Although many myths show Hermes as a mischievous little boy, this god did grow up to have several adult love affairs. As an adult, Hermes retained his youthful, fun-loving high spirits. This made him popular with the ladies — for flings, at least. Hermes never married, but he did love a challenge, and many of the myths about his love life show his ability to trick a goddess or a woman into becoming his lover.
Aphrodite and Hermes
Aphrodite was one of Hermes' favorite lovers. But even the goddess of love initially posed a challenge. Hermes let Aphrodite know he desired her, but she refused to return his affection. Her rejection made him want her even more. So he came up with a plan to win her love — or at least her consent.
Hermes asked Zeus for help in winning Aphrodite. Zeus listened to Hermes' pleas and felt sorry for him. He sent an eagle to steal one of Aphrodite's sandals as she bathed. The eagle brought the sandal to Hermes, who offered to return it to Aphrodite if she would become his lover.
Some myths say that Hermes and Aphrodite had another son, Priapus, who became a god of fertility. Other myths name Dionysus, Zeus, or Pan as the father of Priapus.
Although she was annoyed by this manipulation, Aphrodite agreed. Her union with Hermes produced Hermaphroditus, an incredibly handsome son whose name blended the names of his parents. Later, Hermaphroditus blended more than just masculine and feminine names: He physically merged with the nymph Salmacis and became androgynous, possessing the sexual characteristics of both a man and a woman.
The Challenges of Love
Although Hermes' relationship with Aphrodite was his best-known love affair, he had several other affairs. One was with Herse, a daughter of Cecrops. This time, the obstacle was not his beloved, but her sister: Herse's sister Aglaurus refused to let the god enter Herse's bedroom. This didn't stop Hermes, however. He simply turned Aglaurus to stone and walked right past her. Together, Herse and Hermes produced a son named Cephalus.
Another love was Apemosyne, the daughter of Catreus, king of Crete. Apemosyne did not want to have an affair with Hermes and tried to outrun him, but Hermes didn't give up easily. As Apemosyne fled, he threw animal hides in her path, causing her to slip. She fell, and Hermes caught and violated her. Apemosyne went to her brother for help, saying Hermes had raped her and she was pregnant as a result. Her brother grew so furious that he kicked Apemosyne to death.
Chione, a beautiful young woman whose name meant “snow white,” had many admirers and counted Apollo and Hermes among her suitors. Chione wasn't interested in either god, but she could not dissuade them. Both gods visited her at different times on the same night. That night, Chione conceived twins: one child with Apollo, the other with Hermes. Autolycus, her son with Hermes, inherited his father's thieving abilities and became one of the most famous thieves of ancient Greece.
Chione's beauty made her vain, and she claimed to be more beautiful than Artemis. Offended by Chione's boast, Artemis shot her dead with an arrow. Chione's father grieved so deeply for his daughter that he threw himself from a mountain peak; Apollo took pity on him and transformed him into a hawk.
Other famous offspring resulted from Hermes' love affairs, including Pan, Myrtilus, and Echion. All of these sons inherited at least one of Hermes' characteristics. Pan was a god of shepherds and fertility and was renowned for his musical abilities. Myrtilus was a famous charioteer, known for his swiftness. Echion, one of the Argonauts, was the Argo's herald.
Hermes cared for his children and grieved when one of them was harmed. When Myrtilus was killed, for example, Hermes placed him in the sky as a constellation: Auriga, the Charioteer.