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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


4. For they say that Sarapis is no other than Pluto, and Isis Persephassa, as Archemachus of Eubœa has said, 3 and Heracleides of Pontus, when he supposes that the seat of the oracle at Canopus is Pluto’s.

XXVIII. 1. And Ptolemy the Saviour 4 saw in a dream the gigantic statue of Pluto—though he had not previously seen or known what form it was—ordering him to bring it to Alexandria.

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2. And when he did not know and had no idea where [the statue] was set up even after he had described his vision to his friends, there was found a man, a great traveller, by name Sōsibius, who said he had seen at Sinope just such a colossus as the King seemed to have seen.

3. He [Ptolemy] accordingly sent Sōtelēs and Dionysius, who, after expending much time and pains, not, however, without the help of God’s providence, removed it secretly and brought it away.

4. And when it had been brought [to Alexandria] and set up publicly, the assistants of Timotheus, the interpreter, and of Manethōs, the Sebennyte, coming to the conclusion that it was a statue of Pluto—judging by its cerberus and huge serpent—convinced Ptolemy that it was that of no other of the Gods than Sarapis; for it did not come from Sinopē with this designation, but after it had been brought to Alexandria it received the Egyptian name for Pluto, namely, Sarapis.

5. And yet people sink into the opinion of Heracleitus the physicist, when he says: “Hades 1 and Dionysus are the same, for whomsoever they rage and riot.”

For those who postulate that Hades means the body, because the soul is as it were deranged and drunken in it, put forward a [too] meagre interpretation.

6. But [it is] better to identify Osiris with Dionysus, and Sarapis 2 with Osiris, so designated after he had changed his nature. 3 Wherefore “Sarapis” is common to all, 4 just as, you know, those who share in the sacred rites know that “Osiris” is.

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XXIX. 1. For it is not worth while paying attention to the Phrygian writings, in which Isis is said to have been the daughter of Charops, 1 son of Heracles, and Typhon [son] of Æacus, 2 [also] son of Heracles.

2. Nor [is it worth while] refraining from disregarding Phylarchus, 3 when he writes that “it was Dionysus who first brought two oxen from India to Egypt, of which the name of one was Apis, and of the other Osiris; and Sarapis is the name of Him who orders [or adorns] the universe from sairein [‘sweep,’ ‘clean’], which some say [means] ‘beautifying’ and ‘adorning’”;—for these [remarks] of Phylarchus are absurd.

3. But still more so are those of them who say that Sarapis is not a god, but that the coffin of Apis 4 is thus named, and that certain brazen gates at Memphis, called “Gates of Oblivion and Wailing,” open with a deep mournful sound, when they bury Apis, and that therefore at every sounding of brass 5 we are plunged into oblivion.

4. More moderate are they who claim that the

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simultaneous motion of the universe is thus called [sc. Sarapis], from seuesthai and sousthai 1 [“speed”].

5. But the majority of the priests say that “Osiris” and “Apis” have been woven together into the same [name], explaining and teaching that we should look on the Apis as an en-formed image of the soul of Osiris.

6. If, however, the name of Sarapis is Egyptian, I for my part think it denotes “Good Cheer” and “Delight,”—finding a proof in the fact that Egyptians call the feast “Delights”—Sairei.

And, indeed, Plato says that Hades has been so called as being “sweet” 2 and gentle to those with him.

7. And with Egyptians both many other of their names are logoi, 3 and they call subterrene space, to which they think the souls depart after death, Amenthē—the name signifying “the [space] which takes and gives.” 4

8. But whether this, too, is one of the names that left Hellas long ago and have been brought back again, 5 we will examine later on; for the present, let us continue with the remaining [points] of the belief we have in hand.


301:3 Müller, iv. 315.

301:4 The first Greek King of Egypt, 324-285 B.C.

302:1 That is, Pluto.

302:2 Sar-apis—a combination of Osiris and Apis, the soul of Osiris; cf. xxix. 5. In Eg. Ȧsȧr-Hapi.

302:3 Presumably from that of a daimon to that of a god.

302:4 That is, apparently, a common principle in all men.

303:1 Lit. “Bright- (or Glad-) eyed.”

303:2 Lit., “Wailer.”

303:3 A historian; flourished c. 215 B.C.

303:4 Ἄπιδος σόρον—another word-play, “sor-apis.

303:5 ἠχοῦντος . . . χαλκώματος. This has, nevertheless, presumably some mystic meaning. In the myths, cymbals were said to have been used to protect the infant Bacchus, and infant Zeus, and to keep off the Titans—so, presumably, plunging them into oblivion. Compare also 1 Corinth. xiii. 1, where Paul, speaking of the exercise of the “gift of tongues” (glossalaly) without love (ἀγάπη), uses precisely the same term, when saying: “I am become as sounding brass (χαλκὸς ἠχῶν) or tinkling cymbal” the latter being, perhaps, a reference to the sistrum, while the former is perhaps a metaphor, derived from the hardness and colour (“red”) of brass, or rather bronze or copper, referring to a state of mind which plunges us into oblivion of our better part—namely, spiritual love.

304:1 A contracted form of the former—from √σϝε or √σεϝ, with idea of “swiftness.” (?) Serapis—sev-a-this—sevesthai.

304:2 ἁδούσιον—unknown to the lexicons. I suggest that it may be connected with ἦδος, from √σϝαδ of ἁνδάνω—hence “sweet.”

304:3 Presumably “words of deep meaning”—another technical use of this Proteus-like term.

304:4 Budge (op. cit., ii. 200) says: “The Egyptian form of the word is Amentet, and the name means ‘hidden place.’”

304:5 How very Greek! Cf. lxi. 4.

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