Hermes--also known as Mercury, Wayfinder, and Prince of Thieves--has many talents. Wearing his famed winged sandals, he does the bidding of his father Zeus, leads the dead down to Hades, and practices his favorite arts of trickery and theft. He also sees the future, travels invisibly, loves jokes, and abhors violence. And he's an entertaining and ideal narrator on a fast-paced journey through ancient Greek mythology--from Medusa's cave to Trojan War battlefields to the mysterious Underworld.
Stephanie Spinner brings the famous messenger--and the best-known gods and mortals of mythology--to life with high action and spare, powerful prose.
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December 11, 2006
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Excerpt from Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner
After I rescued Kore, Zeus took to calling me "Head Psychopomp." It was a silly title--there's only one psychopomp, or guide for the dead, on Mount Olympus: me. But the way he said it made me feel important and mysterious, so I never dreamed of objecting. I did dream of going on another mission, however, just to break the routine of my trips to Hell.
So when Zeus summoned me to his audience room one golden summer afternoon, I tied on my sandals and flew over at hawk-chases-sparrow, one of my faster speeds.
I was eager to hear why he needed me.
Zeus, however, took his time getting to the point. Perseus, a young prince, was seeking his help. Like many young mortals, he was Zeus' son, and this gave him an advantage. Zeus liked to help his offspring.
"I suppose you know he's mine," he said.
I nodded. We were sharing a tot of ambrosia while Helios, the Sun God, drove his chariot west. It sank below the horizon, and the sky sang a raucous hymn to red, purple, and gold.
"He's turned out rather well, considering," Zeus murmured.
Considering the grief you caused his mother Danae? I thought. Yes, he has. Danae's troubles began when her father King Acrisius, heard a prophecy that his yet-unborn grandson would kill him. Foolishly hoping to outwit the Fates, he locked Danae in a bronze chamber, where no man could reach her.
No man did.
Zeus was another story.
Ever resourceful when it came to lissome mortal girls, he changed himself into a shower of gold, poured in through Danae's window, and seduced her.
When Perseus was born, Acrisius feared for his life more than ever, so he locked Danae and the baby into a wooden box and put them out to sea. Eventually they washed up on the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by Dictys, a good-hearted fisherman whose brother Polydectes ruled the island.
"I look in on them sometimes," Zeus confessed in a whisper. His wife Hera might be near, and her jealousy was volcanic. "Perseus has grown into a fine boy. He's been trying to fend off Polydectes for more than a year." The king was infatuated with Danae and kept proposing marriage. She kept refusing. After plying her with sweet words, a heifer, and olives from the mainland, he had resorted to threats.
Perseus was young, strong, and fearless. He told Polydectes defiantly that Danae would not be coerced into marriage. Polydectes had no desire to fight Perseus man-to-man, so he lied, saying he'd decided to marry another woman.
"All my courtiers," he added, "are giving me fine horses as wedding gifts. You will do that, too, I trust?" He said this knowing how poor the boy was and how proud.
Perseus fell into the trap. "I cannot give you horses," he said, "but will give you any other gift you wish."
"Then bring me the head of Gorgon Medusa," retorted the king.
Medusa, with her snaky hair, poisonous talons, and lethal glare, lived in a cave in Arcadia. She did not welcome visitors, so this was like telling Perseus to go kill himself. Fully aware that the king had tricked him, Perseus accepted the challenge without a blink. Then he went home to tell his mother, and she fainted.
"Polydectes is a swine," said Zeus.
"And you're not too busy right now, are you?"
I shook my head. I did not need my gift of prophecy to know what was coming.
"Good. He needs the Adamantine Sickle."
"Ares has it."
"Just take it."
Easy for you to say, I thought. I may be the Prince of Thieves, but Ares, God of War, is three times my size and as touchy as a caged badger, especially in peacetime. As far as I knew, the world was at peace today, so Ares would need delicate handling. But I was foolishly eager for the adventure, so all I said was, "Fine.
Zeus put his hand on my shoulder. "Can you spare your sandals? They would help Perseus a lot." My winged sandals are my dearest possession. I value them even more than my Cap of Invisibility or Caduceus, my spell-casting wand. My father knew this, of course.
I nodded and he patted me. As always, his approving touch warmed my skin and quickened my heart, so that all I wanted to do was please him.
No wonder you have so many children, I thought. You're irresistible.
"And keep the boy out of trouble till he finishes the job, won't you? Make sure he gets back to his mother safely?" Again his voice dropped to a whisper. "Danae--"
He still had a soft spot for her. He was like that. "I know," I broke in. "She worries about him. Well, he's perfectly safe with me," I said, draining my goblet.
I believed it when I said it.
Ares' weapons room is as scrupulously clean as a shrine to Hesia, Goddess of the Hearth. All its contents are in perfect working order, which is more than I can say for the God of War himself. He's loud, messy, red eyed, and restless, and when he's not fuming over some imagined slight, he's shouting or cursing. When he takes offense--which is often--he bristles like a porcupine and the dark, wiry hair on his shoulders stands straight up. I have seen this. It is a repulsive sight.