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Hermes, Herse and Aglauros, painting by Paolo Caliari

The subject is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Herse and Aglauros were daughters of Cecrops, King of Athens. Hermes, messenger of the gods, became infatuated with Herse and bribed her sister Aglauros so that he could have access to Herse. This annoyed the goddess of wisdom, Athena, who afflicted Aglauros with jealousy, so that she tried to prevent Hermes from entering Herse’s room, whereupon Hermes changed her into a black stone.