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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

3 - Sympotic elation and resistance to death


πλεῖ; καὶ Διόνυσος ἐπὶ κῶμον τῆς Ἄνδϱου … τὸν Γέλωτά τε ἄγει καὶ τὸν Κῶμον ἱλαρωτάτω καὶ ξυμποτικωτάτω δαίμονε …

([In the picture] Dionysus himself is coming by sea to take part in a kōmos on Andros … He is bringing with him Laughter and Kōmos, the most exuberant of deities and the most fitting for a symposium …)

Philostratus major, Imagines

Dreaming of immortality

Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, is a deity who has many affinities, even an intimate familiarity, with laughter. In Book 8 of the Odyssey, as we saw in the previous chapter, it was Hermes who told Apollo, amidst the gods' general mirth at the sight of adulterous Ares and Aphrodite ensnared in Hephaestus' trap, that he would consider such a price, and more, well worth paying for the chance to have sex with the goddess of love herself. His remark reignited the laughter of the Olympians, the sullen Poseidon excepted. Hermes' connections with the scope of laughter were of interest also to the poet of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, a work generally assigned to the late sixth century. Twice in this poem Hermes' persona as a sly trickster, the trademark he shows practically from birth, elicits laughter from other gods: first from Apollo (281), whose cattle Hermes has stolen, then from Zeus himself (389), who bursts into loud laughter when his son lies to him shamelessly but with expert guile about the theft of the cattle.