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According to this Answer to a Question regarding whether the Greek messenger-god Hermes was born mortal or not, the Third Vatican Mythographer, a mediaeval Latin text, knows of a version of the childhood of Mercury (the Roman Hermes) in which the god became immortal after being suckled by his stepmother Juno (the Roman Hera).

This would be my first time encountering such a notion concerning relations between Hermes-Mercury and Hera-Juno. Moreover, the First Vatican Mythographer goes so far as to say that Juno breastfed Mercury because she loved him so much. Regarding the Vatican Mythographers, Kathleen O. Elliott and J.P. Elder say that "one may fairly call them highly deceptive sources which should be used with much caution."1

That being as it may, this is paralleled by the genuinely ancient myths in which Hera is tricked (by Hermes, no less) into breastfeeding her baby stepson Herakles [Hercules] and compelled by her husband Zeus to breastfeed her adult stepson Dionysos [Dionysus] (both of which illegitimate stepchildren she passionately loathes).

Going by rather more recent writings, such as The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology (2002), Don Nardo says, in the "Hermes" article of the encyclopedia,2 that

because of Hera's reputation for bringing grief to her husband's lovers and their offspring, the young Hermes decided to get on the goddess's good side as quickly as possible. While still an infant (but a highly precocious one who could walk, reason, and so forth), Hermes, disguised as Ares, crawled into her lap and she breastfed him; that made her Hermes' foster mother, which required that she treat him as her own child.

This version of Hermes' childhood occurs online as well, such as on the MythNerd3 and Learnodo-Newtonic4 websites.

While this is completely new to me, it does admittedly sound very much like Hermes, but is there any actual ancient mythography in which anything of the sort takes place?

Is there an ancient (or even mediaeval) source that has Hermes assume the form of Ares in order to trick Hera into adopting him via nursing?

And beyond the Vatican Mythographers (and modern myth-retellings), is there even a source claiming that Hermes was ever suckled by Hera, whether of her own initiative or otherwise?


1. On the 1st page of the article "A Critical Edition of the Vatican Mythographers", which is p. 189 of the Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association Vol. 78 (1947, The Johns Hopkins University Press). The article runs from p. 189 through p. 207.

2. Nardo, D. 2002. The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology. Greenhaven Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning, USA, p. 98.

3. Andy. 2021, "Why is Hermes Important?", Myth Nerd, viewed 7 May 2021, https://mythnerd.com/why-is-hermes-important/

4. Rawat, A. 2021, "10 Most Famous Myths Featuring the Greek God Hermes", Learnodo-Newtonic, viewed 7 May 2021, https://learnodo-newtonic.com/hermes-myths (marked as published 29 March 2021)

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  • I'm going to go with no, there is no ancient tradition. If there is a Medieval one, it's because it misremembered the story of Hermes bringing Heracles. Gantz has nothing on it, although I don't know how you expect to prove a negative with a post.
    – cmw
    May 8 at 3:13
  • Well, there's some pretty obscure scholia, & such, out there, often discoverable in Italian & Byzantine compilations, many of which I've only stumbled across recently & a lot of which (the majority thereof?) are yet to be translated into modern languages. I'd've been very dismissive about the info from the cited websites if I hadn't literally minutes before then found something akin to it in the Vatican Mythographers.
    – Adinkra
    May 8 at 12:59
  • Also I see you've deleted your own Answer which looked perhaps like what a good "negative" response might be. Anyhow, on the chance that there is actually some such obscure mediaeval source out there, I don't know how else I would ask the Question, considering the possibility that the correct Answer could also be "Nope, there's not."
    – Adinkra
    May 8 at 13:00
  • I deleted it because you basically cover that information in your own question, so I felt it was redundant. I really don't think these pop websites are drawing on obscure scholia. I know Gantz is about 30 years old now, but I would have expected to see this somewhere. But then again, I don't pay attention to very late traditions which don't draw on antiquity.
    – cmw
    May 8 at 13:49
  • ...so yeah, maybe there is some Medieval invention here.
    – cmw
    May 8 at 14:14
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This is attested by Nonnos in the 5th Century CE “Maia was not quite like Semele; for her son, crafty, armed himself like Ares, and looking like him, deluded Hera until he sucked the milk of her breasts.” - Nonnos, Dionysiaca, Books I-XV, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1984, translated by W.H.D. Rouse (page 321, IX 242)

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  • Great find! I'm pretty sure I've already read this part the Dionysiaca before &, clearly, completely forgot this detail! Also: Welcome to Mythology StackExchange :D
    – Adinkra
    Jun 24 at 14:51
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The lost poem Hermes by Eratosthenes seems to be the source for the myth of Hera suckling Hermes. In his paper Theodulus' Ecloga and Mythographus Vaticanus 1, Winfried Bühler, referring to this particular version of the myth, says:

This is indeed a rare version. In ancient literature, it occurs only as an aition of the origin of the Milky Way: Mercurius - usually it is Hercules - was after his birth brought to Juno who nursed him without knowing who the baby was. When she discovered it, she pushed the sucking baby away. Thus the milk poured out. The testimonies are: Achilles Isag. 24, Commentariorum in Aratum Reliquiae (ed. Maass, 1898) p. 55, 14; anon., Isag. in Aratum, p. 95, 23 Maass; Hyginus Astr. 2.43, p. 80, 12 Bunte. Achilles and Hyginus attest the story for Eratosthenes (fr. 2 Powell [probably from the poem Hermes]; cf. also Eratosthenis catasterismorum reliquiae, rec. C. Robert, 1878, 198).

The classical texts he cites as testimonies are the Isagoge ad Arati Phænomena by Achilles Tatius (unfortunately I could only find this Ancient Greek edition by Ernst Maass); and De Astronomica by Hyginus. Indeed, in the latter we find the following creation myth of the Milky Way (translation in English by Mary Grant):

There is a certain circular figure among the constellations, white in color, which some have called the Milky Way. Eratosthenes says that Juno, without realizing it, gave milk to the infant Mercury, but when she learned that he was the son of Maia, she thrust him away, and the whiteness of the flowing milk appears among the constellations. Others have said that Hercules was given to Juno to nurse when she slept. When she awoke, it happened as described above. Others, again, say that Hercules was so greedy that he couldn't hold in his mouth all the milk he had sucked, and the Milky Way spilled over from his mouth.

Regarding the detail of Hermes disguising himself as Ares in order to trick Hera, I am not aware of any ancient or medieval source, but it might help that it is also mentioned in this chapter of Mythical Trickster Figures by William G. Doty. Perhaps a dive into that book's bibliography might bring up the source.

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  • Thanks for the detailed Answer & the references :)
    – Adinkra
    Jun 24 at 14:50

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