this dual nature echoes the very essence of the human condition. We are neither all good nor all evil, but an equal measure of both. It is through choice and free will, the ultimate curse of mankind, that the balance between good and evil can be tipped in one direction or another.

*   *   *   *

The Fable of Hermes and Battus:

Hermes was an extremely precocious child.  Born with the dawn, at mid-day he invented the lyre, and in the evening went to northern Thessaly and stole the cattle of Apollo. The theft, however, was witnessed by an old man, Battus.

hermes and battus“And what do you think you are doing, child?” The old man slowly rose from the rock upon which he had been sitting. He leaned wearily on his staff. “You must know that you are stealing the prize cattle of Apollo, all-powerful god of soothsayers and divination, patron of music and art, bringer of plagues and god of medicine?”

“What do you care, old man? Go back to sleep. Your time is short and mine is just beginning.” Little Hermes was busy wrapping leather around the hooves of the cattle so as to disguise their tracks and deceive Apollo as to which way to look.

“Like all things, my young god, there is the matter of a small fee for silence.”

“Then I will give you the meat from one of the cows. That is more than enough.”

“You are both great and gracious, young Hermes. I accept your generous offer. Your indiscretion is safe with me. Let it be said for all time: a stone would utter more words than I.”

Understanding the deceitful nature of mankind, Hermes returned shortly, this time in disguise.

“Hey there old man. Have you seen Apollo’s cattle? I was supposed to be looking after them, but they are missing.” A short, bearded shepherd, wearing an overly large robe walked up the path.

“Not at all, my friend. Don’t know anything about it,” smiled Battus.

“Well, maybe a reward will help melt your frozen memory. I will give you not only a cow, but a bull as well. You will soon have your own herd and be a rich man. Is your memory improving any?”

“Well, well, well. Fortune does smile down upon those who are prepared, and keep an eye open.  It was young Hermes. He stole the cattle and took then away to the north.” The old man stood up tall as he recited his tale of the thieving young god.

“Ah, thank you. And how will I know that you will not tell someone else, looking for some lost cattle, another story in return for payment?” The voice of the herder was high-pitched.

“Why, a stone would utter more words than I!”

Hermes tore off the cloak and false beard. “Then a stone you shall be. There is honor among thieves. But you, old man, have none. Your oath is as shallow as your grave shall be.”

Battus fell to the ground, trembling in fear. He prayed to Zeus for salvation. But soon his trembling stopped. He had been turned into a large stone. It lay in plain sight for all eternity, a symbol of the perils of breaking one’s vow.

(To find out how Hermes, the Greek God, is connected to the global drug trade and Wall Street insider trading, read Business As Usual, by John Childress, out now on Amazon in Paperback and eBook, US and UK.)

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-(0)208-741-6390 office
+44-(0)7833-493-999 mobile
e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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1 Response to A Fable of Hermes . . . and a modern day moral for Wall Street

  1. Pingback: Vacuuming Up the Past | Auger

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