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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


2. They say that when Rhea 3 secretly united with Kronos, Helios on sensing 4 it imprecated her not to bring forth in month or year. 5

3. That Hermes being in love with the Goddess, came to conjunction [with her]; then playing draughts 6 against Selene, 7 and winning 8 the seventieth of each

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of the lights, he con-duced from all 1 five days and in-duced them into the three hundred and sixty [days]—which Egyptians call the “now in-duced,” 2 and keep as birthdays of the Gods. 3

4. [And they say] that on the first Osiris was born, and that a voice fell out 4 together with him on his being brought forth—to wit: “The Lord of all forth comes to light.”

5. But some say that a certain Pamylē, 5 being moistened 6 from the holy [place] of Zeus, heard a voice directing her to proclaim with outcry that “Great King Good-doing Osiris is born”; and that because of this she nursed Osiris, Kronos entrusting him to her, and they keep with mystic rites the Pamylia in his honour, similar to the Phallephoria. 7

6. And on the second [they say] Arouēris [was born]—whom they call Apollo, and some call Elder Horus. 8

On the third that Typhon, neither in season nor in place, but breaking through with a blow, leapt forth through her side. 9

On the fourth that Isis was born in all moist [conditions].

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On the fifth Nephthys, whom they name End and Aphroditē, while some [call] her also Victory.

7. And [they say] that Osiris and Arouēris were from Helios, Isis from Hermes, and Typhon and Nephthys from Kronos, and therefore the kings considering the third 1 of the “induced” [days] nefast, used neither to consult nor serve themselves till night. 2

8. And [they say] that Nephthys was married to Typhon; 3 but Isis and Osiris being in love with each other, united even before they were born, down in the Womb beneath the Darkness. 4

9. Some, moreover, say that Arouēris thus came to birth, and that he is called Elder Horus by Egyptians, but Apollo by Greeks.

XIII. 1. And [they say] that when Osiris was king, he straightway set free the Egyptians from a life from which they could find no way out and like unto that of wild beasts, 5 both setting fruits before them, and laying down laws, and teaching them to honour the Gods.

2. And that subsequently he went over the whole earth, clearing it, 6 not in the least requiring arms, but drawing the multitude to himself by charming them with persuasion and reason (logos), 7 with song and every art the Muses give; 8 and that for this

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cause he seems to the Greeks to be the same as Dionysus. 1

3. And [they say] that while he was away, Typhon attempted no revolution, owing to Isis keeping very careful guard, and having the power 2 in her hands, holding it fast; but that when he [Osiris] came back, he made with art a wile for him, con-juring seventy-two men, and having as co-worker a queen coming out of Æthiopia, whom they call Asō. 3

4. But that after measuring out for himself in secret the body of Osiris, 4 and having devised, according to the size, 5 a beautiful and extraordinarily ornamented chest, 6 brought it into the banqueting hall. 7

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5. And that when they were delighted at the sight and wondered, Typhon, in sport, promised to give the chest to him who could make himself exactly equal to it by laying himself down in it. 1

6. And that when all were trying, one after another, since no one fitted, Osiris stepped in and laid himself down.

7. And they who were present running up, dashed on the lid, and, after some [of them] had closed it down with fastenings, and others had poured hot lead over it, they carried it out to the River, 2 and let it go into the Sea by way of the Tanitic 3 mouth, which [they say] Egyptians call even to this day by a hateful and abominable name.

8. These things they say were done on the seventeenth of the month Athur, 4 in which [month] the Sun passes through the Scorpion; it being the eight-and-twentieth year of Osiris’ reign.

9. Some, however, say that he had lived and not reigned so long. 5

XIV. 1. And as the Pans and Satyrs 6 that inhabit round Chemmis 7 were the first to sense the

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passion 1 [of Osiris], and give tongue concerning what was being done, [they say] that on this account sudden disturbances and emotions of crowds are even unto this day called “panics.”

2. But when Isis 2 sensed it, she cut off one of her curls, and put on a mourning dress, whence the city to this day bears the name Koptō. 3

But others think the name signifies privation, 4 for they say that koptein is to de-prive.

3. And [they say] that she, wandering about in every direction, and finding no way out, never approached any one without accosting him; nay, she asked even little children whom she happened to meet, about the chest.

4. And they happened to have seen, and showed the mouth 5 through which the friends of Typhon let the vessel 6 go into the Sea.

5. Because of this [they say] Egyptians believe that little children have prophetic power, and they especially divine from the sounds of their voices, when playing in the holy places and shouting about anything.

6. 7 And [they say] that when [Isis] was aware that

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[paragraph continues] Osiris in ignorance had fallen in love and united himself with her sister 1 as with herself, and seeing as proof the honey-clover 2 wreath which he had left behind with Nephthys, she sought for the babe—(for she [N.] exposed it immediately she bore it, through fear of Typhon 3).

7. And after it was found with toil and trouble—dogs 4 guiding Isis to it it—was reared and became her guard and follower, being called Anubis, and is said to guard the Gods, as their dogs men.

XV. 1. It was from him she got intelligence about the chest:—that after it had been wave-tossed out by the Sea to the Byblos 5 country, the land-wash had gently brought it to rest in a certain heather-bush.” 6

2. And the heather-bush, in a short time running up into a most beautiful and very large young tree, enfolded, and grew round it, 7 and hid it entirely within itself.

3. And the King, 8 marvelling at the greatness of the

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tree, after cutting off the branches, and rounding off the trunk that surrounded the coffin without its being seen, 1 set it up as the prop of his roof.

4. And they say that on her hearing of these things by the daimonian spirit of a voice, 2 Isis came to Byblos, and, sitting down at a fountain-head, downcast and weeping, held converse with no one else, but she embraced and showed affection to the maids of the Queen, curling 3 their hair and exhaling from herself on their skin a marvellous fragrance.

5. And when the Queen saw her maids, longing for the ambrosia-smelling hair and skin of the stranger came upon her.

And so when she had been sent for and had become an inmate [of the palace, the Queen] made her nurse of her little one.

6. And the name of the King, they say, was Malkander, 4 while her name according to some was Astarte, according to others Saōsis, and according to others Nemanous, 5—or whatever is the name for which the Greek equivalent would be Athenaïs. 6

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XVI. 1. And [they say] that instead of giving it 1 the breast, Isis reared the little one by putting her finger 2 into its mouth, and that at night she burnt round 3 the mortal [elements] of its body, and, turning herself into a swallow, flew round the pillar and twittered a dirge; until the Queen, through spying [on her] and crying out 4 when she saw the babe being burnt round, deprived it of its immortality. 5

2. That when the Goddess revealed herself, she claimed for herself the pillar of the roof; and, taking it down with the greatest care, she cut away the heather-tree from round it, then wrapping this 6 up in fine linen, and pouring the juices of sweet herbs over it, 7 she placed it in the hands of the royal couple; and even unto this day the people of Byblos venerate the wood 8 lying in the holy place of Isis.

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3. As for the coffin, she flung herself round it, and kept moaning so long, that the younger of the little ones of the king died away; 1 and, taking the elder with herself, and placing the coffin on a boat, she sailed away.

4. And when the River Phædrus 2 raised too rough a wind 3 just after dawn, 4 waxing wrath, she dried up his stream.

XVII. 1. And [they say] that when first she found solitude and was by herself, she opened the chest, and laying her face on his face, she kissed [him] and shed tears.

2. And that when the little one came up in silence from behind and understood, on sensing it she turned herself about, and passionately gave him an awe-ful look. And the little one could not hold himself up against the awe of her, and died.

3. But some say [it was] not thus, but, as it has been said before, 5 that he fell out 6 into the river.

4. And he has honours owing to the Goddess, for the Manerōs 7 whom Egyptians hymn at their symposia is he.

5. While others relate that the boy was called Palæstinos 8 or Pelousios, and that the city 9 was named after him when it was founded by the Goddess; and that the Manerōs who is hymned was the first to discover the art of the Muses. 10

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6. But some say that it is the name of no one, but a manner of speech for men drinking and feasting,—with the meaning “May such and such things be present in becoming measure!” For the Egyptians on every such occasion shout out this, it being indicated to them by “Manerōs.”

7. Just as, doubtless, also their being shown the image of a dead man carried round in a small wooden coffin, is not a reminder of the Osirian passion, as some suppose; but it is in order to exhort them while filled with wine to make use of things present, in that all will very presently be such [as it], that they bring in an unpleasing after-revel.

XVIII. 1. And [they say] that when Isis had gone a journey to her son Horus, who was being reared at Boutos, 1 and had put away 2 the chest, 3 Typhon, taking his dogs 4 out by night towards the moon, came upon it; and recognising the body, tore it into fourteen pieces, and scattered them abroad.

2. And Isis [they say] on learning this, searched for them in a papyrus skiff (baris) sailing away through the marshes; 5 whence those who sail in papyrus hulls are not injured by the crocodiles, either because they 6 fear or rather revere the Goddess. 7

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3. And it is because of this [they say] that many tombs of Osiris are spoken of in Egypt 1—through her performing burial rites on meeting with each piece.

4. Some, however, say no; but that making herself images [of them] she distributed these to each city, 2 as though she were giving it the [whole] body, in order that it might have honours from the multitude, and that even if Typhon should get the better of Horus, he might renounce his search for the true tomb when many were spoken of and pointed out.

5. Now, the only one of the parts of Osiris which Isis did not find was that which causes awe; for that it was cast straightway into the River, and the scaly-coat, 3 and the devourer, 4 and the sharp-snout 5 ate it up—which [they say] among fishes are considered specially expiate; 6 and that Isis, making herself a counterfeit instead of it, consecrated the phallus; in honour of which the Egyptians keep festival even to this day. 7

XIX. 1. Thereafter Osiris, coming to Horus out of

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the Invisible, 1 worked through him and trained him for the fight.

2. He then put this test question to him: “What does he consider fairest?” And when he said: “Helping father and mother in ill plight,”—he asked a second: “What animal does he think most useful for those who go out to fight?”

3. And when Horus said “Horse,” he marvelled at him, and was quite puzzled why he did not say “Lion” rather than “Horse.” 2

4. Accordingly Horus said: “‘Lion’ is a needful thing to one requiring help, but ‘Horse’ [can] scatter in pieces the foe in flight and consume him utterly.” 3

Thus hearing, Osiris rejoiced that Horus was fitly prepared.

5. And it is said that as many were changing over to the side of Horus, Thūēris, 4 Typhon’s concubine, came too; and that a certain serpent pursuing after her was cut in pieces by those round Horus. 5 And to-day on this account they cast down a small rope and cut it in pieces for all to see. 6

6. The fight lasted for many days, and Horus won. Nevertheless, when Isis received Typhon in bonds, she did not make away with him. Far from it; she unbound him and let him go.

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7. Horus, however, did not bear this temperately; but, laying hands on his mother, he drew off the crown from her head. Whereupon Hermes 1 crowned her with a head-dress of cow-horns.

8. And [they say] that also when Typhon got the chance of bringing a bastardy suit against Horus, and Hermes was counsel for the defence, Horus was judged legitimate by the Gods. 2

And that [afterwards] Typhon was fought under in two other fights.

9. And that Isis brought forth from her union with Osiris after his death 3 Harpocrates 4—who missed the month and was weak in his limbs from below upwards. 5


278:3 The Mother of the Gods—“Flowing,” that is, motion pure and simple, unordered or chaotic.

278:4 In the most primitive meaning of the word αἰσθόμενον—from √αισ, lengthened form of αι (compare ἀΐω).

278:5 μηνὶ μητ᾽ ἐνιαυτῷ. Both words are connected with roots meaning “one” in ancient dialects; μὴν = μ-εὶς (Æol.) and ἔνος = an-nus (Lat.). Cf. εἵς, μ-ία, ἕν; hence ἐνι-αυτός = “one-same.” The Goddess, therefore, apart from the Sun, could only bring forth in a day.

278:6 πέττια,—πεσσός was an oval-shaped stone for playing a game like our draughts; it was also used for the board on which the game was played, divided by 5 straight lines each way, and therefore into 36 squares.

278:7 Sc. the moon.

278:8 Or “taking away.”

279:1 Sc. the lights.

279:2 ἐπαγομέναις—or “now intercalated.”

279:3 This is an exceedingly puzzling statement. The “lights” cannot be the “lights” of the moon, of which there were 30 phases. It more probably has some connectipn with 360, the 70th of which works out at 5⋅142857—a number not so very far removed from our own calculations. The “each” in the text may thus be an error.

279:4 A voice from heaven, a Bath-kol, proceeding from the Womb of Rhea.

279:5 παμίλη—presumably a play on πᾶν (all) and ὕλη (matter).

279:6 ὑδρευομένην—presumably by the Great Moistener; it is, however, generally translated “drawing water.”

279:7 That is the “Phallus-Bearing.”

279:8 Eg. Heru-ur.

279:9 πλεῦρα—meaning in man radically “rib”; also side of a square, and root of a square (or cubic) number. Typhon would be represented by the diagonal.

280:1 That is, the birthday of Typhon.

280:2 A strange sentence; but as the kings were considered Gods, they probably worshipped themselves, or at least their own ka, and consulted themselves as oracles.

280:3 Presumably as being opposite, or as hating one another.

280:4 Cf. liv. 4.

280:5 Metaphors reminiscent of the symbolism of the so-called Book of the Dead.

280:6 Sc. of wild beasts; but may also mean “softening it,” when Osiris stands for Water, and again “making it mild,” or “civilising it.”

280:7 He himself being the Logos.

280:8 μουσικῆς—music, in the modern meaning of the term, was only one of the arts of the Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus.

281:1 Διό-νυσος—that is, “he of the Mount (νῦσα) of Zeus.”

281:2 That is “sovereignty.”

281:3 Probably the prototype of the Alchemical Azoth. Æthiopia was the land of the black folk south of Egypt, the land par excellence of the black magicians as opposed to the good ones of the Egyptians (this, of course, being the Egyptian point of view). The Osiris-myth was in Egyptian, presumably, as easily interpretable into the language of magic and con-juration as into other values. Compare the Demotic folk-tales of Khamuas, in Grifiith’s Stories of the High Priests of Memphis, for how this view of it would read in Egyptian. Æthiopia would also mean the Dark Earth as opposed to the Light Heaven.

281:4 The “body of Osiris” may mean the cosmos (great or little), as the “body of Adam,” its copy in the Kabalah.

281:5 Or, “according to the greatness”—using “greatness” in its Gnostic signification, as here meaning the great cosmos and also the cosmic body of man.

281:6 In Pythagorean terms, “an odd-ly ordered rectangular encasement”—referring, perhaps, to a certain configuration of cosmic permanent atoms. But see the plate which Isaac Myer calls “A Medieval Idea of the Makrokosm, in the Heavenly Zodiacal Ark,” but which intitles itself “Forma Exterior Arcæ Noë ex Descriptione Mosis.” This is a coffin, and within it lies the dead Christ. The plate is prefixed to p. 439 of Myer’s Qabbalah (Philadelphia, 1888). It also presumably refers to the “germ” of the cosmic robe of the purified man, the “robe of glory.” In mysticism the metaphors cannot be kept unmixed, for it is the apotheosis of syncretism.

281:7 Lit., the “drinking together,” referring perhaps to the conjunction of certain cosmic forces, and also microcosmically to souls in a state of joy or festivity or bliss, prior to incarnation.

282:1 That is, prove the “permanent atoms” were his own—if we think in terms of reincarnation.

282:2 Sc. the Sacred Nile, Great Jordan, etc., the Stream of Ocean, which, flowing downwards, is the birth of men, and upwards, the birth of Gods.

282:3 ταν-ιτικοῦ—probably a word-play connected with √ταν, “to stretch,” and so make tense or thin, or expand, and so the “widestretched mouth of the Great River.” Cf. the Titans or Stretchers.

282:4 Copt. Hathōr—corr. roughly to November.

282:5 Cf. xlii. 4.

282:6 Two classes of elemental existences.

282:7 That is Ȧpu, the Panopolis of the Greeks; the name Chemmis, the modern Akhmīm, is derived from an old Egyptian name. See Budge, op. cit., ii. 188.

283:1 πάθος—the technical term of what was enacted in the mystery-drama.

283:2 As Mother Nature.

283:3 Meaning “I cut”; and in mid. “I cut or beat the breast,” as a sign of mourning.

283:4 “The depriving things of their power” or “negation”; Osiris being the fertilising or generative or positive power.

283:5 Sc. the way or passage. In little children the life force is not sexually polarised.

283:6 ἀγγεῖον—a vase or vessel of any kind, hence funerary urn or even coffin; but μεταγγίζειν means “to pour from one vessel into another,” and μεταγγισμὸς is the Pythagorean technical term for metempsychosis or palingenesis.

283:7 This paragraph, which breaks the narrative, is introduced to give the myth of the birth of Anubis.

284:1 Sc. Nephthys.

284:2 Meli-lote—lotos in Greek stands for several plants; it might be translated as “honey-lotus.” Cf. xxxviii. 5.

284:3 Her legitimate spouse.

284:4 A term used frequently among the Greeks (who presumably got the idea elsewhere) for the servants, agents, or watchers of the higher Gods; thus the Eagle is called the “winged dog” of Zeus Æsch., Pr., 1022). “Dog,” as we have seen (xi. 1, n.) signifies a power of the World, Soul or Great Animal, also of individual souls.

284:5 That is, “Papyrus.” This Byblos was a “city in the Papyrus Swamps of the Delta.” (So Budge, op. cit., ii. 190.)

284:6 ἐρείκη—probably a play on the root-meaning of ἐρείκειν, “to quiver,” is intended. The Egyptian erīca was taller and more bushy than ours. Or it may be the tamarisk; elsewhere it is called a mulberry-tree.

284:7 Sc. the “coffin”—perhaps here signifying what has lately been called the “permanent atom” in man.

284:8 The ruler of the form-side of things.

285:1 On the erroneously called “Gnostic” gems, the lopped trunk is a frequent symbol; the lopped “five-branched,” presumably.

285:2 Notice the three stages of awareness: (i.) the babbling of children; (ii.) the intelligence given by the dog; (iii.) the daimonian spirit of a voice (Heb. Bath-kol).

285:3 Isis, when she first lost Osiris, cut off a curl (xiv. 2).

285:4 Apparently, though curiously, a play on the Semitic MLK or Malek, “king,” and the Greek andr, “man”—that is, “king of men.”

285:5 Or “Nemanōs.” The names seem to have been impartially maltreated by the copyists; thus we find such variants as Aspartē, Sooses, Neimanoë.

285:6 There was among the ancients an art of name-translation, as Plato tells us in the Story of Atlantis, in which the Atlantic names he says, were translated into Greek by Solon or by the priests of Saïs. Here, I believe, there is also a word-play intended. Isis, as we have seen, was pre-eminently Nurse, τίτθη, a further intensification of the intensified τί-θη; from √θα, “suckle”; the common form of “nurse” was τι-θή-νη. On the contrary, ἀθηναΐς is a daughter or derivative of ἀ-θή-νη, one who does not give suck; for Athena was born from the head and was the virgin goddess par excellence. Mythologically, Athenais was wife of Alalkomeneus, the eponymous hero of a city in Bœotia, where was a very ancient temple of Athena. In the Pindaric ode quoted in S. (1) of chapter, “Myth of Man in the Mysteries,” Alalkomeneus is given as one of the equivalents for the “first man.”

286:1 The child’s name was Diktys, according to viii. 2.

286:2 The √δεκ in δάκτυλος is said to be the same as that in δέκα, “ten,” and “ten” is the number of “perfection.”

286:3 Or “away.”

286:4 Lit., “croaking” like a raven, to match the “twittering” of the swallow.

286:5 This presumably hints that Isis, as the Divine Mother, endeavours to make all perfect and sound, while the earthly mother prevents this.

286:6 Sc. the erīca.

286:7 Cf. John xix. 40: “So they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in fine linen together with sweet herbs.”

286:8 τὸ ξύλον—the term used repeatedly in the New Testament for the cross.

287:1 Or “swooned,” or lost consciousness.

287:2 φάιδρος—lit., Bright, Beaming, Shining—that is, the Sun-stream.

287:3 Or “breath” (πνεῦμα).

287:4 That is “at sun-rise.”

287:5 Cf. viii. 2.

287:6 Sc. of the boat of Isis.

287:7 Μαν-έρως. I fancy this is a play, in conjunction with the κατα-μαν-θάν-οντα, and ἀπο-θάν-οντα (the “understanding” and “dying away”) above; the name would then mean either “love of understanding” or “understanding of love.”

287:8 παλαιστινός—perhaps a play on παλαιστής, “a wrestler”; hence a “rival” or “suitor.”

287:9 Pelusium; the Pelusian was the eastern mouth of the Nile.

287:10 See note on xii. 1.

288:1 Generally supposed to stand for the city Butō, but may be some word-play. Can it be connected with Boōtes, the Ploughman—the constellation Arcturus—the voyage being celestial; that is, a movement of the world-soul or change of state in the individual soul? Budge (p. 192) gives its Egyptian equivalent as Per-Uatchit, i.e. “House of the Eye.”

288:2 Lit., from her feet.

288:3 Lit., vessel; may also mean “cell.”

288:4 Vulg., “hunting.”

288:5 ἕλη—a probable play on the δι-ελεῖν (“tear to pieces”) above.

288:6 Sc. the crocodiles.

288:7 It is remarkable how that every now and then Plutarch inserts apparently the most naïve superstitions without a word of explanation. They cannot be all simply irresponsible on dits. It is, perhaps, not without significance that the “chest” is first of all drifted to the Papyrus country, and that the baris of Isis should be made of papyrus. It seems almost as if it symbolised some “vehicle” that was safe from the “crocodile” of the deep. In other words, the skiffs are not paper boats and the crocodiles not alligators.

289:1 “And Egypt they say is the body” to quote a refrain from Hippolytus concerning the “Gnostics.”

289:2 Presumably of the fourteen sacred ones.

289:3 λεπιδωτόν.

289:4 φάγρον.

289:5 ὀξύρυγχον.

289:6 Anthropologically, “taboo.”

289:7 What these “fourteen parts” of Osiris may be is beyond the sphere of dogmatism. I would suggest that there may be along one line some connection with those seeds of life which have lately been called “permanent atoms”; and along another line, that of the birth of the Christ-consciousness, there may be a series of powers derived from past incarnations.

290:1 Hades.

290:2 The “Horse” may symbolise purified passion, and “Lion” a certain receptive power of the mind.

290:3 The white “Horse” was presumably opposed to the red “Ass” of Typhon, as the purified vehicle of the soul contrasted with the impure. “Lion” was one of the grades in the Mithriac Mysteries; it was a sun-animal.

290:4 Eg. Ta-urt (Budge, op. cit., p. 193).

290:5 That is, by the Companions of Horus (or Disciples of the Christ)—a frequent scene in the vignettes of the Book of the Dead.

290:6 That is, in the public mystery processions.

291:1 The symboliser as well as the interpreter of the Gods.

291:2 Cf. liv. 3.

291:3 Or it may mean “completion” (τελευτήν).

291:4 In Eg. Ḥeru-p-khart, i.e., “Horus the Younger.”

291:5 τοῖς κάτωθεν γυίοις—but, presumably, not from above downwards.

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