Hermes weighing souls (psychostasis). In Book 5, Hermes, messenger of the gods, is sent to tell the nymph Kalypso to allow Odysseus to leave so he can return home after several years of being detained on the island of Ogygia. Hermes is also known as the god of boundaries, and as such he is Psychopompos, or “soul-guide”: He leads the souls of the dead to the house of Hades. In a sense, Odysseus is dead, imprisoned on an island in the middle of the sea by Kalypso, the “concealer.” Here the god is shown with winged shoes (in Homer they are “immortal, golden”) and a traveler’s broad-brimmed hat, hanging behind his head from a cord. In his left hand he carries his typical wand, the caduceus, a rod entwined by two copulating snakes. In his right hand he holds a scale with two pans, in each of which is a psychê, a “breath-soul” represented as a miniature man (scarcely visible in the picture). Athenian red-figure amphora from Nola, c. 460 BC, by the Nikon Painter.
From The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Barry B. Powell.