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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 3

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 251



i. Contra Julianum, i. 30; Migne, col. 548 A. 2


(Cyril, after claiming that Pythagoras and Plato obtained their wisdom in Egypt from what, he professes, they had heard of Moses there, proceeds:)

And I think the Egyptian Hermes also should be considered worthy of mention and recollection—he who, they say, bears the title of Thrice-greatest because of the honour paid him by his contemporaries, and, as some think, in comparison with Hermes the fabled son of Zeus and Maia.

This Hermes of Egypt, then, although an initiator into mysteries, 3 and though he never ceased to cleave to the shrines of idols, is [nevertheless] found to have grasped the doctrines of Moses, if not with entire correctness, and beyond all cavil, yet still in part.

p. 252

For both [Hermes] himself has been benefitted [by Moses], and reminder of this [fact] has also been made in his own writings by [the editor] at Athens who put together the fifteen books entitled “Hermaïca.” [This editor] writes concerning him [Hermes] in the first book, putting the words into the mouth of one of the priests of the sacred rites:

“In order then that we may come to things of a like nature (?),—have you not heard that our Hermes divided the whole of Egypt into allotments and portions, measuring off the acres with the chain, 1 and cut canals for irrigation purposes, and made nomes, 2 and named the lands [comprised in them] after them, and established the interchange of contracts, and drew up a list of the risings of the stars, and [the proper times 3] to cut plants; and beyond all this he discovered and bequeathed to posterity numbers, and calculations, and geometry, and astronomy, and astrology, and music, and the whole of grammar?”

This Corpus of XV. Books is evidently the source of Cyril’s information, and he takes the above quotation from the Introduction, which purported to be written by an Egyptian priest (as is also the case in the treatise De Mysteriis, traditionally ascribed to Jamblichus), but which Cyril says was written at Athens, by presumably some Greek editor. 4

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ii. Ibid., i. 31; Migne col. 549 B.


Thrice-greatest Hermes says somewhat as follows:

(Cyril then quotes, with four slight verbal variants, the first four paragraphs of the passage excerpted by Stobæus, Ex. ii., and then proceeds without a break:)


If, then, there be an incorporeal eye, 1 let it go forth from body unto the Vision of the Beautiful; let it fly up and soar aloft, seeking to see not form, nor body, nor [even] types 2 [of things], but rather That which is the Maker of [all] these,—the Quiet and Serene, the Stable and the Changeless One, the Self, the All, the One, the Self of self, the Self in self, the Like to Self [alone], That which is neither like to other, nor [yet] unlike to self, and [yet] again Himself. 3

Though Cyril runs this passage on to the four paragraphs which in the Stobæan Extract are continued by three other paragraphs, I am quite persuaded that the Archbishop of Alexandria took the above from the same “Sermon to Tat” 4 as the Anthologist. 5

p. 254

iii. Ibid., i. 33; Migne, col. 552 D.


And Thrice-greatest Hermes thus delivers himself concerning God:


For that His Word (Logos) proceeding forth, 1—all-perfect as he was, and fecund, and creative in fecund Nature, falling on fecund 2 Water, made Water pregnant. 3


And the same again [declares]:


The Pyramid, then, is below [both] Nature and the Intellectual World. 4 For that it 5 hath above it ruling it the Creator-Word 6 of the Lord of all,—who, being the First Power after

p. 255

[paragraph continues] Him, [both] increate [and] infinite, leaned forth 1 from Him, and has his seat above, and rule o’er all that have been made through him. He is the First-born of the All-perfection, His perfect, fecund and true Son. 2


And again the same [Hermes], when one of the Temple-folk 3 in Egypt questions him and says:


But why, O most mighty Good Daimon, was he 4 called by this name 5 by the Lord of all?—replies:

Yea, have I told thee in what has gone before, but thou hast not perceived it.

The nature of His Intellectual Word (Logos) is a productive and creative Nature. This is as though it were His Power-of-giving-birth, 6 or [His] Nature, or [His] Mode of being, or call it

p. 256

what you will,—only remembering this: that He is Perfect in the Perfect, and from the Perfect makes, and creates, and makes to live, perfect good things.

Since, then, He hath this nature, rightly is He thus named. 1


And the same [Hermes], in the First Sermon of the “Expository [Sermons] to Tat,” 2 speaks thus about God:


The Word (Logos) of the Creator, O [my] son, transcends all sight; He [is] self-moved; He cannot be increased, nor [yet] diminished; Alone is He, and like unto Himself [Alone], equal, identical, perfect in His stability, perfect in order; for that He is the One, after the God alone beyond all knowing.

The first two Fragments (xi. and xii.) seem to be taken from the same sermon, the contents of which resembled the first part of the “Shepherd of Men” treatise; it has all the appearance of a discourse addressed to Tat, and probably came in “The Expository Sermons.”

p. 257

The third Fragment (xiii.) belongs to the more frankly Egyptian type, the Agathodaimon literature, in which Hermes, as the Good Spirit, figures as the teacher of the Mystery-god Osiris. 1

The last Fragment (xv.) is so similar in its phrasing to Fragment xi., already given by Cyril (i. 31), that I am strongly inclined to think the Archbishop took both from the same source. If so, we can reconstruct part of “The First Sermon of the Expository [Sermons] to Tat,” the beginning of which (see Lact., Ep., 4) is also given by Stobæus, Ex. ii., with the heading from “The [Book] to Tat,” while he heads other extracts “From the [pl.] to Tat.” 2

v. Ibid., ii. 35; Migne, col. 556 A.


And Hermes also says in the Third Sermon of those to Asclepius:


It is not possible such mysteries [as these] should be declared to those who are without initiation in the sacred rites. But ye, lend [me] your ears, [ears] of your mind!

There was One Intellectual Light alone,—nay, Light transcending Intellectual Light. He is for ever Mind of mind 3 who makes [that] Light to shine.

p. 258

There was no other; [naught] save the Oneness of Himself [alone]. For ever in Himself [alone], for ever doth He compass all in His own Mind,—His Light and Spirit. 1


And after some other things he says:


Without Him 2 [is] neither god, nor angel, nor daimon, nor any other being. For He is Lord of all, [their] Father, and [their] God, and Source, and Life, and Power, and Light, and Mind, and Spirit. For all things are in Him and for His sake. 3


And again, in the same Third Sermon of those to Asclepius, in reply to one who questions [him] concerning the Divine Spirit, the same [Hermes] says as follows:


Had there not been some Purpose 4 of the Lord of all, so that I should disclose this word

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[paragraph continues] (logos), ye would not have been filled with so great love 1 to question me about it. Now give ye ear unto the rest of the discourse (logos).

Of this same Spirit, of which I have already spoken many times, all things have need; for that it raises up all things, each in its own degree, and makes them live, and gives them nourishment, and [finally] removes them from its holy source, 2 aiding the spirit, 3 and for ever giving life to all, the [one] productive One.”


From the above statements of Cyril we learn that in addition to “The Expository Sermons to Tat,” he had also before him a collection of “Sermons to Asclepius”; of these there were at least three. Was “The Perfect Sermon” one of this collection? It may have been; for the style of it is cast in the same mould as that of these Fragments in Cyril.

Hermes, in the Third Sermon of Cyril’s collection, is addressing several hearers, for he uses the plural; so also in P. S. A., i. 2. Hermes addresses Asclepius, Tat, and Ammon.

In the Third Sermon, Hermes also says: “It is not possible such mysteries should be declared to those

p. 260

who are without initiation in the sacred rites”; in P. S. A., i. 2, Hermes declares: “It is a mark of an impious mind to publish to the knowledge of the crowd 1 a tractate 2 brimming o’er with the full grandeur of divinity.” The numinis majestas (grandeur of divinity) is precisely the same idea as the Spirit, the “Divine supremacy and power,” as Cyril says referring to Hermes.

Finally, in the Third Sermon, Hermes makes the striking remark that the Love (ἔρως) of the Gnosis which urges on the disciples, is inspired by the Providence or Foresight of God—that is, by His Spirit; P. S. A., i. 28, ends with the words: “To them, sunk in fit silence reverently, their souls and minds pendent on Hermes’ lips, thus Love (ἔρως) Divine 3 began to speak.”

The setting of the mode of exposition is then identical in the two Sermons, and we may thus very well refer them to the same collection.

v. Ibid., ii. 52; Migne, col. 580 B.


To this I will add what Thrice-greatest Hermes wrote “To his own Mind,”—for thus the Book is called.

(Cyril then quotes, with very slight verbal variants, the last question and answer in C. H., xi. (xii.) 22.)

In our Corpus the treatise is not written by Hermes to the Mind, but, on the contrary, it is cast in the mould of a revelation of “The Mind to Hermes,” and is so

p. 261

entitled. Cyril thus seems to have been mistaken. 1 It may, then, have been that in the copy which lay before the Church Father, the title read simply: “The Mind.”

vi. Ibid., ii. 55; Migne, col. 586 D. 2


But I will call to mind the words of Hermes the Thrice-greatest; in “The Asclepius” 3 he says:


Osiris said: How, then, O thou Thrice-greatest, [thou] Good Spirit, 4 did Earth in its entirety appear?

The Great Good Spirit made reply:

By gradual drying up, as I have said; and when the many Waters got commandment . . . 5 to go into themselves again, the Earth in its entirety appeared, muddy and shaking.

Then, when the Sun shone forth, and without ceasing burned and dried it up, the Earth stood compact in the Waters, with Water all around. 6

p. 262


Further, in yet another place [he writes]:


The Maker and the Lord of all thus spake: Let there be Earth, and let the Firmament appear 1!

And forthwith the beginning of the [whole] creation, Earth, was brought into existence. 2


So much about the Earth; as to the Sun, he again says as follows:


Then said Osiris: O thou Thrice-greatest, [thou] Good Spirit, whence came this mighty one?

Would’st thou, Osiris, that we tell to thee the generation of the Sun, whence he appeared?

He came from out the Foresight of the Lord of all; yea, the Sun’s birth proceedeth from

p. 263

the Lord of all, through His Creative Holy Word. 1


In like manner also in the “First Expository Sermon to Tat,” he says:


Straightway the Lord of all spake unto His own Holy and Intelligible—to His Creative Word (Logos): Let the Sun be!

And straightway with His word (logos), the Fire that hath its nature tending upward, 2—I mean pure [Fire], that which gives greatest light, has the most energy, and fecundates the most,—Nature embraced 3 with her own Spirit, and raised it up aloft out of the Water. 4

(After referring to Genesis i. 6: “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters,”—Cyril proceeds:)

vii. Ibid., ii. 57; Migne, col. 588 C.


Moreover the Hermes who is with them 5 Thrice-

p. 264

greatest mentions this [that is, the firmament] again. For he describes God as saying to His creations:


I will encompass you with this Necessity, you who are disobedient to me, 1 which hath been laid on you as a Command through My own Word (Logos); for him ye have as Law.

This quotation also is probably taken from the same source as the previous passage—that is, from the “First Expository Sermon to Tat.” The idea and setting, however, should also be compared with the parallel in the K. K. Excerpt (Stob., Phys., xli. 44; Gaisf., p. 408): “O Souls, Love and Necessity shall be your lords, they who are lords and marshals after me of all,”—where the “after me” (μετ᾽ ἐμέ) might perhaps confirm the “up to me” in the preceding note as the more correct rendering.

viii. Ibid., ii. 64; Migne, col. 598 D.


For Hermes, who is called Thrice-greatest, writes thus to Asclepius about the nature of the universe:

(Here follows with a few slight verbal variants the text of C. H., xiv. (xv.) 6, 7, beginning: “If, then, all things have been admitted to be two.”)

p. 265

And some lines after he proceeds in warmer language, setting forth a striking argument, and says:

(Then follows §§ 8, 9 of the same sermon, except the third sentence, and § 10 omitting the last sentence.) 1

The same treatise must have lain before Cyril as that contained in our Corpus in the form of a letter with the heading, “Unto Asclepius good health of soul!”—for the Archbishop says that Hermes “writes thus to Asclepius.” 2

ix. Ibid., iv. 130; Migne, col. 702.


(After quoting Porphyry as warning against participation in blood-rites for fear of contamination from evil daimons, Cyril proceeds:)

And their Thrice-greatest Hermes seems also to be of the same opinion; for he, too, writes as follows, in the [sermon] “To Asclepius,” concerning those unholy daimons against whom we ought to protect ourselves, and flee from them with all the speed we can:

“The sole protection—and this we must have—is piety. For neither evil daimon, yea nor Fate, can ever overcome or dominate a man who pious is, and pure, and holy. For God doth save the truly pious man from every ill.” 3

p. 266

x. Ibid., viii. 274; Migne, col. 920 D.


Moreover, their Thrice-greatest Hermes has said somewhere about God, the Supreme Artist 1 of all things:


Moreover, as perfectly wise He established Order and its opposite 2; in order that things intellectual, as being older and better, might have the government of things and the chief place, and that things sensible, as being second, might be subject to these.

Accordingly that which tends downward, and is heavier than the intellectual, has in itself the wise Creative Word (Logos). 3

xi. Ibid. (?).


(Chambers (p. 154) gives the following, “Cyrill. Contra Julian., citing Hermes” but without any reference, and I can find it nowhere in the text:)


If thou understandest that One and Sole God, thou wilt find nothing impossible; for It is all virtue.

p. 267

Think not that It may be in some one; say not that it is out of some one.

It is without termination; it is the termination of all.

Nothing contains It; for It contains all in Itself.

What difference is there then between the body and the Incorporeal, the created and the Uncreated; that which is subject to necessity, and what is Free; between the things terrestrial and things Celestial, the things corruptible and things Eternal?

Is it not that the One exists freely and that the others are subject to necessity?


251:1 The date of Cyril’s patriarchate is 412-444 A.D.

251:2 Migne (J. P.), Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Series Græca, tom. lxxvi. (Paris, 1859). S. P. N. Cyrilli . . . Pro Christiana Religione adversus Julianum Imperatorem Libri Decem. The text is also given R. 211, n. 1.

251:3 τελεστής.

252:1 “Acres,” lit. = areas 100 Egyptian cubits square; and “chain,” lit. = measuring cord.

252:2 Or provinces; Migne’s Latin translator gives this as “laws”!

252:3 Sc. of the moon.

252:4 ὑ συντεθεικὼς Ἀθήνησι,—a phrase which Chambers (p. 149) erroneously translates by “which he [Hermes] having composed for Athenians”! R. (p. 211, n. 1) thinks this redactor was some Neoplatonist.

253:1 Sc. the soul.

253:2 Sc. ideas.

253:3 Masc., not neut., as are all the preceding “self’s.” There is also throughout a play on “self” and “same” which is unreproducible in English.

253:4 That is, presumably, the “First Sermon of the Expository [Sermons] to Tat” (see Comment to the Stobæan Excerpt).

253:5 See also Fragg. xii., xiii., xv., xx., xxii., xxiii., xxiv. (?).

254:1 R. (p. 43) glosses this with “out of the month of God,” but I see no necessity for introducing this symbolism.

254:2 The adjective γόνιμος (“fecund”) is applied to both Logos and Physis (Nature); it might thus be varied as seedful and fruitful, or spermal and productive. Cf. Frag. xiii. Text reproduced R. 43.

254:3 Compare C. H., i. 8, 14, 15. This Fragment is also quoted, but plainly reproduced from Cyril, by Suidas (q.v.).

254:4 That is, the Logos.

254:5 Sc. the Pyramid, in physics the symbol of fire. See Frag. xxii.

254:6 δημιουργὸν λόγον. Compare Lact., D. I., iv. 6, 9.

255:1 προκύψασα—is, projected, presumably with the idea of emanation. Compare the hymn: “O Heavenly Word proceeding forth, Yet leaving not the Father’s side.” Compare the παρέκυψεν of C. H., i. 14, and note.

255:2 Compare C. H., i. 6, 9, 10; xiii. (xiv.) 3; xiv. (xv.) 3. For slightly revised text, see R. 243, n. 3. Reitzenstein thinks that the image which the writer had in his mind was the pyramid, or obelisk, with the sun-disk on the top.

255:3 τεμενιτῶν. The questioner was undoubtedly Osiris (see Frag. xix. below). Cyril then knows that “Osiris” was understood to stand for a grade of Egyptian priests. Cf. R. 131.

255:4 Presumably the Logos.

255:5 Presumably “Soul” (Psyche).

255:6 γένεσις.

256:1 This passage seems to refer to the identity of Soul and Logos. For revised text see R. 131, and the reference there to Plato, Cratylus, 400 B, where ψυχή, soul, is explained by the word-play φυσέχη, that is, that which has physis, or nature, or the power of production.

256:2 τῶν πρὸς τὸν Τὰτ διεξοδικῶν.

257:1 See Frag. xix. below, where Cyril (ii. 56) says that this type was found in the “Sermon to Asclepius,” that is, was put with the Asclepius-books in the collection which lay before him.

257:2 See also Fragg. xi., xii., xiii., xx., xxii., xxiii., xxiv. (?).

257:3 Cf. K. K., 16.

258:1 That is, Light and Life. See C. H., i. 9: “God, the Mind, . . . being Life and Light.”

258:2 Lit. outside of Him.

258:3 For a fuller statement of the idea in this paragraph, see C. H., ii. (iii.) 14. Cyril thinks that the above two Fragments refer to the Father, Son (Mind of mind and Light of light) and Holy Ghost (the Divine supremacy and power), and is thus the source of the statement in Suidas (s.v. “Hermes”) that Trismegistus spoke concerning the Trinity.

258:4 Or Providence, πρόνοια. R. (203, n. 2) refers this to a belief that only when some internal prompting gave permission to the master to expand the teaching, could he do so. Cf. Appul., Metam., xi. 21, 22; P. S. A., i.

259:1 ἔρως τοιοῦτος.

259:2 That is, presumably, causing their seeming death.

259:3 That is, the individual life-breath, unless the reading ἐπίκουρον πνεύματι is corrupt. The Latin translator in Migne goes hopelessly wrong, as, indeed, is frequently the case. Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 13, Comment; P. S. A., vi. 4; Exx. iv. 2, xv. 2, xix. 3.

260:1 That is, the uninitiated, the profanum vulgus.

260:2 Tractatus; presumably logos in the original Greek.

260:3 Cf. also P. S. A., xx. 2 and xxi. 1, 3.

261:1 Cf. R. 128, n. 1.

261:2 Texts of quotations reproduced in R. 127, n. 1.

261:3 From the quotations we can see that this could not have been the special heading of the treatise from which Cyril quotes, and which plainly belongs to the Agathodaimon type. Cyril probably means that the treatise, in his collection, came under the general title, “The Asclepius.”

261:4 Ἀγαθὸς δαίμων.

261:5 The reading is an untranslatable ἀπὸ τοῦ, where the lacuna is probably to be completed with “from the Lord of all.”

261:6 A distinction is evidently drawn between the (heavenly) Water and water (the companion element of earth). The text is immediately continued in Frag. xxi. below.

262:1 See C. H., i. 18, Commentary.

262:2 This seems to be taken not from a different place in the “To Asclepius,” but from another sermon, or group of sermons, most probably from the “First Expository Sermon to Tat”—as may be seen by comparing its phrasing with Frag. xxii. See also Fragg. xi., xii, xiii., xv., xxii., xxiii., xxiv. (?).

263:1 This is evidently an immediate continuation of Frag. xix. above. Cf. R. 126, n. 1, where the texts are reproduced.

263:2 See Frag. xiii. below, concerning the pyramid.

263:3 Embraced the Fire.

263:4 Sc. the Water-Earth, one element, not yet separated, according to C. H., i. 5. For other probable quotations from this “First Expository Sermon to Tat,” see Fragg. xi., xii., xiii., xv., xx., xxiii., xxiv. (?).

263:5 Sc. the philosophers.

264:1 τοῖς ἐπ᾽ ἐμε,—lit. “against me,” or it may perhaps be “up to me.” Migne’s Latin translator gives “qui in mea potestatis estis,” and Chambers (p. 153), “those from me”; neither of which can be correct.

265:1 Cyril also twice omits the words “ignorance and jealousy” after “arrogance and impotence” in 8, and also the words “and yet the other things” in 9.

265:2 Cf. Frag. iv., Comment.

265:3 Cf. P. S. A., xxix. 1. A comparison of this with Frag. iv., quoted by Lactantius (ii. 15), and the Commentary thereon, shows clearly that Cyril has strengthened the original text by interpolations. Cyril’s quotation (v. 176) from Julian, in which the Emperor refers to Hermes, is given under “Julian.”

266:1 ἀριστοτεχνοῦ,—an epithet applied by Pindar (Fr. 29) to Zeus.

266:2 ἀταξίαν.

266:3 This seems somewhat of a piece with the contents of the “First Expository Sermon to Tat.” See Fragg. xi., xii., xiii., xv , xx., xxii., xxiii.

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