Corpus Hermeticum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Corpus Hermeticum: first Latin edition, by Marsilio Ficino, 1471, at the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.

The Corpus Hermeticum is a collection of 17 Greek writings whose authorship is traditionally attributed to the legendary Hellenistic figure Hermes Trismegistus, a syncretic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.[1] The treatises were originally written between c. 100 and c. 300 CE,[2] but the collection as known today was first compiled by medieval Byzantine editors. It was translated into Latin in the 15th century by the Italian humanist scholars Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447–1500).[3]

Although the Latin word corpus is usually reserved for the entire body of extant writings related to some author or subject, the Corpus Hermeticum contains only a very small selection of extant Hermetic texts (texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, commonly known as Hermetica). Its individual treatises were quoted by many authors from the second and third centuries on, but the compilation as such is first attested only in the writings of the Byzantine philosopher Michael Psellus (c. 1017–1078).[4]

Following their translation into Latin by Ficino and Lazzarelli, the Corpus Hermeticum greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition. It was especially considered to be important during the Renaissance and the Reformation, in which Hermeticism would often function as a type of intermediate position between Christianity and paganism.[5] Hermes' perceived antiquity ensured that any writing attributed to him would take an important place in Ficino's doctrine of the prisca theologia ('ancient theology'), which affirms that a single, true theology exists that is present in all religions and that was given by God to humankind in the distant, primeval past.[6]


Most of the texts are presented in the form of a dialogue, a favorite form for didactic material in Classical antiquity. The most well known treatise in the Corpus Hermeticum is its opening treatise, which is called the Poimandres. However, at least until the 19th century, this name (under various forms, such Pimander or Pymander) was also commonly used to designate the compilation as a whole.[7]

The 15th-century translation of the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin provided a seminal impetus in the development of Renaissance thought and culture, having a profound impact on philosophers such as Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Francesco Patrizi (1529–1597), Robert Fludd (1574–1637), and many others.[8]

Latin translation[edit]

In 1462, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) was working on a Latin translation of the collected works of Plato for his patron Cosimo de' Medici (the first member of the famous de' Medici family who ruled Florence during the Italian Renaissance). However, when a manuscript of the Corpus Hermeticum became available, he immediately interrupted his work on Plato in order to start translating the works of Hermes, which at the time were thought to be much more ancient, and therefore much more authoritative, than those of Plato.[9]

While Ficino translated the first fourteen treatises (I–XIV), Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447–1500) translated the remaining three (XVI–XVIII).[10] The Chapter no. XV of early modern editions was once filled with an entry from the Suda (a tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia) and three excerpts from Hermetic works preserved by Joannes Stobaeus (fl. fifth century), but this chapter was left out in later editions, which therefore contain no chapter XV.[11]

Names of the treatises[edit]

The treatises contained in the Corpus Hermeticum are:[12][13]

  • I. Discourse of Poimandres to Hermes Trismegistus
  • II. Hermes to Asclepius
  • III. A sacred discourse of Hermes
  • IV. A discourse of Hermes to Tat: The mixing bowl or the monad
  • V. A discourse of Hermes to Tat, his son: That god is invisible and entirely visible
  • VI. Hermes to Asclepius: That the good is in god alone and nowhere else
  • VII. That the greatest evil in mankind is ignorance concerning god
  • VIII. Hermes to Tat: That none of the things that are is destroyed, and they are mistaken who say that changes are deaths and destructions
  • IX. Hermes to Asclepius: On understanding and sensation: [That the beautiful and good are in god alone and nowhere else]
  • X. Hermes to Tat: The key
  • XI. Mind (Nous) to Hermes
  • XII. Hermes to Tat: On the mind shared in common
  • XIII. Hermes to Tat, a secret dialogue on the mountain: On being born again, and on the promise to be silent
  • XIV. Hermes to Asclepius: health of mind
  • XVI. Asclepius to King Ammon: Definitions on god, matter, vice, fate, the sun, intellectual essence, divine essence, mankind, the arrangement of the plenitude, the seven stars, and mankind according to the image
  • XVII. Asclepius to King Ammon
  • XVIII. Tat to a king: On the soul hindered by the body's affections

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A survey of the literary and archaeological evidence for the background of Hermes Trismegistus in the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth is found in Bull 2018, pp. 33–96.
  2. ^ Copenhaver 1992, p. xliv; Bull 2018, p. 32. Earlier dates have been suggested, most notably by the modern historians Flinders Petrie (500–200 BCE) and Bruno H. Stricker (c. 300 BCE), but these suggestions have been rejected by most other scholars (see Bull 2018, p. 6, note 23)
  3. ^ Copenhaver 1992, pp. xl–xliii.
  4. ^ Copenhaver 1992, p. xlii.
  5. ^ Ebeling 2007, p. viii.
  6. ^ Ebeling 2007, pp. 61–64.
  7. ^ See, e.g., the English translation by Everard, John 1650. The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus. London.
  8. ^ Ebeling 2007, pp. 68–70.
  9. ^ Copenhaver 1992, pp. xlvii–xlviii.
  10. ^ Hanegraaff 2006, p. 680.
  11. ^ Copenhaver 1992, p. xlix.
  12. ^ Copenhaver 1992.
  13. ^ Salaman et al. 1999.

Works cited[edit]

  • Bull, Christian H. (2018). The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: The Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World: 186. Leiden: Brill. doi:10.1163/9789004370845. ISBN 978-90-04-37084-5. S2CID 165266222.
  • Copenhaver, Brian P. (1992). Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-42543-3.
  • Ebeling, Florian (2007). The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times. Translated by Lorton, David. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4546-0. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt1ffjptt.
  • Fowden, Garth (1986). The Egyptian Hermes: a Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32583-8. OCLC 13333446.
  • Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2006). "Lazzarelli, Lodovico". In Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (ed.). Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Leiden: Brill. pp. 679–683. ISBN 9789004152311.
  • Salaman, Clement; van Oyen, Dorine; Wharton, William D.; Mahé, Jean-Pierre (1999). The Way of Hermes. London: Duckworth Books. ISBN 9780892811861.

External links[edit]