The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius 9781472598172

“The Corpus Hermeticum” is a collection of short philosophical treatises, a powerful fusion of Greek and Egyptian though

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The Way of Hermes: New Translations of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius
 9781472598172

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Preface In the year 1460 a monk brought a Greek manuscript to Florence. The monk, Leonardo of Pistoia, was one of the agents that the city's ruler, Cosimo de' Medici, had sent to scour Europe's monasteries for forgotten writings of the ancients, and what he now brought his patron was a codex containing fourteen treatises amibuted to Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Egyptian sage. This work's arrival caused a great stir, because Hermes, identified with the Ibis god Thoth, was held to be older than Plato and Moses and the underlying inspiration of all philosophy and religion that followed him.Cosimo immediately instructed his scholar Marsilio Ficino to suspend his project of m l a t i n g the complete dialogues of the divine Plato so that he might undertake a banslation of this even more sigruiicant work. This manuscript contained the nucleus of the Corpus Hemericum, also falsely called Pimander, after the first treatise, Poimandres. Along with some astrological and alchemical works, also named after Hermes, these tracts became the fundamental writings of the Renaissance, together called Hermeticism, whereas the doctrine of the Corpus Hemeticum is called Hennetism. The texts of the Corplls are preserved in Greek, and appear to have been produced between the first and third centuries AD in Alexandria, Egypt. In 1614 the Swiss Calvinist from Geneva, Casaubon, proved that the Corpus Henneticum was not as old as it

Translators' Foreword The heart of the Hermetic teaching contained in this book is the realisation that the individual is fundamentally no different from the Supreme. This realisation is gnosis, a single, immediate event, characterised as a second buth. This teaching outlines the spiritual path that prepares the way for this gnosis, whch is not achieved by any effort of the ordinary mind. The words of the teacher work independently of the disciple's thinking. The point of these treatises is not to argue the truth of their propositions; their meaning is the change they effect in the hearts of their readers or listeners in awakening them to the truth. We feel that there is a need for a new translation whose language reflects the inspirational intent of these writings. It is not enough to provide a literal translation, however accurate, for unless it reproduces something of the music and poetry of the original, it will not touch the same emotional chord. Our aim is to create an English version whose clarity and cadence evoke the transforming connection with the sacred that drew the original listeners together. A further reason why we have embarked on a new translation is because we feel that the manuscript mdition could and should be followed far more closely, where it can be, without damage to the sense or logic of the Greek. At times this approach seems to open up the text in fresh and interesting ways. We have primarily consulted the fourteenth-century manuscript Laurentianus 7 1.33 and the

Translators' Note In the translation that follows, lettered note references a, b, c, etc. refer to the Notes on the Greek Text on pp. 1 11-1 14. Numbered references 1,2 etc. refer to the notes at the end of each book of the translation. There is no Book 15 (see below, p. 107).

Introduction The Definitions of Hennes Trismegism to Asclepius have been mainly preserved in an Armenian translation which most likely dates to the second part of the sixth century AD.' Since some of the aphorisms contained in the Definitions seem to have been known to the author of Poimandres (CH we may assume that at least the main core of this collection3was already extant in the first centwy AD. Many other parallels with the Corpus Hermeticwn,the Excerpts of Stobaeus and various hermetic fragments suggest that the Definitions either antedate most of the hemetic philosophical writings which have reached us or at least do not depend directly on them. The main reason why we cannot possibly assume the reverse (i.e. that a later writer has compiled the Definitions by picking up various sentences from the other hermetic works)' is that most often one and the same sentence of the Definitions simultaneously appears (albeit with different wording) in more than one hermetic text, which would be unlikely if each of these sentences had been borrowed separately h m one parhcular writing. An early date might also be assumed for our collection of aphorisms with regard to the clarity of its style and the firmness of its thought. In our edition of the Coptic and Armenian translations of hermetic writings in 1982 several clues led us to suggest that the most ancient hermetic philosophical writings were collected aphorisms such as the 'Sayings of Agathos Daimon', of which only short h g -

Bibliography and Abbreviations Ascl. = Asclepius (Latinadaptation of DP) in NF vol. 2 and HHE vol. 2 CH = Corpus Henneticum 1- 14 and 16 17 in this edition. CH 15 does not exist DH = Definitions d ' H d s Trirmigisted Ascl.4pius (in Armenian translation) in HHE vol. 2, and J. Paramelle and J.-P. Mahe, 1991B, Rewe des Ehrdes Adniennes 22 (1990-91). pp. 1 1534, for the Greek fragments F H = Fragmenfa Hennetica: FH 1036 in NF vol. 4 HHE = J.-P. Maht, Hermes en Haute-Egypre. 2 vols. (QuCk.l978; 1982) HO = Hermetica Oxonimia 14: J. Paramelle and J.-P. MahC, 1991, Revue des E h Grecqm, 104 (199 1). pp. 109-39 NH 1-13 = Coptic codices of Nag Hammadi. containing the following hermetic writings: NH 6 (pp. 52,l-63,32). L 'Ogdoade et I%&& (HHE vol. 1); hW 6 (pp. 63,33-65,7). mere d 'action & gr6ces (HHE 1. I); NH 6 @p. 65,14-78,43), Fmgment du Logos Tileios (HHE vol. 2) and other writings marc or less influenced by hermetism (the titles in italics do not occur in the codex) SH = Stobaei Hermetica: SH 1-22 in NF vol. 3; SH 23-9 in NF vol. 4 Berthelot, M. and Ruelle, E.,Les alchimistesgrecs, vols. 1-3(Paris s.d) Camplani, A., 'Riferimenti biblici nella litteratma ennetica', Anmli di storia dell' esegesi 1on, 1993,375425