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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


LIII. 1. For Isis is the feminine [principle] of Nature and that which is capable of receiving the whole of genesis; in virtue of which she has been called “Nurse” and “All-receiving” by Plato, 1 and, by the multitude, “She of ten-thousand names,” through her being transformed by Reason (Logos) and receiving all forms and ideas [or shapes].

2. And she hath an innate love of the First and Most Holy of all things (which is identical with the Good), and longs after and pursues it. But she flees from and repels the domain of the Bad, and though she is the field and matter of them both, yet doth she ever incline to the Better of herself, and offers [herself] for him to beget and sow into herself emanations and likenesses, with which she joys and delights that she is pregnant and big with their generations.

3. For Generation is image of Essence in Matter and Becoming copy of Being.

LIV. 1. Hence not unreasonably do they say in the myth that [while] the Soul of Osiris is eternal and indestructible, Typhon often tears his Body in pieces and makes it disappear, and that Isis seeks it wandering and puts it together again.

2. For the Real and Conceivable-by-the-mind-alone and Good is superior to destruction and change; but the images which the sensible and corporeal imitates

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from it, and the reasons (logoi) and forms and likenesses which it receives, just as seal-impressions in wax, do not last for ever, but are seized upon by the disorderly and turbulent [elements], expelled hither from the field above, and fighting against the Horus whom Isis brings forth as the sensible image of that cosmos which mind alone can conceive.

3. Wherefore also [Horus] is said to have a charge of bastardy brought against him by Typhon—of not being pure and unalloyed like his sire, Reason (Logos), itself by itself, unmixed and impassible, but bastardized with matter on account of the corporeal [element]. 1

4. Nevertheless, Horus gets the best of it and wins, through Hermes—that is, the Reason (Logos2—bearing witness and showing that Nature reflects the [true] Cosmos by changing her forms according to That-which-mind-alone-can-conceive. 3

5. For the genesis of Apollo 4 from Isis and Osiris 5 that took place while the Gods were still in the womb of Rhea, is an enigmatical way of stating that before this [sensible] cosmos became manifest, and Matter was perfected by Reason (Logos), Nature, proving herself imperfect, of herself brought forth her first birth.

6. Wherefore also they say that that God was lame 6 in the dark, and call him Elder Horus; for he was not cosmos, but a sort of image and phantasm of the world which was to be. 7

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LV. 1. But this Horus [of ours] is their Son, 1 horizoned 2 and perfect, who has not destroyed Typhon utterly, but has brought over to his side his efficacy and strength; hence they say it is that the statue of Horus at Coptos grasps in one hand Typhon’s virilia.

2. Moreover, they have a myth that Hermes cut out the sinews of Typhon and used them for lyre strings,—[thus] teaching [us] how Reason (Logos) brought the universe into harmony, and made it concordant out of discordant elements. He did not destroy the destructive power but lamed it.

3. Hence while weak and ineffective up there, down here, by being blinded and interwoven with the passible and changeable elements, it is cause of shakings and tremors in earth, of droughts and tempests in air, and again of lightnings and thunderings.

4. Moreover, it infects waters and winds with pestilences, and shoots up and rears itself as far as the moon, frequently blurring and blackening its light, as Egyptians think.

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5. And they say that Typhon at one time strikes the Eye of Horus, and at another takes it out and swallows it. By “striking” they refer enigmatically to the monthly diminution of the moon, and by “blinding” to its eclipse, which the sun remedies by immediately shining on it after it has passed out of the shadow of the earth. 1

LVI. 1. Now the better and diviner Nature is from these:—[to wit] the Intelligible and Matter, and that from them which Greeks call Cosmos.

2. Plato, 2 indeed, was wont to call the Intelligible Idea and Model and Father; and Matter Mother and Nurse—both place and ground of Genesis; and the offspring of both Genesis.

3. And one might conjecture that Egyptians [also revered 3] the fairest of the triangles, likening the nature of the universe especially to this; for Plato also, in his Republic, 4 seems to have made additional use of this in drawing up his marriage scheme. 5

4. And this triangle has its perpendicular [side] of “three,” its base of “four,” and its hypotenuse of “five”; its square being equal to the [sum of the] squares on the containing sides. 6

5. We must, accordingly, compare its perpendicular to male, its base to female, and its hypotenuse to the offspring of both; and [conjecture] Osiris as source, Isis as receptacle, and Horus as result.

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6. For the “three” is the first “odd” 1 and perfect; 2 while the “four” [is] square from side “even” two; 3 and the “five” resembles partly its father and partly its mother, being composed of “three” and “two.”

7. And panta [all] is only a slight variant of pente [five]; and they call counting pempasasthai [reckoning by fives].

8. And five makes a square equal to the number of letters among Egyptians, 4 and a period of as many years as the Apis lives.

9. Thus they usually call Horus also Min 5—that is, “being seen”; for cosmos is a sensible and see-able thing.

10. And Isis is sometimes called Muth, 6 and again Athyri 7 and Methyer. And by the first of the names they mean “Mother”; by the second, “Cosmic House” of Horus,—as also Plato [calls her] “Ground of Genesis” and “She who receives”; and the third is compounded from “Full” and “Cause,”—for Matter is full of

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[paragraph continues] Cosmos, and consorts with the Good and Pure and Ordered.

LVII. 1. And Hesiod 1 also, when he makes all the first [elements to be] Chaos and Earth and Tartarus and Love, might be thought to assume no other principles than these,—if at anyrate in substituting the names we assign to Isis that of Earth, to Osiris that of Love, and to Typhon that of Tartarus; for his Chaos seems to be subsumed as ground and place of the universe.

2. Our data also in a way invite as witness Plato’s myth which Socrates details in the Symposium 2 about the Birth of Love,—telling [us how] that Poverty wanting children lay down by the side of sleeping Means, and conceiving by him brought forth Love of a mixed nature and capable of assuming every shape, in as much, indeed, as he is the offspring of a good and wise father and one sufficient for all, but of an incapable mother and one without means, 3 who on account of her need is ever clinging to some one else and importuning some one else. 4

3. For his Means is no other than the First Beloved and Desirable and Perfect and Sufficient; and he calls Matter Poverty,—who is herself of herself deficient of the Good, but is ever being filled by Him and longing for and sharing in [Him].

4. And the Cosmos, that is Horus, is born from these; and Horus, though neither eternal nor impassible nor indestructible, but ever-generable, continues by means of the changes and periods of his passions to remain ever young and ever to escape destruction.

LVIII. 1. Now, we should make use of the myths not

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as though they were altogether sacred sermons (logoi), but taking the serviceable [element] of each according to its similitude [to reason].

2. When, then, we say Matter, we should not be swept into the opinions of some philosophers, and suppose some body or other of itself soul-less and quality-less, and inert and inefficient; for we call oil the “matter” of a perfume, [and] gold that of a statue, though they are not destitute of every quality.

3. [Nay,] we submit the soul itself and [even] the thought of man as the “matter” of knowledge and virtue to the reason (logos) to order and bring into rhythm.

4. Moreover, some have declared the mind [to be] “region of ideas,” and, as it were, the “impressionable substance 1 of the intelligibles.”

5. And some think that the substance of the woman 2 is neither power nor source, but matter and nutriment of birth.

6. If, then, we attach ourselves to these, we ought thus also to think of this Goddess as having eternally her share in the First God, and consorting [with Him] for love of the goodness and beauty that surround Him, never opposed to Him, but, just as we say that a lawful and righteous husband loves [his wife] righteously, and a good wife though she has her husband and consorts with him, still desires [him], so [should we] think of Her as clinging to Him, and importuning Him, 3 though [ever] filled full with His supremest and purest parts.

LIX. 1. But where Typhon steals in, laying hold of the last [parts, we should think of Her as] then seeming to wear a melancholy countenance, and being said to

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mourn, and to be seeking after certain relics and fragments of Osiris, and enfolding them in her robes, receiving them when destroyed into herself, and hiding them away, just as She also produces them again when they are born, and sends them forth from herself.

2. For while the reasons (logoi) and ideas and emanations of the God in heaven and stars remain [for ever], those that are disseminated into things passible—in earth and sea and plants and animals—being dissolved and destroyed and buried, come to light over and over again and reappear in their births.

3. For which cause the myth says that Typhon lived with Nephthys, but that Osiris had knowledge of her secretly.

4. For the last parts of Matter, which they call Nephthys and End, are mainly in possession of the destructive power; nevertheless the Generative and Saving One distributes into them weak and faint seed which is destroyed by Typhon, except so much as Isis by adoption saves and nourishes and compacts together.

LX. 1. But He is on the whole the Better one, as both Plato and Aristotle suppose; and the generative and moving [power] of Nature moves to Him and towards being, while the annihilating and destructive [moves] from Him and towards non-being.

2. Wherefore they derive the name Isis from hastening (ἵεσθαι) and coursing with knowledge, since she is ensouled and prudent motion.

3. For her name is not foreign; 1 but just as all the Gods have a common name from two elements—“that which can be seen” and “that which runs” 2—so we

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call this Goddess “Isis” from “knowledge,” 1 and Egyptians [also] call her Isis. 2

4. And thus Plato also says the ancients signified the “Holy 3 [Lady]” by calling her “Isia,”—and so also “Mental Perception” and “Prudence,” in as much as she is [the very] course and motion of Mind hastening 4 and coursing, and that they placed Understanding—in short, the Good and Virtue—in things that flow 5 and run.

5. Just as [he says] again, the Bad is railed at with corresponding names, when they call that which hinders nature and binds it up and holds it and prevents it from hastening and going, “badness,” 6 “difficulty,” 7 “cowardice” 8 [and] “distress.”

LXI. 1. And Osiris has had his name from a combination of ὅσιος (holy) and ἱερός (sacred); for there is a common Reason (Logos) of things in Heaven and of things in Hades,—the former of which the ancients were accustomed to call sacred, and the latter holy.

2. And the Reason that [both] brings [down] to light the heavenly things and is [also] of things that are

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mounting upwards, 1 is called Anubis, and sometimes also Hermanubis, 2 belonging in his former capacity to things above and in his latter to things below [them].

3. Wherefore also they offer him in his former capacity a white cock, 3 and in his latter a saffron-coloured one,—thinking that the former things are pure and the latter mixed and manifold.

4. Nor ought we to be surprised at the manipulation of the names back into Greek. 4 For tens of thousands of others that disappeared with those who emigrated from Greece, continue unto this day and sojourn with foreigners; for recalling some of which they blame the poets’ art as “barbarising,”—I mean those who call such words “glosses.” 5

5. Further, they relate that in what are called the “Books of Hermes,” it is written that they call the Power that rules the ordained revolution of the Sun, Horus, while the Greeks [call it] Apollo; and the Power that rules the Breath [or Spirit], some [call] Osiris, others Sarapis, and others Sōthis in Egyptian.

6. The last means “conception” (κύησιν) or “conceiving” (τὸ κύειν). 6 Wherefore also, by inversion of the name, the star [Sōthis] which they consider the special one of Isis, is called Dog (κύων) in Greek.

7. We should, however, least of all be jealous about the names; still if we were, I would sooner give up

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[paragraph continues] “Sarapis” than “Osiris”; for though I think the former is a foreign one and the latter Greek, yet are they both [names] of One God and One Power.

LXIL 1. The Egyptian [names] also resemble these [Greek ones]. For they often call Isis by the name of Athena, which expresses some such meaning as “I have come from myself”—which is [again] indicative of self-motive course.

2. While “Typhon,” as has been said, 1 is called Sēth and Bebōn and Smu,—the names being intended to signify a certain forcible and preventative checking, opposition or reversing.

3. Moreover, they call the loadstone “Bone of Horus,” 2 and iron “[Bone] of Typhon,” as Manethōs relates; for just as iron often resembles that which is attracted to and follows after the loadstone, and often is turned away from it, and repelled to an opposite direction, so the saving and good and reason-possessing motion of the Cosmos both turns towards itself and makes more gentle by persuasion that harsh and typhonean [motion]; and then again after raising it into itself, it reverses it and plunges it into the infinitude.

4. Moreover, Eudoxus 3 says that the Egyptians tell a myth about Zeus that, as in consequence of his having his legs grown together, 4 he could not walk, for shame he lived in solitude; and so Isis, by cutting in two and separating these limbs of his body, made his going even-footed. 5

5. By those things, moreover, the myth enigmatically

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hints that the Mind and Reason (Logos) of God after it had progressed 1 in itself in the invisible and unmanifest, came forth into genesis by means of motion.


333:1 Timæus, 51 A.

334:1 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 10; Lact., iv. 6 (Frag. v.).

334:2 This shows that in one tradition Hermes and Osiris were identified.

334:3 Cf. xix. 4.

334:4 Sc. Horus.

334:5 The sequel I think shows that “and Osiris” is a gloss; but see xii. 8.

334:6 Cf. lxii.

334:7 These two paragraphs are, in my opinion, of the utmost value for the critical investigation of the sources of the famous Sophia mythus of Gnosticism. The imperfect birth (Abortion) of the Sophia (Wisdom, Nature, Isis), as the result of her effort to bring forth of herself, without her consort, or syzygy, while still in the Plērōma (Womb of Rhea), paves the way for the whole scheme of one of the main forms of Gnostic cosmology and subsequent soteriology, the Creator Logos and Saviour having to perfect the imperfect product of Nature. This is, I believe, the first time that the above passage of Plutarch has been brought into connection with the Sophia-mythus, and all previous translations with which I am acquainted accordingly make havoc of the meaning. See F. F. F., pp. 339 ff.; and for the Pauline use of the technical term “Abortion,” D. J. L., pp. 355 ff.; for “Balaam the Lame Man” (? a by-name for Jeschu-Horus), see ibid., p. 201. Reitzenstein (pp. 39, 40) quotes these two chapters, and adds some parallels from the Trismegistic literature.

335:1 Adopting the suggestion of Bernardakis—ὁ υἱὸς for αὐτός.

335:2 Or “defined,” ὡρισμένος—a play on ὧρος.

336:1 All this according to the Mathematici, presumably; the “eye” of Horus would rather signify “mentality.”

336:2 Timæus, 50 C.

336:3 There is a lacuna in the text.

336:4 Rep., 545 D ff. See also Adam (J.), The Nuptial Number of Plato: its Solution and Significance (London, 1891).

336:5 That is to say, that in Plutarch’s opinion Plato derived the idea originally from Egypt.

336:6 That is, 9 + 16 = 25.

337:1 “One” being reckoned neither odd nor even.

337:2 That is, divisible by itself and “one” only.

337:3 τετράγωνος ἀνὸ πλευρᾶς ἀρτίου τῆς δυάδος.

337:4 That is, the Egyptian alphabet consisted of 25 letters.

337:5 In the Ritual (chap. xvii. 30), the deceased is made to say: “I am the God Ȧmsu (or Min) in his coming forth; may his two plumes be set upon my head for me.” And in answer to the question: “Who, then, is this?”—the text goes on to say: “Ȧmsu is Horus, the avenger of his father, and his coming forth is his birth. The plumes upon his head are Isis and Nephthys when they go forth to set themselves there, even as his protectors, and they provide that which his head lacketh; or (as others say), they are the two exceeding great uraei which are upon the head of their father Tem, or (as others say), his two eyes are the two plumes which are upon his head.” (Budge, op. cit., ii. 258.)

337:6 Eg. Mut, the syzygy of Ȧmen. Mut means “Mother”; she was the World-mother. See Budge, op. cit., ii. 28 ff.

337:7 Cf. lxix. 4, “Athyr” probably meaning Hathor.

338:1 Theog., 116-122.

338:2 Symp., 203 B; Jowett, i. 573 ff.

338:3 ἀπόρον—a play on πόρος.

338:4 Cf. lviii. 6, last clause.

339:1 ἐκμαγεῖον. Cf. Plat., Tim., 50 C; Thæet., 191 C, 196 A.

339:2 τὸ σπέρμα τῆς γυναικός—lit., “the seed of the woman.”

339:3 Cf. lvii. 2.

340:1 That is, non-Greek—βαρβαρικόν. Cf. ii. 2.

340:2 The word-play being θεὸς—θεατὸς—θέον.

341:1 Cf. ii. 3 for the word-play, and also for ὁσία in the next paragraph.

341:2 They, however, probably called her something resembling Ȧst.

341:3 τὴν ὁσιάν—but Plutarch is mistaken, for in Cratylus, 401 C it is a question of οὐσιάν and ἐσιάν and not of ὁσιάν and ἰσίαν.

341:4 ἱεμένου, picking up the ἵεσθαι above in paragraph 2.

341:5 Cf. Crat., 415 D, where the word-play is ἀρετὴ and ἀει-ρειτὴ (ever-flowing).

341:6 Cf. Crat., 415 C—where the play is κακ-ία = κακῶς ἰὸν (ἰέναι)—badly going.

341:7 ἀπορ-ία—the word-play being ἀ (not) and πορ-εύεσθαι (going)—ibid., C, D.

341:8 “δειλία signifies that the soul is bound with a strong chain (δεσμὸς), for λίαν means strength, and therefore δειλία expresses the greatest and strongest bond of the soul” (ibid.). See Jowett, i. 359 f.

342:1 That is, things in Hades (the Invisible)—not Tartarus.

342:2 Horus was endowed with many characteristics of other gods. Thus with Ȧnpu or Anubis he becomes Ḥeru-em-Ȧnpu, i.e. Horus as Anubis, and is said to dwell in the “divine hall.” This is the Hermanubis of Plutarch. Cf. Budge, op. cit., i. 493.

342:3 “A cock to Æsculapius.”

342:4 Cf. xxix. 8.

342:5 γλώττας—a technical term for obsolete or foreign words that need explanation.

342:6 Cf. xxi. 2.

343:1 Cf. xli., xlix. (end).

343:2 Cf. the “bone of the sea-hawk” in Hipp., Philo., v. 9 and 17; and note to J., in “Myth of Man in the Mysteries,” p. 189.

343:3 Cf. xxx., lxix., et al.

343:4 The invisible serpent-form of the God.

343:5 Cf. Plat., Tim., 44 D and 45 A; and liv. 5 above concerning the birth of the Elder Horus.

344:1 Or “walked,” suggesting some idea of single motion in itself—the motion of “sameness,” symbolised by a serpent with its tail in its mouth. The serpent was one of the most favourite symbols of the Logos, and this perhaps accounts for the “legs grown together.”

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