Of Hermes and a Golden King

As I dally with the thoughts of Alónnisos and Greece, I often skim over information on the old gods. Whilst pensively considering the stage of my training this week, I came across Hermes and he immediately became one of my favourites. He was the messenger of the gods (renamed Mercury by the Romans), a divine trickster who rather liked protecting people from the meddling proclivities of his realm and was also viewed as the protector and patron of roads and travellers.

In my own metaphor, the Reaper Man pursues me. To quote Chris Lashelle, “The Devil keeps chasing me, And I keep pushing through this pain, He tempts me to lie down and die, Putting an end to my struggling mind…” How apt that has seemed to me through these dark winter days. I need a guardian of my road to Alónnisos. Yet, as with most Greek mythology, Hermes could also be the conductor of souls to the afterlife! So, perhaps I will forego his assistance for the now.

Yet myth is most often begotten in wondrous reality, and such was my uplifting by of the King of Birds some eight miles into a 12 mile run last weekend. I had trotted happily along undulating roads over the South Downs on a cold, clear afternoon, but as a skimming of cloud turned the world a winter monochrome my spirit dropped. I plodded along the flatland lane, hemmed in by deep drainage ditches, looking across stripped, wet arable fields. Then, to my left, down in charcoal sketched blackthorn branches and dead reeds a tiny supernova of colour flashed. Golden – so yellow in the gloom, that my heart missed a beat. A goldcrest was seeking out enough mites and midges to keep its tiny life afire through the night. It looked well, even if need had pushed it to hunt in a stunted thorn over chilly water. The final miles were easy – if this green and gold kinglet could survive out here, I could run home.


This kinglet, the name of a small group of Old World Warblers, Regulidae in Latin, is our joint smallest bird along with the firecrest. There are several stories in folklore about the wren becoming King of the Birds as it hitched a ride on the eagle’s back, and once the eagle tired, flew a little higher to claim its crown by flying highest of all. However, back in the day, many of these little leaf warblers were known as ‘willow wrens’, so I have always thought the goldcrest to be the king, after all it has the golden crown. To support my case, its Latin name Regulus regulus is a diminutive of rex, a king.


The lesson for me is that metaphors, myths and metaphysics look fine in print – abstract, with little substance in the real world. Reality is my constant companion as I run towards my 34,000th mile. Every now and then, my train of thought gives way to a flash of gold in the undergrowth as the little kinglet shows his crown and my life is fuller for it.

With that in my minds eye, Sol sank in the west as I completed my run, painting the clouds golden. Two sleeping kings were out there as I got into my warm home. Both will warm my days as long as I keep on running. What more could a chap ask for?

Thanks to photographer Dorian Mason for the use of his work.