Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

There were many gods in antiquity. One of them, the son of Zeus—Hermes—was the deity presiding over diplomacy and the diplomats. Hermes was a versatile god with many profiles. He was the deity of travel, culture, science, education, trade, herds, athletics, etc. And when people died, Hermes guided them as they made their journey to the underworld—the silent kingdom of Hades. He basically had something like a cemetery and funeral bureau. He presided over dreams and sleep. But all of this was nothing compared to his other responsibilities.

Hermes was also the god of thieves and liars. In visual art he has been mostly depicted as a conjurer with a pointy beard, long cape, staff in his hand, winged sandals, so that he can move fast and hypnotize men, in other words—fool them. And this trickster, the head of liars and thieves, decides to expand his domain, adding a new one to the list mentioned above. And what a domain! Diplomacy. He likes international relations and foreign politics, and he wishes to be the one "watching over” the diplomats.

To wish, as the saying goes today, meant for Hermes to have. Whatever he wished for he could have immediately since he was the son of Zeus. In other words, nothing stood in his way, neither on the ground, nor in the sky. (Unfortunately this sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And has the interest toward diplomacy diminished? Not a bit! Little Armenia is "producing” so many diplomats that even if we open embassies in Barbados and Papua New Guinea, we will still have a high unemployment rate among diplomats in the Republic).

We should note here, too, that Zeus himself wasn’t perfect either in terms of ethics. This can be concluded from the criteria by which he appoints his son as the patron of diplomats. For instance, Zeus was charmed by Hermes’ agility and quick-wittedness when the latter marks his day of birth with a theft. He sneaks out of the cradle, unseen by his mother, the nymph Maia, steals his brother Apollo’s cattle, sells the cattle, and returns back to his cradle.

The hardest thing, they say, is making the first step. Next, he steals Apollo’s golden bow and arrow from beneath his eyes, his brother Ares’ sword, Poseidon’s trident, and Zeus’ scepter. This is agreeably neither childish naughtiness nor kleptomania. If it weren’t for his powerful family, they probably would have opened a criminal case against Hermes. In the meantime, all of his actions excite Zeus so much that he gives Hermes new, more responsible tasks. For instance, he sends his son to help free his lover, the nymph Io. Hermes rushes to the mountaintop where the ever-watchful Argos with one hundred eyes is guarding Io. He makes Argos sleepy with spoken charms. Elocution is one of the most important characteristics of the diplomat. And as soon as those hundred eyes close, Hermes pulls out a hooked sword and beheads Argos. The killer’s behavior doesn’t fit into the realm of a diplomat’s activity in any way.

Hermes’ adventures don’t end here. He is involved in other dark deeds. For instance, he urges Pandora to open the box of evils and troubles that plague mankind. This is the end of heaven on earth. People have been suffering since then because of Pandora. And it’s a known fact both in heaven and on earth that Hermes, in the broadest sense of the word, ruined Pandora. The father of diplomats gives her "a shameful mind and deceitful nature.” And she starts to fornicate, lie, and steal; she becomes gluttonous for adornments and sex. Later Hermes pays a visit to the champion and benefactor of mankind and the noblest hero Prometheus, chained by Zeus in the Caucasian mountains, and speaks with him in a most inappropriate and vulgar language, not befitting a diplomat. In short, like father, like son.
And Hermes has excited all the Kazanovas, Don Juans and Lovelaces of the future generations with his moral behavior. He has had numerous "ephemeral” love affairs and two formal mistresses—the queen of the Underworld Persephone and the goddess of beauty Aphrodite. He would see Persephone when he would guide the dead souls into the Underworld. In other words, he was exploiting his official position and "didn’t waste any time” during business trips. And he would meet Aphrodite anywhere on any occasion. I would recommend reading Homer’s Odyssey once more to refresh the memory. Knowing this history, contemporary diplomats ask one another in puzzlement: "What have we done to deserve this association with the brute. Was there no one else among the gods?”
Nonetheless, we should not be unfair to Hermes and we shouldn’t present him one-sidedly as the monster, rascal and profligate rake of Athens.

We shouldn’t forget that, whether good or bad, he was the forefather of diplomats and, as you know, one can’t choose his or her own parents. By the way, some sources of antiquity describe him as a charming, even a charismatic young man, skilled and successful in diplomatic affairs, a brilliant negotiator who can easily form advantageous and reliable connections, has an excellent ability to convince people and find out secrets. Unlike many diplomats of the ancient Greek school who often broke the rules of secrecy and allowed for a leak of information, Hermes was tightlipped. He probably guessed what Plutarch would have said: "And yet Nature has built about none of our parts so stout a stockade as about the tongue, having placed before it as an outpost the teeth.” It is not accidental that anything tightly sealed is called "hermetically” sealed. But let’s not forget the most important thing: Hermes established the immunity status for the ambassadors, which was endorsed by Zeus himself.

We should also be grateful to Hermes for the aesthetic pleasure that his character gives us through the masterpieces of art. Hermes has inspired the sculptors Praxiteles, Thorvaldsen, the talented painters Correggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Rubens, Lorrain, and many others.

And just for this fact alone, one can be lenient toward Hermes. We shouldn’t forget all the international companies that use his name and produce high quality products used by people, including diplomats, who love beautiful things.
1436 reads | 06.04.2013

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