Hermione as Hermes

by Nikko B. 

As long as we have been reading about Hermione, we have known that her name is derived from that of “Hermes” –the messenger to the Greek gods. At first glance the name has seemed of minute consequence, but it seems that nothing is inconsequential in Rowling’’s world. Finally, in Book 5, a character breaks Hermione’’s name down, nicknaming her “Hermy” in a great effort to catalog her name into his memory. While the giant Grawp is struggling with the heroine’’s name, he is pounding the reader over the head with his proverbial fists: Hermione/Hermy/Hermes. It may be a big, crimson and gold flag on Rowling’’s behalf ––something she rarely offers.

Hermione has served as the messenger since her debut in Book 1 as a portentous know it all. She is the fountain of knowledge when Dumbledore’’s wisdom is unavailable and when Harry and Ron are acting too foolish to pick up on what they should. Her academic wit is jammed with facts that act like spokes in the wheel of the story – keeping it spinning and always coming one after the other just when needed. But what if Hermione is meant to be more than a messenger of facts, data and logic?

Hermes seems to be a central theme to the wizarding tales. Indications of his involvement trickle through the septology: Hermione, Hermes the owl, snakes, gold, war and wands…! Paracelsus, a historically significant alchemist who has been mentioned intermittently in the books, was called “The German Hermes” by his disciples. (In the hall near the Owlery does the bust of Paracelsus rest on a herm?)

Hermes was the messenger, the peacekeeper and the Psychopomp. He was also a genius. We know him with wings on his feet. He received a magic wand as a gift from Apollo. The wand had influence over both the living and the dead and bestowed wealth and prosperity – turning everything it touched into gold. Originally, the wand was represented by a twist of branches – probably olive – with ribbon or garland around it. According to myth, Hermes separated a battle of mortal combat between two serpents with the plain olive branch wand and the serpents adorned the wand from that day on – lending the wand as a symbol of the settlement of battles and giving it the power to accord. The twin serpents that decorate the staff, along with the wings from Hermes boots, now stand as a symbol for medicine. The wand is called the caduceus. A caduceator is an ambassador of peace.

The caduceus is considered to be an emblem, or a badge, of nobility and honor – like a prefect’s badge. Hermione’’s roles as a caduceator do not seem limited to that of a delegated Hogwarts monitor, however. Despite the concurrent three-way spats among the heroes, Hermione is often pitched as the moderator between Harry and Ron –– acting as a messenger when one is not speaking to the other. In the penultimate book, as well as the last, we will see how far her role as messenger goes.

There is a specific reason we have not yet learned what Hermione’’s wand is made of. It seems likely that it could be made of olive wood. (In which case the Gryffindor Quidditch captain could have been a huge clue!) But who, or what, are the snakes? The snakes can play an infinite role of both literal and metaphorical pairings.

The reference Dumbledore makes, in Chapter 22 of Order of the Phoenix, of a snake that splits in two has me pondering many ideas. First, one smoky snake billows from a yet unknown instrument on Dumbledore’’s desk. Dumbledore then says, “”Naturally, naturally,”” and finally, “”But in essence divided.” Then, the smoky snake splits. The four people present in the office at the time are Dumbledore, McGonagall, Harry and Ron. Also, Harry was the snake in his “dream,” and he is a parselmouth. Dumbledore is an aloof character and his comments on the illusive, smoky shapes could have meant anything.

In juxtaposition with the setting happening at the moment in Dumbledore’’s office, we can guess that Harry and Ron may be the pair of snakes who will divide. Hermione has already played a crucial role in maintaining the peace between these two friends and there are hints that Ron will ultimately betray Harry. There may also be some residual Weasley mistrust from Harry’’s vision of Arthur’’s injury. Will Harry and Ron be the duo of snakes or simply one of many pairings?

It is now widely believed that a second basilisk will enter the saga. This makes two, including the one in Book 2. Furthermore, yet another snake could enter the scenario, whether it is Nagini or a third basilisk. Maybe Hermione’’s intervention could take place between two literal snakes.

Finally, who is divided? The wizards at large? The Death Eaters and the Order? The Order? The Death Eaters? Hogwarts? Harry and Ron? Rowling hurls constant warning about the importance of unity. It is only fitting that the character she wrote to symbolize herself would play a crucial role as an ambassador of peace. (Of course, if the Death Eaters are divided it is doubtful Hermione would help.)

Despite the importance of the caduceator, Hermes is most known for being the messenger. The role of ambassador is merely secondary. I do not expect Hermione to sprout wings on her feet; she is already swift enough. Because of her studious nature, Hermione could be the first to learn to apparate or become an animagus, but it seems most likely that she will use the time turner. Although the time turner was returned to the headmaster at the end of Book 3, it has not been mentioned for two books. It is possible that Dumbledore returned the time turner to Hermione at the beginning of the next school year so she could continue with her studies. Dumbledore has proven again and again that he is an enabler of mischief – just think of the invisibility cloak and the excuses he makes for Harry.

If Hermione has the time turner this could prove crucial to her role in the last two books and to her role as a messenger. It could also prove crucial to the premise of time looping back on itself in the Potter septology. We must think about Ron’’s quip, “”Seriously? Ahhh Hermione, you’’re a lifesaver!”” We all know that Ron’’s jokes are laden with truth. Will the time turner be useful for this? Along with being the messenger and the peacekeeper, Hermes was also the Psychopomp – the guide who brought the dead to the underworld. If Hermione inherits Hermes’’ Psychopomp talent she will be allowed to communicate with the dead and visit the underworld and this will put a crucial twist in the story.

If Hermione is the allegorical Hermes with the metaphorical wings on her feet, whom is she the messenger for? While Hermes acted as a courier for his father Zeus most frequently, he served the other gods as well. As in Book 3, Hermione could already be taking action behind the scenes and behind Harry’s back – working for Dumbledore with her time turner. Perhaps, or perhaps not, but her biggest moment in this role is yet to come and we do not yet know whom her heralding transaction will be for. Rowling has enough imagination and literary wit to pick and choose how much she is going to let historical literature and myth influence her, but it is clear that Hermione’’s namesake is no coincidence. Hermione = Hermy = Hermes.