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"Three Parts of the Wisdom of the Whole Universe"
Hermes Trismegistus (Ancient Greek: Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, "thrice-greatest Hermes"; Latin: Mercurius ter Maximus) is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism.
Origin and identity
Hermes Trismegistus may be a representation of the syncretic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. Greeks in Hellenistic Egypt recognized the equivalence of Hermes and Thoth. Consequently, the two gods were worshiped as one, in what had been the Temple of Thoth in Khemnu, which the Greeks called Hermopolis.
Both Hermes and Thoth were gods of writing and of magic in their respective cultures. Hermes, the Greek god of interpretive communication, was combined with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, to become the patron of astrology and alchemy. In addition, both gods were psychopomps, guiding souls to the afterlife. The Egyptian priest and polymath Imhotep had been deified long after his death and therefore assimilated to Thoth in the classical and Hellenistic period. The renowned scribe Amenhotep and a wise man named Teôs were co-equal deities of wisdom, science, and medicine; and, thus, they were placed alongside Imhotep in shrines dedicated to Thoth-Hermes during the Ptolemaic period.
A Mycenaean Greek reference to a deity or semi-deity called ti-ri-se-ro-e (Linear B: 𐀴𐀪𐀮𐀫𐀁; Tris Hḗrōs, "thrice or triple hero") was found on two Linear B clay tablets at Pylos and could be connected to the later epithet "thrice great", Trismegistos, applied to Hermes/Thoth. On the aforementioned PY Tn 316 tablet—as well as other Linear B tablets found in Pylos, Knossos, and Thebes—there appears the name of the deity "Hermes" as e-ma-ha (Linear B: 𐀁𐀔𐁀), but not in any apparent connection with the "Trisheros". This interpretation of poorly-understood Mycenaean material is disputed, since Hermes Trismegistus is not referenced in any of the copious sources before he emerges in Hellenistic Egypt.
The majority of Greeks, and later Romans, did not accept Hermes Trismegistus in the place of Hermes. The two gods were regarded as distinct. Cicero enumerates several deities referred to as "Hermes": a "fourth Mercury (Hermes) was the son of the Nile, whose name may not be spoken by the Egyptians"; and "the fifth, who is worshiped by the people of Pheneus [in Arcadia], is said to have killed Argus, and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet: he it is whom the Egyptians call Theyt". The most likely interpretation of this passage is as two variants on the same syncretism of Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth (or sometimes other gods): the fourth (where Hermes turns out "actually" to have been a "son of the Nile," i.e. a native god) being viewed from the Egyptian perspective, the fifth (who went from Greece to Egypt) being viewed from the Greek-Arcadian perspective. Both of these early references in Cicero (most ancient Trismegistus material is from the early centuries AD) corroborate the view that Thrice-Great Hermes originated in Hellenistic Egypt through syncretism between Greek and Egyptian gods (the Hermetica refer most often to Thoth and Amun).
The Hermetic literature among the Egyptians, which was concerned with conjuring spirits and animating statues, inform the oldest Hellenistic writings on Greco-Babylonian astrology and on the newly developed practice of alchemy. In a parallel tradition, Hermetic philosophy rationalized and systematized religious cult practices and offered the adept a means of personal ascension from the constraints of physical being. This latter tradition has led to the confusion of Hermeticism with Gnosticism, which was developing contemporaneously.
As a divine source of wisdom, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of highly esteemed writings, which were reputed to be of immense antiquity. Plato's Timaeus and Critias state that in the temple of Neith at Sais there were secret halls containing historical records which had been kept for 9,000 years. Clement of Alexandria was under the impression that the Egyptians had forty-two sacred writings by Hermes, writings that detailed the training of Egyptian priests. Siegfried Morenz has suggested, in Egyptian Religion: "The reference to Thoth's authorship... is based on ancient tradition; the figure forty-two probably stems from the number of Egyptian nomes, and thus conveys the notion of completeness." The Neo-Platonic writers took up Clement's "forty-two essential texts".
The Hermetica is a category of papyri containing spells and initiatory induction procedures. The dialogue called the Asclepius (after the Greek god of healing) describes the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems, and odors, so that the statue could speak and engage in prophecy. In other papyri, there are recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be fashioned hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.
Fowden asserts that the first datable occurrences of the epithet "thrice great" are in the Legatio of Athenagoras of Athens and in a fragment from Philo of Byblos, circa AD 64–141. However, in a later work, Copenhaver reports that this epithet is first found in the minutes of a meeting of the council of the Ibis cult, held in 172 BC near Memphis in Egypt. Hart explains that the epithet is derived from an epithet of Thoth found at the Temple of Esna, "Thoth the great, the great, the great." The date of Hermes Trismegistus's sojourn in Egypt during his last incarnation is not now known, but it has been fixed at the early days of the oldest dynasties of Egypt, long before the days of Moses. Some authorities regard him as a contemporary of Abraham, and some Jewish traditions claim that Abraham acquired a portion of his mystical knowledge from Hermes himself (Kybalion).
Many Christian writers, including Lactantius, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity. They believed in a prisca theologia, the doctrine that a single, true theology exists, which threads through all religions. It was given by God to man in antiquity and passed through a series of prophets, which included Zoroaster and Plato. In order to demonstrate the verity of the prisca theologia, Christians appropriated the Hermetic teachings for their own purposes. By this account, Hermes Trismegistus was either a contemporary of Moses, or the third in a line of men named Hermes, i.e. Enoch, Noah, and the Egyptian priest king who is known to us as Hermes Trismegistus on account of being the greatest priest, philosopher, and king.
This last account of how Hermes Trismegistus received that epithet is derived from statements in the The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, that he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe, the three parts being alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. It was Marsilio Ficino who stated that "they called him Trismegistus because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king".
The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum are the most important of the Hermetica, the surviving writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. During the Renaissance, it was accepted that Hermes Trismegistus was a contemporary of Moses. However, after Casaubon's dating of the Hermetic writings, as being no earlier than the second or third century AD, the whole of Renaissance Hermeticism collapsed. As to their actual authorship:
“ ... they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences. ”
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the Hermetica enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology, and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the philosophical and the technical hermetica. The former deals mainly with philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions, and alchemy. Magic spells to protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression "hermetically sealed".
The classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, in De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis exercitationes XVI (1614), showed, through an analysis of the Greek language used in the texts, that those texts believed to be of ancient origin were in fact much more recent: most of the philosophical Corpus Hermeticum can be dated to around AD 300. However, flaws in this dating were discerned by the 17th century scholar Ralph Cudworth, who argued that Casaubon's allegation of forgery could only be applied to three of the seventeen treatises contained within the Corpus Hermeticum. Moreover, Cudworth noted Casaubon's failure to acknowledge these treatises as a late codification of a pre-existing oral tradition. According to Cudworth, the texts must be viewed as a terminus ad quem and not a quo.
Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus has a major place in Islamic tradition. He writes, "Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned in the Quran in verse 19:56-57:'Mention, in the Book, Idris, that he was truthful, a prophet. We took him up to a high place'". The Jabirian corpus contains the oldest documented source for the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, translated by Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber) for the Hashemite Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid the Abbasid. Jābir ibn Hayyān, a Shiite, identified as Jābir al-Sufi, was a student of Ja'far al-Sadiq, Husayn ibn 'Ali's great grandson. Thus, for the Abbasid's and the Alid's, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus were considered sacred, as an inheritance from the Ahl al-Bayt. These writings were recorded by the Ikhwan al-Safa, and subsequently translated from Arabic into Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Russian, and English. In these writings, Hermes Trismegistus is identified as Idris, the infallible Prophet who traveled to outer space from Egypt, and to heaven, whence he brought back Adam and the Black Stone when he landed on earth in India.
According to ancient Arab genealogists, Muhammad the Prophet, who is also believed to have traveled to the heavens on the night of Isra and Mi'raj, is a direct descendant of Hermes Trismegistus. Ibn Kathir said, "As for Idris...He is in the genealogical chain of the Prophet Muhammad, except according to one genealogist...Ibn Ishaq says he was the first who wrote with the Pen. There was a span of 380 years between him and the life of Adam. Many of the scholars allege that he was the first to speak about this, and they call him Thrice-Great Hermes [Hermes Trismegistus]". Ahmad al-Buni considered himself a follower of the hermetic teachings; and his contemporary Ibn Arabi mentioned Hermes Trismegistus in his writings. The Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya of Ibn Arabi speaks of Hermes's travels to "vast cities (outside earth), possessing technologies far superior then ours" and meeting with the Twelfth Imam, the Ninth (generation) from the Third (al-Husayn the third Imam) (referring here to the Masters of Wisdom from the Emerald Tablet), who also ascended to the heavens, and is still alive like his ancestor Hermes Trismegistus".
Antoine Faivre, in The Eternal Hermes (1995), has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus has a place in the Islamic tradition, although the name Hermes does not appear in the Qur'an. Hagiographers and chroniclers of the first centuries of the Islamic Hegira quickly identified Hermes Trismegistus with Idris, the nabi of surahs 19.57 and 21.85, whom the Arabs also identified with Enoch (cf. Genesis 5.18–24). Idris/Hermes was termed "Thrice-Wise" Hermes Trismegistus because he had a threefold origin. The first Hermes, comparable to Thoth, was a "civilizing hero", an initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world; he carved the principles of this sacred science in hieroglyphs. The second Hermes, in Babylon, was the initiator of Pythagoras. The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy. "A faceless prophet," writes the Islamicist Pierre Lory, "Hermes possesses no concrete or salient characteristics, differing in this regard from most of the major figures of the Bible and the Quran." A common interpretation of the representation of "Trismegistus" as "thrice great" recalls the three characterizations of Idris: as a messenger of god, or a prophet; as a source of wisdom, or hikmet (wisdom from hokmah); and as a king of the world order, or a "sultanate". These are referred to as müselles bin ni'me.
Imad Jafar, in his essay "Enoch in the Islamic Tradition", writes:
The lore that developed around Idrīs’ legendary gnosis led to him being further identified with Hermes Trismegistus (Hirmīs) ... whereby Muslims began to acknowledge Idrīs as the founder of alchemy as well....
In the Illuminationistic philosophy of the renowned Persian Islamic sage and saint Suhrawardī (c. 1154-1191), Idrīs was revered fundamentally as the teacher of the ancient sages amongst the Hindus, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks up to the time of Aristotle.... When these Greco-Alexandrian wisdom sciences and the gnostic lore of the Sabaeans of Harrān – who regarded Hermes as their prophet and his writings as their scriptures – spread amongst the Islamic community, Idrīs was immediately identified ... with the founder of Hermeticism ... Mulla Sadra (1571-1636), one of the greatest Muslim sages of the later period, who said: "Know that Wisdom (hikmah) began originally with Adam and his progeny Seth, Hermes, who is Idrīs, and Noah, because the world is never deprived of a person upon whom the science of Unity and eschatology rests. And it is the greatest Hermes who propagated it (hikmah) throughout the regions of the world and different countries manifested it and made it emanate upon the ‘true worshipers’. He is indeed the ‘Father of philosophers’ and the master of those who are the masters of the sciences".
New Age revival
Modern occultists suggest that some Hermetic texts may be of Pharaonic origin, and that the legendary "forty-two essential texts" that contain the core Hermetic religious beliefs and philosophy of life, remain hidden in a secret library.
Spiritualist writer Tom DeLiso claims that Hermes Trismegistus taught him in out-of-body states and that Hermes Trismegistus is a newer incarnation of Thoth. Both are conscious energy constructs without bodies.
Within the occult tradition, Hermes Trismegistus is associated with several wives, and more than one son who took his name, as well as more than one grandson. This repetition of given name and surname throughout the generations may at least partially account for the legend of his longevity, especially as it is believed that many of his children pursued careers as priests in mystery religions.
- Emerald Tablet
- Hermetic (disambiguation)
- Hermetic Qabalah
- Herbert Silberer
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
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- Hart, G., The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, 2005, Routledge, second edition, Oxon, p 158
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- Artmann, Benno (22 November 2005). "About the Cover: The Mathematical Conquest of the Third Dimension" (PDF). Bulletin (New Series) of the American Mathematical Society. 43 (2): 231. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
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- Fowden, G., "The Egyptian Hermes", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, p 216
- Copenhaver, B. P., "Hermetica", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, p xiv.
- Heiser, James D. (2011). Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century (1st ed.). Malone, Tex.: Repristination Press. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4.
- Jafar, Imad (2015). "Enoch in the Islamic Tradition". Sacred Web: A Journal of Tradition and Modernity. Vol. XXXVI.
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- Copenhaver, B.P., "Hermetica", Cambridge University Press, 1992, p xlviii
- (Scully p. 322)
- Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xlviii
- Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xli
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- (Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition pp. 2–3)
- Cudworth, Ralph - The True Intellectual System of the Universe. First American Edition by Thomas Birch, 1837. Available at Googlebooks.
- Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, p.46. Wheeler, Brannon. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002
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- Kevin Van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes. From pagan sage to prophet of science, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 168 "Abu Mas'har’s biography of Hermes, written approximately between 840 and 860, would establish it as common knowledge."
- (Faivre 1995 pp. 19–20)
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- Festugière, A.-J.,La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste. 2e éd., 3 vol., Paris 1981.
- Fowden, Garth, 1986. The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Princeton University Press, 1993): deals with Thoth (Hermes) from his most primitive known conception to his later evolution into Hermes Trismegistus, as well as the many books and scripts attributed to him.
- Yates, Frances A., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. University of Chicago Press, 1964. ISBN 0-226-95007-7.
- Lupini, Carmelo, s.v. Ermete Trismegisto in "Dizionario delle Scienze e delle Tecniche di Grecia e Roma", Roma 2010, vol. 1.
- Merkel, Ingrid and Allen G. Debus, 1988. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: intellectual history and the occult in early modern Europe Folger Shakespeare Library ISBN 0-918016-85-1
- CACIORGNA, Marilena e GUERRINI, Roberto: Il pavimento del duomo di Siena. L'arte della tarsia marmorea dal XIV al XIX secolo fonti e simologia. Siena 2004.
- CACIORGNA, Marilena: Studi interdisciplinari sul pavimento del duomo di Siena. Atti el convegno internazionale di studi chiesa della SS. Annunziata 27 e 28 settembre 2002. Siena 2005.
- Aufrère, Sydney H. (2008) (in French). Thot Hermès l'Egyptien: De l'infiniment grand à l'infiniment petit. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2296046399.
- Copenhaver, Brian P. (1995). Hermetica: the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, with notes and introduction, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995 ISBN 0-521-42543-3.
- Hornung, Erik (2001). The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801438470.
- Media related to Hermes Trismegistus at Wikimedia Commons
- Works written by or about Hermes Trismegistus at Wikisource
- Greek Wikisource has original text related to this article: Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος
- Corpus Hermeticum along with the complete text of G.R.S. Mead's classic work, Thrice Greatest Hermes.
- Hermetic Research is a Portal on Hermetic study and discussion.
- Dan Merkur, "Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth"
- Asclepius - Latin text of the edition Paris: Henricus Stephanus 1505.
- Pimander - Latin translation by Marsilio Ficino, Milano: Damianus de Mediolano 1493.
- THE DIVINE PYMANDER of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus in English
- Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by Hermes Trismegistus in .jpg and .tiff format.
- The Great Pyramid and the 153 Fish in the Net Mathematical Explanation of where he got his name