Helping to Find My Way


When I was young, stories from Greek mythology were for me like comic books (which I also collected, those simply being myths stripped for export to 1950's America). One such series of tales was about Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who visited mortals with prophetic dreams. He was also the patron god of merchants, inventors and thieves, and quite a trickster. One time, he bored Argus, the hundred-eyed watchman sent by the jealous Hera to guard one of Zeus' many lovers, to death, by telling a long story inducing Argus to close all his eyes in endless sleep. When Hera demanded Hermes be punished, the gods sat in council and voted by casting pebbles at the feet of the immortal whose side they supported. As would be expected, Hermes spoke well: was it really a crime to bore someone to death? Soon Hermes was buried in a heap of pebbles. Ever after, in certain countries, travelers put up piles of stones (called cairns) on roadsides, believing that Hermes stood inside, helping them to find their way. Sometimes I think of my late merchant father this way. Dad called himself a dreamer and was a bit of an innovator in the jewelry business, always adapting old things to new uses with manufacturers who grew used to his asking them to change this or that. Never much of a joiner, but one-on-one a charming companion, he collected things such as this antique micromosaic you see here. (It's from the 1800s, and the little ring at the top shows it hung from something, maybe a necklace.) I still have this and a few other things of his, and when I hold them, I see him and almost hear his voice, like holding a seashell up to my ear.