Born to Maia, (daughter of Atlas and Pleione),
in an Arcadian cave on Mt Cyllene in southern Greece, Hermes grew to the size of a four year old child within a mere matter of minutes. While his mother was busy, he slipped down out of his cradle, and made his getaway, looking for adventure. When he saw the beautiful white cows of Apollo, he was tempted to steal them, and did, cleverly disguising their tracks by making shoes of bark and plaited grass for each, and herding them into a wood behind his mother's cave, where he tied them up. He killed two, and used their gut to string a tortoise's shell, thereby inventing the first lyre. He immediately taught himself how to play.
Apollo soon missed the cows and was able to divine who had taken them. The Oracle at Delphi was Apollo's shrine, to which many journeyed to learn the truth of matters. By his own prophecies he was able to determine who had stollen his cows. Arriving at the cave, he woke Maia up.
'Madam, your son stole my cows. He must give them up at once!'
Maia yawned. 'That's absolutely ridiculous! My son was only just born yesterday.
'These hides are from my precious white cows,' said Apollo. 'Come with me, you bad boy!'
He caught hold of Hermes, pretending to sleep curled up in swaddling clothes in his cradle, and carried him aloft to Olympus, where he called a council of the gods and accused him of theft before the assembly.
Quicksilver was the metal of Hermes
Zeus frowned and asked: 'Who are you, little boy?'
'Your son Hermes, Father,' he replied. 'I was born yesterday.'
'Then you must be innocent of this crime.'
'You know best, Father.'
'He stole my cows,' Apollo retorted!
'I was too young to know right from wrong yesterday,' explained Hermes. 'Today I do, and I ask your pardon.' He then 'talks' his way out of the mess. 'You may have the rest of your alleged cows. I killed only two, and cut them up into twelve equal portions for sacrifice to the twelve Olympian gods.'
'Twelve gods? Who is the twelfth?' asked Apollo.
'Myself,' said Hermes, and he bowed politely.
They went back to the cave, where Hermes took the lyre from under the blankets of his cradle and played so beautifully Apollo exclaimed: 'Hand over that instrument. I am the God of Music!'
'If I may keep your cows,' said Hermes.
They shook on the bargain, the first ever made, and returned to Olympus to tell Zeus the affair had been settled. Zeus sat Hermes on his knee.
Hermes as a young man
'Now, son, be careful neither to steal nor tell lies. You seem a clever boy. You arranged matters with Apollo very well.'
'Make me your herald, Father,' begged Hermes. 'I promise never again to tell lies, though sometimes it may be best not to tell the whole truth.'
'So be it. And you shall rule over all treaties, buying and selling, and the protection of travellers.'
Zeus gave Hermes his peeled wand and white ribbons, a golden hat for the rain; and winged golden sandals to make him fly faster than the wind.
Besides all the letters of the alphabet, Hermes invented arithmetic, astronomy, musical scales, weights and measures, the art of boxing, and gymnastics.
Hermes, inventor of the sciences