Fabricius, in his Bibliotheca Græca, 2 says that the title should be “On the Nature of the All,” and that he has recovered it from Cyril, C. Jul., ii., but I cannot verify this statement.
The form of this treatise is different from any of the
preceding, being that of a letter. It evidently belongs to the Asclepius-Tat type of tradition, as in C. H., x. (xi.): “My yesterdays discourse I did devote to thee, Asclepius, and so tis only right I should devote to-days to Tat.”
The distinction drawn between Tat and Asclepius is of interest; Tat is the younger,—who has only “just come to Gnosis of the teaching on each single point.” Can this mean that he has only just been permitted to share in the “Expository Sermons” or “Detailed Discourses”? It is probable, for C. H., x. (xi.) 1, continues: “And this the more because tis the abridgment (epitome) of the General Sermons which he has had addressed to him.”
Asclepius is older, and already ἐπιστήμων τῆς φύσεως—well-versed in the study of Nature.
What may be the exact significance underlying these personifications it is very difficult to say; but the same facts, whatever they may have been, are clearly referred to in K K. (Stob., Ecl., i. 49; p. 386, 24 W.); especially the later accession of “Asclepius” to the School, and the fact that “Tat,” because of his too great “youth,” could not have handed on to him the tradition of the complete or all-perfect contemplation (ὁλοτελὴς θεωρία)—that is, of the mathēsis or gnōsis, or, in other words, the “learning of the things that are, the contemplating of their nature and the knowing God” (C. H., i. 3); or the “being taught the nature of the all and the Supreme Vision” (ibid., 27).
This view of the tradition of the School seems to clash entirely with the other view set forth in C. H., xiii. (xiv.), where Tat has handed on to him the “manner of Rebirth,” but a probable explanation has already been attempted in the “Prolegomena,” chap, xvi.: “The Disciples of Thrice-greatest Hermes.”
The treatise itself requires little commentary; the similarity of its doctrine, however, with that of the “Mind unto Hermes” is remarkable. For instance, compare the last sentence of § 7 of our treatise with C. H., xi. (xii.) 14: “For that indeed He hath no other one to share in what He works, for working by Himself, He ever is at work, Himself being what He doth.”
Compare also the first sentence of § 8 with C. H., xi. (xii.) 20: “Behold what power, what swiftness thou dost have! And canst thou do all of these things, and God not do them?”
With the Good Husbandman “image” (§ 10) compare:
“Come unto me, Good Husbandman, Good Daimon, Harpocrates, Chnouphis . . . who rollest down the stream of Nilus, 1 and minglest with the Sea . . . as man with woman.” 2
And in the Alchemical literature:
“[Come then], and coming contemplate, enquire of Acharantus (?), the Husbandman, and learn of Him, what is it that is sown, and what that which is reaped; and thou shalt learn that he who soweth corn shall reap corn also, and he who soweth barley shall in like manner reap barley.” 3
So also Zosimus in the “Book Concerning the Logos”:
“And that I tell thee truth, I call to witness Hermes, when he says: Go unto Achaab (?), the Husbandman, and thou shalt learn that he who soweth corn gives birth to corn.” 4
263:2 Ed. Harles (4th ed.), vol. i. lib. i. cap. vii.
265:1 The Heavenly River of fructifying essence.
265:2 Abhandl. d. Berl. Akad. (1865), p. 120, 26; R. 143.
265:3 Berthelot, p. 30.
265:4 Berthelot, p. 89.