Hermes Trismegistos

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HERMES TRISMEGISTOS . Identified with Hermes in the Histories of Herodotos (fifth century bce), the Egyptian god Thoth was sometimes called aa aa ur (or paa paa paa ). In the Egypt of the Ptolemies at the beginning of the second century bce, this epithet was rendered approximately as megistos kai megistos theos, megas Hermēs ("greatest and greatest god, great Hermes") or, more succinctly, as Hermes Trismegistos ("thrice greatest Hermes"; Mahé, 19781982, vol. 1, p. 1; vol. 2, p. 469).

Because this meaning soon became obscured, the title was reinterpreted in various ways. According to the eighth-century historian George Syncellus, who in part is confirmed by Augustine (354430 ce), Manethon (third century bce) supposedly taught that trismegistos is the surname of the second Hermes, son of Agathodemon (the Hellenized name of the god Khnum or Kneph) and the father of Tat (another version of Thoth), who is said to have transcribed the teachings of Thoth, the first Hermes, and stored them in Egyptian sanctuaries (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vol. 3, p. 163). These teachings, which had been engraved on tablets by the first Hermes, his grandfather, before the flood, were supposedly discovered and made available in Greek by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (308246 bce). Later, a tradition preserved especially by Hermias of Alexandria (fifth century ce) justifies the title trismegistos on the basis that Hermes, after three successive reincarnations in Egypt, had "remembered himself" and "recognized himself" (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, pp. 474475), a factor that had to be connected to the Hermetic doctrine of rebirth (i.e., palingenesia; cf. Corpus Hermeticum 13 and Nag Hammadi codex 6.5759). It must be noted that the title trismegistos is bestowed also by Osiris upon Agathodemon (Fragmenta Hermetica 32B).

Thus, that literature in Greek, translated supposedly from the Egyptian (Corpus Hermeticum 16.2), that claims to be the teachings of Thoth, the first Hermes, and of his disciples or descendants is called Hermetic. In addition to the names already cited, Hermes Trismegistos converses also with his master Poimandres-Nous ("intellect"; cf. Corpus Hermeticum 1.11) and with his disciples Ammon and Asklepios (Asclepius 1), grandson of Asklepios-Imhouthes (Asclepius 37), himself the son of Ptah-Hephaistos (Stobaei Hermetica 23.6). In addition, Isis discusses with her son Horus a revelation from the first Hermes that was given to her by her grandfather Kamephis (ibid., 23.33), probably distinct from Kneph-Agathodemon (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vol. 3, p. 164).

Inventory and Chronology of Hermetic Literature

To Thoth, the inventor of writing, the ancient Egyptians attributed all sorts of books, especially magical writings, secret techniques employed in temple workshops (e.g., the gilding of statues or the dyeing of fabrics), and theological writings recopied or composed by the priests in the "house of life" (pransh; Nag Hammadi codex 6.61.20). Thus the Greek Hermetica that have come down to the present can be divided into two categories: works of occult sciences and philosophical works.


Among the works of occult sciences, A.-J. Festugière (19421953, vol. 1, pp. 77, 240, 283) distinguishes three kinds: (1) astrology, beginning in the third or second century bce, (2) alchemy, beginning in the second or first century bce, and (3) magic, recorded in papyri of the fourth to seventh centuries ce that reproduce sources obviously much more ancient. The interested reader may turn to Festugière (ibid.) for a thorough exposition of this occult literature in all its abundance and great complexity.


The philosophical works were originally grouped as collections of the discourses of Hermes with his various disciples or of them among themselves. Of this undoubtedly very abundant literature, still preserved are only some fragments and the texts of a few discourses that have come down to the present through subsequent intermediaries. These may be grouped into chronological order as follows:

  1. Fragmenta Hermetica 136 (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vol. 4): various fragments quoted in Greek, Latin, or Syriac by several authors, from Tertullian (second-third century ce) to Bar Hebraeus (12261286). To these fragments should be added the Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae 29456r and 29828r (Oellacher, 1951; Mahé, 1984), as well as an Armenian fragment (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, p. 346; parallel with John Malalas, in Scott, 19241936, vol. 4, p. 233) and several Syriac fragments (Brock, 1983, 1984, with some Greek parallels).
  2. Asclepius 141 (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vol. 2): a Latin adaptation of Logos Teleios, finished probably after 320 and before 410.
  3. Nag Hammadi codex 6 (Mahé, 19781982): codex 6 of the Nag Hammadi collection (c. 340370 ce), containing Coptic translations of three treatises:
    • Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, preserved without title and currently called The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth;
    • Nag Hammadi codex 6.7, The Prayer That They Spoke, parallel to Asclepius 41 and to the Papyrus Mimaut (Greek) of Paris;
    • Nag Hammadi codex 6.8, without title, a fragment of Logos Teleios parallel to Asclepius 2129 and to three Greek quotations cited by Lactantius around 320, Cyril of Alexandria around 435, and Joannes Stobaios around 500. The allusions of John Lydus (sixth century ce) to this same text can hardly be regarded as mere quotations.
  4. Stobaei Hermetica 129 (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vols. 34): fragments or treatises quoted in Greek by Joannes Stobaios in his Florilegium, which he compiled around 500 for the education of his son.
  5. Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2), translated from Greek into Armenian, probably in the second half of the sixth century ce. Definitions 10.7 repeats Stobaei Hermetica 19.1; Definitions 11 is an interpolation drawn from Nemesius (c. 390 ce).
  6. Corpus Hermeticum 114 and 1618 (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vols. 12): a compilation of Hermetic treatises done after Stobaios and before Michael Constantine Psellus (eleventh century bce). The connection of Corpus Hermeticum 18 to Hermetism is debated.

The Arabic Hermetic writings described by Louis Massignon (in Festugière, 19421953, vol. 1, pp. 384400) are mostly original compositions without any direct ties to the Greek Hermetica.

Outside of Asclepius, the Middle Ages knew nothing of the philosophical works of Hermes except for some fragments mentioned by a very few Hellenists: Corpus Hermeticum 114 was translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino in 1463; Corpus Hermeticum 1618 and a part of the Stobaei Hermetica were published shortly thereafter in the sixteenth century; Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, 6.7, and 6.8 were discovered in 1945 but were not made available to scholars until 1970; Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius was published for the first time in 1956 in Yerevan, Armenia.

As for dating the composition of the various treatises, the Logos Teleios (Asclepius, Nag Hammadi codex 6.7, 6.8) is scarcely older than the third century ce. Most of the Greek texts seem to have been written in the second century bce, yet they rest upon even older sources. Indeed, it is sometimes a case of works or compilations that longer survives such as the Sayings of Agathodemon (Corpus Hermeticum 10.25, 12.1, 12.8), the General Discourses (Corpus Hermeticum 10.1, 10.7, 13.1; Stobaei Hermetica 4a.1; Stobaei Hermetica 6.1; Nag Hammadi codex 6.63.2; Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae 29456r and 29828r), the Diexodica (Fragmenta Hermetica 30; Asclepius 1 corr.; Nag Hammadi codex 6.63.3 corr.). In addition, the cited Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae, copied at the end of the second century ce, reveals that at that time a collection of the logoi of Hermes to Tat, comprising at least ten treatises, had already been made. Going further, Strabo, on a visit to Egypt in 2420 bce, mentions some Hermetic literature that was not only astrological but also philosophical (Festugière, 19421953, vol. 1, p. 78). Finally, because Corpus Hermeticum 1.31 contains precise allusions to Jewish liturgy, it probably precedes the expulsion of Jews from Egypt after the revolt of 115117. Yet because Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius 9.4 is the source of Corpus Hermeticum 1.18, it dates at the latest from the first century ce and could well go back even further (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, p. 278).

Origins and Orientations of the Philosophica of Hermes

Although the distinction between the Hermetic writings on the occult sciences and the philosophical works is easily supported by their differences in tone and content, the break is not total between the two genres. The prayer of Asclepius 41 (Nag Hammadi codex 6.7) also appears at the end of a magical formula for union with the sun (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 1, p. 141), and the magical papyri often contain invocations or myths comparable to those included in the philosophical writings (Festugière, 19421953, vol. 1, pp. 296308; compare with the prayers of Corpus Hermeticum 5, 13, and Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, and with the myths of Corpus Hermeticum 1, Asclepius, and Stobaei Hermetica 23). Furthermore, the alchemical writings contain sentences also found in the philosophical writings (Mahé, 19781981, vol. 2, pp. 309310). Finally, certain philosophical treatises contain magical words and symbols (Nag Hammadi codex 6.56.17f., 6.61.10f., 6.62.10f.), while Stobaei Hermetica 6 (to Tat, on the decans) is hardly distinguished from an astrological text except by its parenetic epilogue.

Composed in different periods by different authors, the Hermetic philosophical works do not present a consistent teaching. They can be divided according to two tendencies: The one, which is the greater part, is optimistic; the other inclines toward a rather pessimistic and Gnostic dualism (such as Corpus Hermeticum 1, 4, 13; or some passages of Asclepius ). Furthermore, the origin of this literature poses a complex problem. It cannot be conceded that the Greek texts are translations of ancient Egyptian writings. Indeed, nothing that is directly comparable has been preserved either in hieroglyphic or in demotic Egyptian. The documents that Eve A. E. Reymond calls "ancient Egyptian Hermetic writings" (Reymond, 1977) are simply secret writings that show no verbal parallels or perhaps even no lexical affinities with the Greek Hermetica (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, pp. 478481).

Moreover, the content of the Greek writings betrays a composite origin in which Egyptian inspiration combines with Hellenic and Jewish influences. Festugière has shown how the decline of Greek rationalism led to disguising traditional philosophical teachings as divine revelations attributed to sages of Egypt or the Orient. Thus, the philosophy of Trismegistos reflects the fundamental themes of Alexandrian Hellenism concerning anthropogony, the origin and final ends of the soul (Festugière, 19421953, vol. 3), and the opposition between the cosmic god (ibid., vol. 2) and the unknown god of gnosis (ibid., vol. 4). In addition, many specific arguments are borrowed from Greek philosophy. Thus, Stobaei Hermetica 1 illustrates a maxim of Protagoras (fifth century bce), repeated by Plato (Timaeus 28c), that it is impossible to say anything about the divine essence. Stobaei Hermetica 2A interprets, with the help of the doctrine of the four elements, the Platonic dogma that nothing exists by itself on earth. Stobaei Hermetica 3.1 cites Phaedrus 245c and elaborates, along with Stobaei Hermetica 45, a physical theory of forces and movement, of a very Hellenic inspiration.

The influence of Judaism is equally certain. This is revealed by the use of a vocabulary that is characteristic of the Greek Bible. Thus, God is termed kurios kai pater ("lord and father") in Corpus Hermeticum 5.2 and 13.21, Asclepius 26, Nag Hammadi codex 6.73.24, and Fragmenta Hermetica 23. However, these Judaic influences are unequally distributed: They are very strong in some treatises, sporadic elsewhere, and nonexistent in some. Thus Corpus Hermeticum 1 (Poimandres ) contains not only a cosmogony inspired by the Book of Genesis (likewise Corpus Hermeticum 3) but also an apocalyptic scheme comparable to that of the Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch (2 Enoch ). It also contains allusions to the Eighteen Blessings in the Jewish liturgy as well as to the recitation of the Shemaʿ (Dt. 6:49). Corpus Hermeticum 13 and Nag Hammadi codex 6.6 are close to the same traditions. Comparison has also been made of the myth of the fall of souls in Stobaei Hermetica 23 (Korē Kosmou ) to that of the fall of the angels in the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Enoch (1 Enoch ), which may also have influenced Asclepius 25 (Nag Hammadi codex 6.73.1f.). All these indications point to the influence of the canonical books of the Bible as well as of the apocryphal writings that were current among certain heterodox Jewish circles; some of these may have had Gnostic tendencies, judging from Corpus Hermeticum 1; others, perhaps Essene, if indeed a tie can be seen between Stobaei Hermetica 23 and 1 Enoch. In addition, the Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae, cited earlier, bear on the front the discourse of Hermes with Tat and, on the back, the Book of Jannes and Jambres, an apocryphal text or pseudepigraphon of the Old Testament.

The analogies between the teachings of Hermes and those of the Jewish exegete Philo Judaeus (d. 4550 ce) could be explained by Alexandrian scholarly traditions rather than by reciprocal influence. Indeed, the orientations of the two authors are distinct. Philo could not endorse pantheism, immoderate esteem for astrology, theurgy, or the praise of statues and idolatry, all of which are often expressed in Hermetic writings (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, pp. 318320). Apart from some allusions to divine mercy in Corpus Hermeticum 13.3, 13.8, 13.10 (cf. Ad Titum 3.5), a treatise highly influenced by Judaism, the God of Hermetism"innocent" like that of Platosometimes sees to it that the guilty are punished, but, unlike the biblical God, hardly ever thinks to pardon them.

Underlining the importance of Hellenic and Jewish influences in the Hermetica does not amount to denying Egyptian inspiration. Contrary to the statement by Festugière (19421953, vol. 2, pp. 30f.), it is not Platonic dialogue that lies at the origin of the Hermetic logos but rather the collection of ancient Egyptian wisdom (sbayt ) sayings (mtrw ) that were formulated as the teachings of a "father" to his "son," because scribal and other intellectual functions were hereditary at that time. In the same way, the oldest Hermetic writings are some gnomologies such as Stobaei Hermetica 6 or Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius. Subsequently, the sentences (which might be either connected to one another simply by conjunctions, or provided with commentaries, or illustrated by myths, or inserted into prayers) give rise to the Hermetic logoi. In these the disciple, generally called "my son," sometimes timidly interrupts the master whom he calls "my father." The Wisdom of Any (thirteenth century bce) contained already the start of such a dialogue.

As in many Egyptian hymns, the Hermetic God is at once "One and All"; he (or some derivative entity) is also "his own father" and "his own mother." He artistically designs the body of man (Corpus Hermeticum 5.67) with the same care as that of Khnum in the texts of Esna (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, pp. 291294). In Stobaei Hermetica 23.32 Isis receives from the primordial god Kamephis the gift of the "perfect black," (to teleion melan), namely Egypt (Kah nkēmē, "black earth"); in Stobaei Hermetica 23.42, the lions are termed "sleepless," an ancient Egyptian tradition (Nock and Festugière, 19451954, vol. 3, p. ccvi).

New Writings Discovered at Nag Hammadi

Along with Greek and Jewish influences, several passages of the writings discovered at Nag Hammadi bear the stamp of authentic Egyptian inspiration. Nag Hammadi codex 6.8 (parallel to Asclepius 2129) opens with an evocation of the carnal union of man and woman presented, in accordance with Egyptian paganism, as a proper image of divinity. The refusal, expressed next by Trismegistos, to call "statues" the truly living gods fashioned by men calls to mind the belief in ba, the soul of idols. Then comes a prediction by Hermes to Asklepios: Someday, under the pressure of foreign invaders, the Egyptians will cease to adore their gods, who will depart from them. Formerly the image of piety, the country, full of barbarians and emptied of its ancient inhabitants, will become the image of impiety. The soil of Egypt and the waters of the Nile will be impotent in the face of these misfortunes. Because Egypt is "the image of heaven" and "the temple of the universe," these human disorders will lead to a cosmic catastrophe: People will cease to adore the world and to respect the soul and will invert their values and ally themselves with the bad angels. Therefore the balance of elements will be upset, and evil will triumph until the Demiurge punishes the guilty and creates the world anew, as it was "the first time." Then returning from the desert of Libya, the gods of Egypt will enter the great "city by the sea," which lies at the head of Egypt on the side of the sunset.

Without excluding the specific influence of foreign, Jewish, and perhaps Iranian apocalypses, one might see a similarity between this prediction and ancient Egyptian oracles: Iouper (twenty-second to eighteenth century bce), Neferty (c. 2000 bce), Demotic Chronicle (third century bce) and, during the Hellenistic age, the Greek Oracle of the Lamb (under Ptolemy III, c. 246221 bce) and the Oracle of the Potter (c. 130 bce). Contrary to Jewish traditions, Hermes here is not an ecstatic visionary. He speaks calmly under the influence of wisdom alone. His vibrant praise of Egypt calls to mind Stobaei Hermetica 24.1115, where Egypt, "our most holy country," is located at the heart of the earth; it is represented, after the image of the god Geb, as a man lying on his back facing the sky. References can be made as well to Nag Hammadi codex 2.122, where Egypt is referred to as an image of paradise. This Egyptian patriotism is countered by the defiance of Philo and other Jews, for whom Egypt is a symbol of idolatry, ignorance, or concupiscence of the flesh (Mahé, 19781982, vol. 2, pp. 8588). The end of Nag Hammadi codex 6.8 is a description of Hades that was not included in Asclepius, meaning that the former was entirely unknown before the discovery of the codex. It is essentially an adaptation of Platonic myths in Gorgias, Phaedo, and the Republic about the journey and judgment of the soul, giving Hades an aerial location. This has some similarities to Jewish apocalyptic, while the Egyptian element is practically nonexistent. After being examined by the Great Demon seated between heaven and earth, the righteous soul goes to its proper resting place, while the evil soul is handed over to be tormented by strangler demons, who scourge it and cast it in the celestial sea where fire and ice mass together. Yet God is innocent of these torments.

In contrast with Nag Hammadi 6.8, Nag Hammadi 6.6 is a Gnostic treatise very similar to Corpus Hermeticum 13, but with a more Egyptian setting. An anonymous disciple reminds Hermes of his promise to carry out his initiation by bearing his thought to the Ogdoad and then to the Ennead, that is, to the eighth and the ninth heavens (as in Corpus Hermeticum 1.2426). In the course of a conversation on spiritual regeneration, the disciple learns to recognize his "brothers" and to pray to the "Father of the All." Then the two conversants invoke "the invisible god whom one addresses in silence." Chanting the seven vowels that correspond to the heavenly spheres, they reach the seventh, a symbol of piety according to the divine Law, and exchange a kiss. The power of light then descends upon them, and the first vision of the Ogdoad takes place, if not only for Hermes, at least in an incomplete manner for his disciple. The latter then directs a hymn to his father, during which takes place a second vision, more complete than the first, because the disciple sees the Ogdoad, the Ennead and the One who creates in spirit. He salutes his father with the title trismegistos. Then he promises to maintain secrecy and utters a thanksgiving to God, the end of the All, who has allowed him to know Him and to see himself. Next he chants the seven vowels over again and concludes his prayer. Trismegistos orders him to write everything in hieroglyphics on a stela that is to be placed in the open court of the temple of Hermes in Diospolis beneath a specific constellation. The stela will be surrounded by eight guardsthe males having the faces of frogs (like the self-generating divinities of the Ogdoad at Hermopolis) and the females having the faces of cats (a solar symbol)as well as by the "nine of the sun."

In the imprecatory formula of the conclusion, a celestial hierarchy emerges to guard over the writing: the Unbegotten, the Self-begetting, the Begotten, and the Seven Ousiarchs (i. e., the planetary gods penetrated by the demiurgic spirit). This hierarchy also appears in the report of Hippolytus (second to third century ce) on the Perates, in the Mysteries of Egypt by Iamblichus (c. 250300), and in other writings from Nag Hammadi such as the Gospel of the Egyptians (Nag Hammadi codex 3.54). A comparison with the exegesis of Genesis 18 in Corpus Hermeticum 1.118 reveals a complex syncretism in which the Unbegotten, the Self-begotten, the Begotten, and the Seven Ousiarchs are identified, respectively, with the Creator, Adam, Seth, and the seven generations from Seth to Noah (cf. Genesis 5.129) on the one hand and with the heavenly spheres on the other hand. Thus, reaching the Ogdoad means not only escaping planetary Heimarmene and subjection to the Law but also recovering the likeness and the glorious condition of Seth, the first man who was begotten in the form and image of the Self-begotten (i.e., Adam), who in turn was made in the image of the Unbegotten Creator. Just as God beholds himself in the Self-begotten, according to Eugnostos the Blessed (Nag Hammadi codex 3.7476), the disciple of Hermes is regenerated by the vision of himself, which makes him similar to the primordial man. This Jewish background of the Hermetic palingenesia strongly contrasts with the Egyptian setting of the dialogue.

The Prayer That They Spoke (Nag Hammadi codex 6.7), represented in codex 6 as the part following Nag Hammadi codex 6.6 yet preserved in other contexts in Asclepius 41 and in the Papyrus Mimaut, concludes with the formula "Once this prayer was said, they kissed one another and went to eat their food that was pure and without any blood." One can question at this point whether any Hermetic brotherhoods existed, and Nag Hammadi codex 6.6 and 6.7 leave little doubt about it: Indeed there were gnostics influenced by Judaism who invoked Hermes Trismegistos. They formed communities like the one described in Corpus Hermeticum 1.2731, in which fraternal meals were held, the kiss of peace was exchanged, and initiations were conducted into the mystery of regeneration as described in Corpus Hermeticum 13 and Nag Hammadi codex 6.6.

However, it should not be overlooked that philosophical Hermetism originated in scholarly traditions before the gnostics ever thought of laying claim to it, and that it continued to develop independently of these same Gnostics. Thus, Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius, a collection of philosophical definitions, served as a source before 115 ce for Corpus Hermeticum 1, a Gnostic treatise, and, in the third century, for the Logos Teleios with a very different orientation.

As a place of confrontation for the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt, for Greek philosophy, for Judaism, and for gnosis, the philosophical writings of Hermes do not stand for a single doctrine, and they are not the "bible" of any religion. Instead, they reflect the varied spiritual currents in Alexandria during the first three centuries of the common era. Their relative unity is due mainly to their literary genre, in which the ancient gnomic sources always remain recognizable even when the same sentence is commented upon differently in one treatise as compared to another. The poignant fervor and brilliant stylistic success make certain passages, especially prayers, outstanding testimonials to the spiritual concerns of late paganism.

See Also




Corpus Hermeticum, 4 vols., edited by Arthur Darby Nock and A.-J. Festugière (19451954; 2d ed., Paris, 19541960), with a French translation, is to be preferred to any other edition. Walter Scott's Hermetica, 4 vols. (Oxford, 19241936), is of interest for its commentaries, but the English translation is based upon texts that are often distorted by arbitrary corrections.

For Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, 6.7, and 6.8 and Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius, see my Hermès en Haute-Égypte, 2 vols. (Quebec, 19781982). It provides a critical edition of the three Hermetic treatises from codex 6 of Nag Hammadi and of their Greek and Latin parallels arranged in a synopsis. The critical edition of the Definitions in volume 2 of my Hermès en Haute-Égypte, based on the most conservative branch of the manuscript tradition, differs markedly from the Armenian text that H. Manandian published, with a Russian translation by S. Arevsatian, in Banber matenadarani 3 (1956): 287314. Other Armenian Hermetic fragments are published in my Hermès en Haute-Égypte, vol. 2.

Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, 6.7, and 6.8 can also be read in Douglas M. Parrott's Nag Hammadi Codices V, 25, and VI, with Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, 1 and 4, "Nag Hammadi Studies," vol. 11 (Leiden, 1979), edited with the collaboration of James Brashler et al. for the Coptic Hermetica. The same volume also contains an English translation of Asclepius 2129 and of parallel Greek fragments by George W. MacRae, based on the text of Nock. The Coptic text is excellent, and its English translation is reliable, but the editors have not always drawn all the consequences from the comparisons that occur with Greek and Latin texts. The edition by Martin Krause and Pahor Labib, Gnostische und hermetische Schriften aus Codex II und Codex VI (Glückstadt, 1971), is reliable neither in text nor in translation.

Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae 29456r and 29828r have been edited by Hans Oellacher in his "Papyrus- und Pergamentfragmente aus Wiener und Münchner Beständen," in Miscellanea Giovanni Galbiati, vol. 2 (Milan, 1951), pp. 182188. A new edition with my own corrections and comments has been published in Mémorial A.-J. Festugière (Geneva, 1984), pp. 5164.

Syriac Hermetic fragments are included in Nock and Festugière's Corpus Hermeticum, 2d ed., vol. 4, Fragments Hermetica (Paris, 1960), and in Sebastian Brock's "A Syriac Collection of Prophecies of the Pagan Philosophers," Orientalia Lovanensia Periodica 14 (1983): 203246, and "Some Syriac Excerpts from Greek Collections of Pagan Prophecies," Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 7790.

On Hermetism and the occult sciences, see Festugière's La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste, vol. 1 (Paris, 1950), which also contains (pp. 384399), a catalog of Arabic Hermetic literature by Louis Massignon.

Eve A. E. Reymond's translation From Ancient Egyptian Hermetic Writings, "From the Contents of the Libraries of the Suchos Temples in the Fayyum," pt. 2 (Vienna, 1977), seems to bear no direct relation to the study of Hermetism. It is, instead, a collection of demotic esoteric writings that are very deteriorated and difficult to identify; it was severely reviewed by Wolfgang Brunsch in Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunde des Morgenlandes 73 (1981): 167177.

See also Index du Corpus Hermeticum by Louis Delatte et al. (Rome, 1977) and "Index of Coptic Hermetica" in volume 2 of my Hermès en Haute-Égypte and in Prescott (1979).


A.-J. Festugière's La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste, 4 vols. (Paris, 19501954), remains the fundamental work. However, focused above all on Hellenism, it underestimates Egyptian and Judaic influences. Its excessively rationalistic approach does not penetrate far enough into the mythological intentions of the texts. One can make the same evaluation of the collection of articles in Hermétisme et mystique païenne (Paris, 1967) by the same author.

Jean Doresse's "L'hermétisme égyptianisant," in Histoire des religions, edited by Henri-Charles Puech, vol. 2 (Paris, 1972), pp. 430497, briefly surveys the principal monuments of Hermetism (writings in the occult sciences and philosophy, archaeological materials, and iconography). Its main interest lies in the connections to Egyptian civilization and with the respective positions of philosophical Hermetism and gnosticism. He points out the landmarks for the spread of Hermetism in antiquity to Rome and India and in the Middle Ages throughout the Muslim world and the West. The bibliography is very useful.

On the Egyptian inspiration, Richard Reitzenstein's Poimandres (1904; Stuttgart, 1966) is always suggestive but ought to be used with prudence. One might rather follow the lines given by Ph. Derchain in "Sur l'authenticité de l'inspiration égyptienne dans le Corpus Hermeticum ", Revue de l'histoire des religions 161 (JanuaryMarch 1962): 174198, and F. Daumas's "Le fonds egyptien de l'hermétisme," in Gnosticisme et monde hellénistique, edited by Julien Ries (Louvain, 1982), pp. 325.

On Jewish influences, C. H. Dodd's The Bible and the Greeks (1935; London, 1964) is still fundamental for the influence of the Greek Bible. It can be completed with Birger A. Pearson's "Jewish Elements in Corpus Hermeticum I" in Studies in Gnosticism and Hellenistic Religions, edited by Roelof van den Broek and Maarten J. Vermaseren (Leiden, 1981), pp. 336348; and four essays by Marc Philonenko: "Le Poimandrès et la liturgie juive," in Les syncrétismes dans les religions de l'antiquité, edited by Françoise Dunand and Pierre Lévêque (Leiden, 1975), pp. 204211; "Une allusion de l'Asclépius au livre d'Henoch," in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults, edited by Jacob Neusner, vol. 2, Early Christianity (Leiden, 1975), pp. 161163; "La plainte des âmes dans la Kore Kosmou," in Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Gnosticism (Stockholm, 1977), pp. 153156; and "Une utilisation du Shema dans le Poimandrès," Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses (1979): 369372.

On the connections of Hermetism with gnosis and mystery religions, Hans Jonas's Gnosis und spätantiker Geist, vol. 1, Die mythologische Gnosis, 3d ed. (Göttingen, 1964), and Gilles Quispel's Gnosis als Weltreligion (Zurich, 1951) make penetrating analyses of the Poimandres. Karl-Wolfgang Tröger's Mysterienglaube und Gnosis in Corpus Hermeticum XIII (Berlin, 1971) perceives a dualist treatise in Corpus Hermeticum 13 but places it at the edge of Gnosticism. Tröger considers Nag Hammadi codex 6.6 as a "mysterium" but admits to the existence of Hermetic communities. Gerard van Moorsel's The Mysteries of Hermes Trismegistus (Utrecht, 1955) usefully describes the process of interiorization or spiritualization in the mystery practices of the Hermetica.

A history of the research on Hermetism and a discussion of the studies on the subject are outlined in my Hermès en Haute-Égypte, vol. 2, pp. 343, in which I also attempt to study the range of problems posed by this literature.

New Sources

Betz, Hans Dieter. "Schöpfung und Erlösung in hermetischen Fragment Kore Kosmou." Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 63 (1966): 160187 (reprinted in Gesammelte Aufsätze, I: Hellenismus und Urchristentum, pp. 2251. Tübingen, 1990).

Blanco, A. González. "Hermetism. A Bibliographical Approach." In ANRW 2.17.4, pp. 22402281. Berlin and New York, 1984.

Büchli, Jacob. Der Poimandres. Ein paganisiertes Evangelium. Sprachliche und begriffliche Untersuchungen zum 1. Traktat des Corpus Hermeticum. Tübingen, 1987.

Camplani, Alberto, ed. Scritti ermetici in copto. Brescia, 2000.

Colpe, Carsten, and Jens Holzhausen. Das Corpus Hermeticum Deutsch. Übersetzung, Darstellung und Kommentierung in drei Teilen. Stuttgart and Bad Cannstatt, 1997.

Copenhaver, Brian P. Hermetica. The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Daumas, François. "Le fonds égyptien de l'hermétisme." In Gnosticisme et monde hellénistique. Actes du Colloque de Louvain-la-Neuve, 1114 mars 1980, edited by Julien Ries, Yvonne Janssens, and Jean-Marie Sevrin, pp. 325. Louvain, 1982.

Edwards, Mark J. "The Vessel of Zosimus the Alchemist." Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 90 (1992): 5564.

Faivre, Antoine. The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1995.

Fóti, Làszló. "Hermès Trismegiste et la mytologie égyptienne." In Studia in honorem Làszló Fóti, pp. 927. Budapest, 1989.

Fowden, Garth. The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Princeton, 1986.

Gasparro, Giulia Sfameni. Gnostica et Hermetica. Saggi sullo gnosticismo e sull'ermetismo. Rome, 1982.

Iversen, Erik. Egyptian and Hermetic Doctrine. Copenhagen, 1986.

Jackson, Howard. "Kore kosmou: Isis, Pupil of the Eye of the World." Chronique d'Égypte 61 (1986): 116135.

Kahn, Didier. La Table d'émeraude et sa tradition alchimique. Paris, 1994.

Löhr, Gebhard. Verherrlichung Gottes durch Philosophie. Tübingen, 1997.

Löw, Andreas. Hermes Trismegistos als Zeuge der Warheit. Berlin and Vienna, 2002.

Lucentini, Paolo, Ilaria Parri, and Vittoria Perrone Compagni, eds. Hermetism from Late Antiquity to Humanism. Turnhout, 2003.

Mahé, Jean-Pierre. "Preliminary Remarks on the Demotic Book of Thoth and the Greek Hermetica." Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996): 353363.

Merkel, Ingrid, and Allen G. Debus, eds. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Washington and London, 1988.

Moreschini, Claudio. Storia dell'Ermetismo cristiano. Brescia, 2000.

Muslow, Martin, ed. Das Ende des Hermetismus. Tübingen, 2002.

Paramelle, Joseph, and Jean-Pierre Mahé. "Nouveaux parallèles grecs aux definitions hermétiques arméniennes." Revue des Études Arméniennes 22 (199091): 115134.

Paramelle, Joseph, and Jean-Pierre Mahé. "Extraits hermétiques inédits dans un manuscrit d'Oxford." Revue des Études Grecques 104 (1991): 109139.

Quispel, Gilles. Asclepius. De volkomen openbaring van Hermes Trismegistus. Amsterdam, 1995.

Van den Broek, Roloef, and Cis van Heertum, eds. From Poimandres to Jacob Böhme: Gnosis, Hermetism and the Christian Tradition. Amsterdam, 2001.

Van den Broek, Roelof, and Gilles Quispel. Corpus Hermeticum, ingeleid, vertaald en toegelicht door. Amsterdam, 1996.

Jean-Pierre MahÉ (1987)

Translated from French by Paul C. Duggan
Revised Bibliography