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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


LXXII. 1. As for the [theory] that the Gods out of fear of Typhon changed themselves into these animals—as it were hiding themselves in the bodies of ibises and dogs and hawks—it beats any juggling or story-telling.

2. Also the [theory] that all the souls of the dead that persist, have their rebirth 2 into these [animals] only, is equally incredible.

3. And of those who would assign some reason connected with the art of government, some say that Osiris upon his great campaign, 3 divided his force into many divisions—(they call them companies and squadrons in Greek)—and gave them all ensigns of animal figures, and that each of these became sacred and venerated by the clan of those banded together under it.

4. Others [say] that the kings after [Osiris], in order

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to strike terror into their foes, used to appear dressed in wild beasts’ heads of gold and silver.

5. While others tell us that one of the clever and crafty kings, on learning that, though the Egyptians were fickle by nature and quick for change and innovation, they nevertheless possessed an invincible and unrestrainable might owing to their numbers when in agreement and co-operation, showed them and implanted into their minds an enduring superstition,—an occasion of unceasing disagreement.

6. For in as much as the beasts—some of which he enacted some [clans] should honour and venerate and others others—are hostile and inimical to one another, and as each one of them by nature likes different food from the others, each [clan] in protecting its own special [beasts] and growing angry at their being injured, was for ever unconsciously being drawn into the enmities of the beasts, and [so] brought into a state of warfare with the others.

7. For even unto this day the people of Wolf-town are the only Egyptians who eat sheep, because the wolf, whom they regard as god, [does so].

8. And the people of Oxyrhynchus-town, in our own day, when the folk of Dog-town ate the oxyrhynchus 1 fish, caught a dog and sacrificing it as a sacred victim, ate it; and going to war because of this, they handled one another roughly, and subsequently were roughly handled by the Romans in punishment. 2

LXXIII. 1. Again, as many say that the soul of Typhon himself was parted among these animals, the myths would seem enigmatically to hint that every irrational and brutal nature is born from a part of the

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[paragraph continues] Evil Daimon, and that to appease and soothe him they pay cult and service to them.

2. But if he fall upon them mighty and dire, bringing on them excessive droughts, or pestilent diseases, or other unlooked-for strange mischances, then the priests lead away at dark in silence quietly some of the venerated [beasts], and threaten and try to scare away the first [one] of them; if, however, it stops, they consecrate and sacrifice it, as though, I suppose, this were some kind of chastisement of the Daimon, or some specially great means of purification in the greater [emergencies].

3. For in the Goddess-of-child-bed-town 1 they used to burn living men to ashes, as Manethōs has told us, calling them Typhoneian; and the ashes they winnowed away and scattered. 2

4. This, however, was done publicly, and at one special time, in the Dog-days; whereas the consecratings of the venerated beasts, which are never spoken of and take place at irregular times, according to the emergencies, are unknown to the multitude, except when they have burials, and [the priests] bringing out some of the others, cast them in [to the grave with them] in the presence of all,—in the belief that they annoy Typhon in return and curtail what gives him pleasure. For only the Apis and a few other [animals] seem to be sacred to Osiris; while they assign the majority to him [Typhon].

5. And if he [Osiris] is really Reason (Logos), I think that the object of our enquiry is found in the case of these [animals] that are admitted to have common honours with him,—as, for instance, the ibis, and hawk, and dog-headed ape; [while] Apis himself [is his

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soul . . .], 1 for thus, you know, they call the goat at Mendes.

LXXIV. 1. There remain of course the utilitarian and symbolical [reasons], of which some have to do with one of the two [Gods], but most [of them] with both.

2. As for the ox and sheep and ichneumon, 2 it is clear they paid them honours on account of their usefulness and utility,—just as Lemnians crested larks which seek out and break the eggs of locusts, and Thessalians storks, because when their land produced multitudes of snakes, they came and destroyed them all—(wherefore they made a law that whoever killed a stork should be banished 3)—so with the asp and weasel and scarab, because they discerned in them certain faint likenesses of the power of the Gods, as it were [that] of the sun in water-drops.

3. For as to the weasel, many still think and say that as it is impregnated through the ear and brings forth by the mouth, it is a likeness of the birth of reason (logos). 4

4. Again [they say] the species of scarab has no female, but all, as males, discharge their seed into the stuff they have made into balls, 5 which they roll along by pushing, moving [themselves] in the opposite direction, just as the sun seems to turn the heaven round in the opposite direction, while it is [the heaven] itself that moves from west to east. 6

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5. And the asp, because it does not age, and moves without limbs with ease and pliancy, they likened to a star.

LXXV. 1. Nay, not even has the crocodile had honour paid it without some show of credible cause, for it alone is tongue-less. 1

For the Divine Reason (Logos) stands not in need of voice, and:

“Moving on a soundless path with justice guides [all] mortal things.” 2

2. And they say that it alone, when it is in the water, has its eyes covered by a smooth and transparent membrane that comes down from the upper lid, 3 so that they see without being seen,—an attribute of the First God. 4

3. And whenever the female lays her eggs on the land, it is known that this will be the limit of the Nile’s

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increase. For as they cannot lay in the water, and fear to do so far from it, they so accurately fore-feel what will be, that they make use of the rise of the river for laying their eggs and hatching them, and yet keep them dry and beyond the danger of being wetted.

4. And they lay sixty [eggs] and hatch them out in as many days, and the longest-lived of them live as many years,—which is the first of the measures for those who treat systematically of celestial [phenomena]. 1

5. Moreover, of those that have honours paid them for both [reasons] 2—of the dog, we have already treated above. 3

6. As for the ibis, while killing the death-dealing of the reptiles, 4 it was the first to teach them the use of medicinal evacuation, when they observed it being thus rinsed out and purged by itself. 5

7. While those of the priests who are most punctilious in their observances, in purifying themselves, take the water for cleansing from a place where the ibis has drunk; for it neither drinks unwholesome or poisoned 6 water, nor [even] goes near it.

8. Again, by the relative position of its legs to one another, and [of these] to its beak, it forms an equilateral triangle; and yet again, the variegation and admixture of its black with its white feathers suggest the gibbous moon. 7

9. Nor ought we to be surprised at Egyptians being so fond of meagre likenesses; for Greeks too in both their

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pictured and plastic resemblances of Gods use many such [vague indications].

10. For instance, in Crete there was a statue of Zeus which had no ears,—for it behoves the Ruler and Lord of all to listen to no one.

11. And Pheidias used the serpent in the [statue] of Athena, and the tortoise in that of Aphrodite at Elis,—because on the one hand virgins need protecting, and on the other because keeping-at-home and silence are becoming to married women.

12. Again, the trident of Poseidon is a symbol of the third region, which the sea occupies, assigned [to him] after the heaven and air. For which cause also they invented the names Amphi-trite and Trit-ons. 1

13. And the Pythagoreans have embellished both numbers and figures with appellations of Gods.

For they used to call the equilateral triangle Athena—Head-born and Third-born 2—because it is divided by three plumb-lines 3 drawn from the three angles.

14. And [they called] “one” Apollo, from privation of multitude, 4 and owing to the singleness 5 of the monad; and “two” Strife and Daring, and “three” Justice [or Rightness],—for as wronging and being wronged were according to deficiency and excess, rightness [or justice] was born to equality between them. 6

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15. And what is called the Tetraktys, the six-and-thirty, was [their] greatest oath (as has been said over and over again), and is called Cosmos,—which is produced by adding together the first four even and [the first] four odd [numbers]. 1

LXXVI. 1. If, then, the most approved of the philosophers, when they perceived in soulless and bodiless things a riddle of the Divine, did not think it right to neglect anything or treat it with disrespect, still more liking, I think, we should then have for the peculiarities in natures that are endowed with sense and possess soul and passion and character,—not paying honour to these, but through them to the Divine; so that since they are made by Nature into mirrors clearer [than any man can make], we should consider this as the instrument and art of God who ever orders all things.

2. And, generally, we should deem that nothing soulless is superior to a thing with soul, nor one without sense to one possessing it; not even if one should bring together into one spot all the gold and emeralds in the world.

3. For that which is Divine does not reside in colours or shapes or smoothnesses; nay, all things that either have no share or are not of a nature to share in life, have a lot of less value than that of dead bodies. 2

4. Whereas the Nature that lives and sees, and has its source of motion from itself, and knowledge of things that are its and those that are not, has

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appropriated both an “efflux of the Good,” 1 and a share of the Thinker “by whom the universe is steered,” as Heracleitus says. 2

5. For which cause the Divine is not less well pourtrayed in these [sc. animals] than by means of works of art in bronze and stone, which while equally susceptible of decay and mutilations, 3 are in their nature destitute of all feeling and understanding.

6. With regard to the honours paid to animals, then, I approve this view more highly than any other that has been mentioned.


353:2 παλιγγενεσίαν.

353:3 Sc. for civilising the world.

354:1 Lit., “sharp-snout.”

354:2 And such things occur “even to this day” in India under the British Rāj.

355:1 ἐν εἰλειθυίας πόλει.

355:2 Over the fields?

356:1 A lacuna occurs here which I have partially filled up, conjecturally, as above.

356:2 An Egyptian animal of the weasel kind which was said to hunt out crocodiles’ eggs; also called “Pharaoh’s rat.”

356:3 Cf. Arist., Mirab., xxiii.

356:4 Cf. xxii. 1—“Physiologus” again. For a criticism of this legend, see R. 43.

356:5 Cf. x. 9.

356:6 Budge (op. cit., ii. 379 f.) writes: “The beetle or scarabæus . . . belongs to the family called Scarabacidæ (Coprophagi), of which the Scarabæus sacer is the type. . . . A remarkable peculiarity exists in the structure and situation of the hind legs, which are placed so near the extremity of the body, and so far from each other as to give the insect a most extraordinary appearance when walking. This peculiar formation is, nevertheless, particularly serviceable to its possessors in rolling the balls of excrementitious matter in which they enclose their eggs. . . . These balls are at first irregular and soft, but, by degrees, and during the process of rolling along, become rounder and harder; they are propelled by means of the hind legs. Sometimes these balls are an inch and a half, or two inches in diameter, and in rolling this along the beetles stand almost upon their heads, with the heads turned from the balls.” The scarabæus was called kheprerȧ in Egyptian, and was the symbol of Kheperȧ the Great God of creation and resurrection; he was the “father of the gods,” and the creator of all things in heaven and earth, self-begotten and self-born; he was usually identified with the rising sun and new-birth generally.

357:1 “Physiologus” again, doubtless; it might, however, be said that its tongue is rudimentary.

357:2 Euripides, Tro., 887.

357:3 Lit., “brow.”

357:4 That is, the First-born Reason.

358:1 That is, presumably, either the 60 of the Chaldæans, or the 3 × 4 × 5 of the “most perfect” triangle of the Mathematici.

358:2 Namely, the utilitarian and symbolical; cf. lxxiv. 1.

358:3 Cf. xiv. 6.

358:4 Cf. Rawlinson’s Herodotus, ii. 124, 125.

358:5 There is a similar legend in India, I am told.

358:6 May also mean “bewitched.”

358:7 That is, the moon in its third quarter.

359:1 From τριτὸς, “third.”

359:2 κορυφαγεννῆ καὶ τριτογένειαν,—that is, Koryphagennēs and Tritogeneia.

359:3 τρισὶ καθέτοις,—a κάθετος (sc. γραμμή) is generally a perpendicular; but here the reference must be to this appended figure:

359:4 That is, presumably, ἀ-πόλλων, from ἀ (priv.) and πολλοὶ (many).

359:5 δι’ ἁπλότητα,—the play being apparently ἀ-πολ (πλο)-της.

359:6 Lit., in the midst.

360:1 The Tetraktys was ordinarily considered to be the sum of the first four numbers simply, that is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10; but here we have it given as 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16, and 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 = 20, and 16 + 20 = 36. The oath is said to have been: “Yea, by Him who did bestow upon our soul Tetraktys, Ever-flowing Nature, Source possessing roots”—the “roots” being the four elements.

360:2 Sc. which have at least been the vehicle of life.

361:1 Plat., Phædr., 251 B.

361:2 Mullach, i. 328.

361:3 Reading πηρώσεις.

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