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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

4. [X. M.] But now the question as to deathlessness or as to death must be discussed.

The expectation and the fear of death torture the multitude, who do not know True Reason.

Now death is brought about by dissolution of the body, wearied out with toil, and of the number, when complete, by which the body’s members are arranged into a single engine for the purposes of life. The body dies, when it no longer can support the life-powers 3 of a man.

This, then, is death,—the body’s dissolution, and the disappearance of corporeal sense. 4

As to this death anxiety is needless. But there’s another [death] which no man can

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escape, 1 but which the ignorance and unbelief of man think little of.

5. Asc. What is it, O Thrice-greatest one, that men know nothing of, or disbelieve that it can be?

Tris. So, lend thy ear, Asclepius!


1. When, [then,] the soul’s departure from the body shall take place,—then shall the judgment and the weighing of its merit pass into its highest daimon’s power. 2

And when he sees it pious is and just,—he suffers it to rest in spots appropriate to it.

But if he find it soiled with stains of evil deeds, and fouled with vice,—he drives it from Above into the Depths, and hands it o’er to warring hurricanes and vortices of Air, of Fire, and Water. 3

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2. ’Twixt Heaven and Earth, upon the waves of Cosmos, is it dragged in contrary directions, for ever racked with ceaseless pains 1; so that in this its deathless nature doth afflict the soul, in that because of its unceasing sense, it hath the yoke of ceaseless torture set upon its neck.

Know, then, that we should dread, and be

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afraid, and [ever] be upon our guard, lest we should be entangled in these [toils].

For those who do not now believe, will after their misdeeds be driven to believe, by facts not words, by actual sufferings of punishment and not by threats.

3. Asc. The faults of men are not, then, punished, O Thrice-greatest one, by law of man alone?

Tris. In the first place, Asclepius, all things on Earth must die.

Further, those things which live by reason of a body, and which do cease from living by reason of the same,—all these, according to the merits of this life, or its demerits, find due [rewards or] punishments.

[And as to punishments] they’re all the more severe, if in their life [their misdeeds] chance to have been hidden, till their death. 1 For [then] they will be made full conscious of all things by the divinity, just as they are, according to the shades of punishment allotted to their crimes.

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1. Asc. And these deserve [still] greater punishments, Thrice-greatest one?

Tris. [Assuredly;] for those condemned by laws of man do lose their life by violence, so that [all] men may see they have not yielded up their soul to pay the debt of nature, but have received the penalty of their deserts.

Upon the other hand, the righteous man finds his defence in serving God and deepest piety. For God doth guard such men from every ill. 1

2. Yea, He who is the Sire of all, [our] Lord, and who alone is all, doth love to show Himself to all.

It is not by the place where he may be, nor by the quality which he may have, nor by the greatness which he may possess, but by the mind’s intelligence alone, that He doth shed His light on man,—[on him] who shakes the clouds of Error from his soul, and sights the brilliancy of Truth, 2 mingling himself with the All-sense of the Divine Intelligence; through love 3 of which he wins his freedom from that part of him o’er which Death rules, and has the

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seed of the assurance of his future Deathlessness implanted in him.

3. This, then, is how the good will differ from the bad. Each several one will shine in piety, in sanctity, in prudence, in worship, and in service of [our] God, and see True Reason, as though [he looked at it] with [corporal] eyes; and each will by the confidence of his belief excel all other men, as by its light the Sun the other stars. 1

For that it is not so much by the greatness of his light as by his holiness and his divinity, the Sun himself lights up the other stars. 2

Yea, [my] Asclepius, thou should’st regard him as the second God, 3 ruling all things, and giving light to all things living in the Cosmos, whether ensouled or unensouled.

For if the Cosmos is a living thing, and if it has been, and it is, and will be ever-living,—naught in the Cosmos is subject to death.

For of an ever-living thing, it is [the same] of every part which is; [that is,] that ’tis [as ever-living] as it is [itself]; and in the World itself [which is] for everyone, and at the self-same time an ever-living thing of life,—in it there is no place for death. 4

5. And so he 5 should be the full store of

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life and deathlessness; if that it needs must be that he should live for ever.

And so the Sun, just as the Cosmos, lasts for aye. So is he, too, for ever ruler of [all] vital powers, or of [our] whole vitality; he is their ruler, or the one who gives them out.

God, then, is the eternal ruler of all living things, or vital functions, that are in the World. He is the everlasting giver-forth of Life itself. 1

Once for all [time] He hath bestowed Life on all vital powers; He further doth preserve them by a law that lasts for evermore, as I will [now] explain.


1. For in the very Life of the Eternity 2 is Cosmos moved; and in the very Everlastingness 3 of Life [itself] is Cosmic Space. 4

On which account it 5 shall not stop at any time, nor shall it be destroyed; for that its very self is palisaded 6 round about, and bound together as it were, by Living’s Sempiternity.

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Cosmos is [thus] Life-giver unto all that are in it, and is the Space of all that are in governance beneath the Sun.

The motion of the Cosmos in itself consisteth of a two-fold energy. ’Tis vivified itself from the without by the Eternity, 1 and vivifies all things that are within, making all different, by numbers and by times, fixed and appointed [for them].

2. Now Time’s distinguished on the Earth by quality of air, by variation of its heat and cold; in Heaven by the returnings of the stars to the same spots, the revolution of their course in Time.

And while the Cosmos is the home 2 of Time, 3 it is kept green [itself] by reason of Time’s course and motion.

Time, on the other hand, is kept by regulation. Order and Time effect renewal of all things which are in Cosmos by means of alternation.


360:3 Vitalia.

360:4 This passage is quoted in the original Greek by Stobæus, Florilegium, cxx. 27 (G. iii. 464; M. iv. 105, 106; Pat. 45, under title “Death”), under the heading “Of Hermes from the [Sermons] to Asclepius.” It runs as follows:

“Now must we speak of death. For death affrights the many as the greatest of all ills, in ignorance of fact. Death is the dissolution of the toiling frame. For when the ‘number’ of the body’s joints becomes complete,—the basis of the body’s jointing being number,—that body dies; [that is,] when it no longer can support the man. And this is death,—the body’s dissolution and the disappearance of corporeal sense.”

The directness and the sturdy vigour of the Greek original has clearly lost much in the rhetorical paraphrasing of the Latin translator.

361:1 Necessaria.

361:2 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 21.

361:3 The substance of these two sentences is contained in a “quotation” from the Greek by J. Laurentius Lydus, De Mensibus, iv. 149 (Wünsch, 167, 15): “According to the Egyptian Hermes who, in what is called ‘The Perfect Sermon,’ says as follows: ‘But such souls as transgress the norm of piety, when they do leave their body, are handed over to the daimones and carried downwards through the air, cast forth as from a sling into the zones of fire and hail, which poets call Pyriphlegethon and Tartarus.’” That this is a “quotation,” however, I doubt very much, for if we compare it with D. M., iv. 31 (W. 90, 24), which very faintly echoes the teaching of our chaps, iv., v., xxvii., we shall find that Tartarus and Pyriphlegethon are entirely due to Laurentius himself. The passage runs as follows:

“For the Egyptian Hermes, in his Sermon called Perfect, says that the Avenging of the daimones, being present in matter itself, chastise the human part [of us] according as it has deserved; while the Purifying ones confined to the air purify the souls after death that are trying to soar aloft, [conducting them] round the haily and fiery zones of the air, which the poets and Plato himself in the Phædo call Tartarus and Pyriphlegethon; while the Saving ones again, stationed in the lunar space, save the souls.” Cf. Ex. ix. 6.

362:1 Ménard here quotes a couple of lines from Empedocles (c. 494-434 B.C.), cited by Plutarch, but without giving any reference. They are from the famous passage beginning ἔστιν ἀνάγκης χρῆμα κ.τ.λ. (369-382), of which the following is Fairbanks’ translation. See Fairbanks (A.), The First Philosophers of Greece (London, 1898), p. 205:

“There is an utterance of Necessity, an ancient decree of the Gods, eternal, sealed fast with broad oaths: Whenever any one defiles his body sinfully with bloody gore or perjures himself in regard to wrongdoing,—one of those spirits who are heir to long life (δαίμων οἵτε μακραίωνες λελάχασι βιοῖο),—thrice ten thousand seasons shall he wander apart from the blessed, being born meanwhile in all sorts of mortal forms (φυόμενον παντοῖα διὰ χρόνου εἴδεα θνητῶν) changing one bitter path of life for another. For mighty Air pursues him Seaward, and Sea spews him forth on the threshold of Earth, and Earth casts him into the rays of the unwearied Sun, and Sun into the eddies of Air: one receives him from the other, and all hate him. One of these now am I too, a fugitive from the gods and a wanderer, at the mercy of raging Strife.”

363:1 Cf. the Vision of Thespesius (Aridæus) in Plutarch, De Sera Numinis Vindicta: “Thus he had to see that the shades of notorious criminals who had been punished in earth-life were not so hardly dealt with . . . ; whereas those who had passed their lives in undetected vice, under cloak and show of virtue, were hemmed in by the retributory agents, and forced with labour and pain to turn their souls inside out.”

364:1 Compare the Fragment quoted in Greek by Lactantius, D. I., ii. 15, and by Cyril, C. J., iv. 130.

364:2 Cf. xiii. (xiv.) 7-9, Comment.

364:3 Cf. xii. 3 above.

365:1 Astris.

365:2 Stellas.

365:3 Cf. C. H., xvi. 5. ff.

365:4 The text of this paragraph is very corrupt.

365:5 That is, the Sun.

366:1 See Comment on C. H., xvi. 17.

366:2 Æternitatis, doubtless αἰῶνος in the original Greek,—that is, the Æon; cf. x. 2 above. For the general Æon-doctrine, see chap, xi. in the Prolegomena, and xxxii. 1 below.

366:3 Æternitate; Æon again.

366:4 Lit. the Space of Cosmos; cf. xv. 1 above.

366:5 Sc. Cosmos.

366:6 Circumvallatus et quasi constrictus. Compare with this the idea of the Horos or Boundary in the æonology of “Them of Valentinus,” as set forth by Hippolytus (Philosophumena, vi. 31):

“Moreover that the formlessness of the Abortion should finally never again make itself visible to the perfect Æons, the Father Himself also sent forth the additional emanation of a single Æon, the Cross [or Stock, τὸν σταυρόν], which being created great, as [the creature] of the great and perfect Father, and emanated to be the Guard and Wall of protection [lit. Paling or Stockade—χαράκωμα, the Roman vallum] of the Æons, constitutes the Boundary (ὅρος) of the Plērōma, holding the thirty Æons together within itself. For these [thirty] are they which form the divine creation.” See F. F. F., p. 342.

367:1 That is, the Æon.

367:2 Receptaculum.

367:3 Cf. C. H., xi. (xii.) 2.

Next: Part XI