(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.
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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.
“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!”
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
PS: John also writes thriller novels