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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


XXXII. 1. 4 The above [data] then afford [us] such and such suggestions. But from another start let us consider the simplest of those who seem to give a more philosophical explanation.

2. These are those who say that, just as the Greeks allegorise time as Kronos, and air as Hera, and the changes of air into fire as the generation of Hephæstus, so, with the Egyptians, Osiris uniting with Isis (earth) is Neilos, and Typhon is the sea, into which Neilos falling vanishes and is dispersed, except such part [of him] as the earth takes up and receives, and so becomes endowed with productiveness by him.

3. And there is a sacred dirge made on Kronos 5—and it laments “him who is born in the left-hand and died in the right-hand parts.”

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4. For Egyptians think that the eastern [parts] of cosmos are “face,” the northern “right hand,” and the southern “left hand.”

5. The Nile, accordingly, since it flows from the southern [parts] and is consumed by the sea in the northern, is naturally said to have its birth in the left hand and its death in the right hand.

6. Wherefore the priests both pronounce the sea expiate and call salt “Typhon’s foam”; and one of the chief prohibitions they have is: “Not to set salt on table.” And they do not give greeting to sailors, 1 because they use the sea, and get their living from it. And for this cause chiefly they accuse fish of being a cause of offence, and write up: “Hate fish!”

7. At anyrate at Saïs, in the entrance of the temple of Athena, there used to be chiselled up “babe,” “old man,” and after that “hawk,” then “fish,” and last of all “hippopotamus.”

8. This meant in symbols: “O ye who are being born and are dying, God hates shamelessness.”

9. For “babe” is the symbol of birth, and “old man” of death, and by “hawk” they mean God, and by “fish” hatred—as has been said on account of the sea—and by “hippopotamus” shamelessness, for it is fabled that after it has killed its sire it violates its dam.

10. Moreover, what is said by the Pythagorics, namely, that the sea is the tears of Kronos, would seem to riddle the fact of its not being pure and cognate with itself.

11. Let these things then be stated from outside sources as matters of common information.

XXXIII. 1. But the more wise of the priests call not only the Nile Osiris, and the sea Typhon; but [they

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call] without exception every source and power that moistens, Osiris—considering [him] cause of generation and essence of seed, and Typhon everything dry and fiery, and of a drying nature generally and one hostile to moisture.

2. And for this cause also, as they think he [Typhon] was born with a reddish-yellow body, somewhat pale, they do not by any means readily meet or willingly associate with men that look like this.

3. On the other hand, again, they say in the language of myth that Osiris was born black, because all [Nile] water blackens both earth and garments and clouds when mixed [with them], and [because] moisture in the young makes their hair black, whereas greyness comes on those past their prime, as though it were a turning pale owing to its drying up.

4. The spring, too, is blooming and productive and balmy; but autumn, through lack of moisture, is inimical to plants and baneful to animals.

5. And the ox that is kept at Sun-city which they call Mnevis—sacred to Osiris, while some also consider it sire of Apis—is black [also] and has second honours after Apis.

6. Moreover, they call Egypt, since it is especially black-soiled, just like the black of the eye, Chēmia, and liken it to a heart; for it is warm and moist, and is mostly confined in, and adjacent to, the southern part of the civilised world, just like the heart [is] in man’s left-hand side.

XXXIV. 1. Moreover, they say that sun and moon do not use chariots for vehicles, but sail round in boats—[thus] riddling their being nourished by and being born in the “Moist.”

2. And they think that Homer also, like Thales, set down Water as source and birth of all things, after

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learning [it] from Egyptians; for that Oceanus is Osiris, and Tēthys 1 Isis, as nursing all things and rearing them all up together.

3. For Greeks also call “emission of seed” ἀπ-ουσίαν and “intercourse” συν-ουσίαν, and “son” (υἱὸν) from “water” (ὕδατος) and “moisten” (ὗσαι); 2 and [they call] Dionysus Huēs, as lord of the Moist Nature, in that he is no other than Osiris.

4. In fact, Hellanicus 3 seems to have heard Osiris called Hu-siris by the priests; for he persists in thus calling the god, presumably from his nature and power of invention. 4


307:4 This paragraph and the next is quoted by Eusebius, Præp. Ev., III. iii. 11.

307:5 That is Nile.

308:1 Lit., “pilots”; but presumably here used in a more general sense.

310:1 As connected with Τήθη, the Nurse of all, and identified by some with the Primal Earth; and so signified by the word-play Τηθὺν and τιθην-ουμένην (“nursing”).

310:2 The word-play runs: ap-ous-ia, sun-ous-ia, hu-ion, hud-atos, hus-ai.

310:3 The most eminent of the Greek logographers; fl. 553-504 B.C.

310:4 εὑρέσεως—probably another word-play, heuresis and husiris.

Next: Concerning Osiris and Dionysus