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Hermes Trismegistus




HERMES TRISMEGISTÜS. The Egyptian Thoth, Tauut, or Tat (see vol. vii. p. 718), who was identified by the Greeks more or less completely with their own Hermes, is described in the hieroglyphics by various epithets, among which occurs that of "the great great " or twice great, with an added hieroglyphic (a kite) also signifying "great." To him as scribe of the gods, " Lord of the divine words," " Scribe of truth," was attributed the authorship of all the strictly sacred books generally called by Greek authors Hermetic. These, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, our sole ancient authority (Strom., vi. p. 268 sq.), were forty-two in number, and were subdivided into six divisions, of which the first, containing the ten books " of the prophets," dealt with laws, deities, and the education of priests; the second, consisting of the ten books of the "stolistes," or official whose duty it was to dress and ornament the statues of the gods, treated of sacrifices and offerings, prayers, hymns, festive processions ; the third, " of the hierogram-matist," also in ten books, was a repertory of hieroglyphical, cosmographical, geographical, and topographical informa-tion ; the four books " of the horoscopus " were devoted to astronomy and astrology ; the two books " of the chanter " contained respectively a collection of songs in honour of the gods and a description of the royal life and its duties; while the sixth and last division, consisting of the six books " of the pastophor," was medical. Of this canon, which according to the generally received opinion of Bunsen must have been closed at latest in the time of the Psammetichi but probably earlier, numerous small fragments are to be found in the works of Stobaeus aud other ancient writers. The now well-known Book of the Dead, according to Bunsen, originally had its place among the ten ceremonial books of the " stolistes," but this is denied by Lepsius; an ancient papyrus recently deciphered by Ebers is believed by that author to date from about the year 1500 B.C., and to have formed part of one of the books of the pastophor.

The epithet Trismegistus (6 Tpio-p-iyio-Tos, or " superla-tively" greatest), as applied to Hermes, is of comparatively late origin, and cannot be traced to any author earlier than the 2d Christian century. Most probably it arose out of the earlier forms //.eyas KOX iieyas or //.eyio-ros, derived by the Greeks from early Egyptian sources ; but various other explanations of the appellation have been offered, such as that of the author of the Chronicon Alexandrinmn (47 A.D.), who maintains that it was because Hermes, while maintain-ing the unity of God, had also asserted the existence of three supreme or greatest powers that he was called by the Egyptians Trismegistus. This view, which is also adopted by Suidas, seems preferable at least to that met with in Nicolai's History of Greek Literature, according to which an apocryphal author named Hermes was called rpirrpe-yio-Tios, simply in order to indicate that he had succeeded and outdone a certain Megistias of Smyrna in astrological, physiognomical, and alchemistic theories. The name of Hermes seems during the third and following centuries to have been regarded as a convenient pseudonym to place at the head of the numerous syncretistic writings in which it was sought to combine Neo-Platonic philosophy, Philonic Judaism, and cabbalistic theosophy, and so provide the world with some acceptable substitute for the Christianity which had even at that time begun to give indications of the ascendency it was destined afterwards to attain. Of these pseudepigraphic Hermetic writings some have come down to us in the original Greek; others survive in Latin or Arabic translations; but the majority appear to have perished. That which is best known and has been most frequently edited is the irotp.avSprjs sive Be Potestate et Sapientia Divina (7roi;aaVSp»/s being the Divine Intelligence Troifjirjv avSpSv), which consists of fifteen chapters treating of such subjects as the nature of God, the origin of the world, the creation and fall of man, and the divine illumina-tion which is the sole means of his deliverance. The Editio Princeps appeared in Paris in 1554; and there has been a recent edition by Parthey (1854); the work has also been translated into German by Tiedemann (1781). Along with it are usually printed the certainly later opoi or Definitions of Asclepius, which have sometimes but erroneously been attributed to Apuleius. Other Hermetic writings which have been preserved, and which have been for the most part collected by Patricius in the Nova de Universis Philosophia (1593), are (in Greek) 'larpofiaOvpaTiKa wpós "A.p.p,wva AiyviTTLOv, ITepi /caTaKÁtcrtoís vouovvrmv TrepLyvoxTTiKO., 'EK TT)S pa6r¡p.aTiKr¡'s eirto-T-íj/xijs irpbs "Aja/xwa; (in Latin) Aphoristni sive Centiloquium, Gyranides ; (in Arabic, but doubtless from a Greek original) an address to the human soul, which has been translated by Fleischer (An die menschliche Seele, 1870). The connexion of the name of Hermes with alchemy will explain what is meant by hermetic sealing, and will account for the use of the phrase " hermetic medicine " by Paracelsus, as also for the so-called " hermetic freemasonry " of the Middle Ages.

See Ursinas, De Zoroastre, Hermete, kc, Nuremberg, 1661; Leng-let Dufresnoy, L'Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique, Paris, 1742; Baumgarten-Crusius, De librorumhermeticorum origine aique indole, Jena, 1827; Hilger, De Hermetis Trismegisti Poemandro, 1855 ; Menard, Hermes Trismégiste : Traduction complete, précédée d'une étude sur Vorigine des livres hermétiques, 1866 ; Pietscbmann, Hermes Trismegistus, nach JEgyptischen, Griechischem, und Orient-alischen Ueberlieferungen, 1875.







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