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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 3

by G.R.S. Mead

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References and Fragments in the Philosophers

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p. 273




(Zosimus flourished somewhere at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century A.D. He was a member of what Reitzenstein (p. 9) calls the Poimandres-Gemeinde, and, in writing to a certain Theosebeia, a fellow-believer in the Wisdom-tradition, though not as yet initiated into its spiritual mysteries, he urges her to hasten to Poimandres and baptize herself in the Cup. 1 The following quotation is of first importance for the understanding of the Anthrōpos-Doctrine or Myth of Man in the Mysteries.

In one of the Books of his great work distinguished by the letter Omega, and dedicated to Oceanus as the “Genesis and Seed of all the Gods,”—speaking of the uninitiated, those still beneath the sway of the Heimarmenē or Fate, who cannot understand his revelations,—he writes 2:)


1. Such men [our] Hermes, in his “Concerning Nature,” hath called mind-less,—naught but “processions” 3 of

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[paragraph continues] Fate,—in that they have no notion 1 of aught of things incorporal, or even of Fate herself who justly leads them, but they blaspheme her corporal schoolings, and have no notion of aught else but of her favours.


2. But Hermes and Zoroaster have said the Race of Wisdom-lovers is superior to Fate, by their neither rejoicing in her favours,—for they have mastered pleasures,—not by their being struck down by her ills,—for ever living at the “Inner Door,” 2 and not receiving 3 from her her fair gift, in that they look unto the termination of [her] ills. 4

3. On which account, too, Hesiod doth introduce Prometheus counselling Epimetheus, and doth tell him 5 not to take the Gift 6 from Zeus who rules Olympus, but send it back again,—[thus] teaching his own brother through philosophy 7 to return the Gifts of Zeus,—that is, of Fate.

4. But Zoroaster, boasting in knowledge of all things Above, and in the magic of embodied speech, 8

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professes that all ills of Fate,—both special [ills] and general [ones],—are [thus] averted.


5. Hermes, however, in his “About the Inner Door,” doth deprecate [this] magic even, declaring that:

The spiritual man, [the man] who knows himself, 1 should not accomplish any thing by means of magic, e’en though he think it a good thing, nor should he force Necessity, but suffer [her to take her course], according to her nature and decree 2; [he should] progress by seeking only, through the knowledge of himself and God, to gain the Trinity 3 that none can name, and let Fate do whate’er she will to her own clay—that is, the body.


6. And being so minded (he says), and so ordering his life, he shall behold the Son of God becoming all things for holy souls, that he may draw her 4 forth from out the region of the Fate into the Incorporeal [Man].

7. For having power in all, He becometh all things, whatsoever He will, 5 and, in obedience to the Father[’s nod], through the whole Body doth He penetrate, and, pouring forth His Light into the mind of every [soul], He starts it 6

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back unto the Blessed Region, 1 where it was before it had become corporal,—following after Him, yearning and led by Him unto the Light.


8. And [there] shall it see the Picture 2 that both Bitos hath described, and thrice-great Plato, and ten-thousand-times-great Hermes, for Thōythos translated 3 it into the first sacred 4 tongue,—Thōth the First Man, the Interpreter of all things which exist, and the Name-maker 5 for all embodied things. 6

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9. The Chaldæans and Parthians and Medes and Hebrews call Him 1 Adam, which is by interpretation virgin Earth, and blood-red 2 Earth, and fiery 3 Earth, and fleshly Earth.

10. And these indications were found in the book-collections 4 of the Ptolemies, which they stored away in every temple, and especially in the Serapeum, when they invited Asenas, the chief priest of Jerusalem, to send a “Hermes,” 5 who translated the whole of the Hebrew into Greek and Egyptian. 6

11. So the First Man is called by us Thōyth and by them Adam,—not giving His [true] name in the Language of the Angels, but naming Him symbolically according to His Body by the four elements [or letters] out of His whole Sphere, 7 whereas his Inner Man, the

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spiritual, has [also] both an authentic name and one for common use. 1


12. His authentic [name], however, I know not, owing to the so long [lapse of time 2]; for Nikotheos 3 who-is-not-to-be-found alone doth know these things.

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But that for common use is Man (Phōs), 1 from which it follows that men are called phōtas.


13. 2 “When Light-Man (Phōs) was in Paradise, exspiring 3 under the [presence of] Fate, they 4 persuaded Him to clothe himself in the Adam they had made, the [Adam] of Fate, him of the four elements,—as though [they said] being free from [her 5] ills and free from their 6 activities.

“And He, on account of this ‘freedom from ills’ did

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not refuse; but they boasted as though He had been brought into servitude [to them].” 1

14. For Hesiod said that the outer man was the “bond” 2 by which Zeus bound Prometheus.

Subsequently, in addition to this bond, he sends him another, Pandōra, 3 whom the Hebrews call Eve.

For Prometheus and Epimetheus 4 are one Man, according to the system of allegory,—that is, Soul and Body.


And at one time He 5 bears the likeness of soul, at another of mind, at another of flesh, owing to the imperfect attention which Epimetheus paid to the counsel of Prometheus, his own mind. 6

15. For our Mind 7 saith:


For that the Son of God having power in all things, becoming all things that he willeth, appeareth as he willeth to each. 8

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16. Yea, unto the consummation of the cosmos will He come secretly,—nay, openly associating with His own,—counselling them secretly, yea through their minds, to settle their account with their Adam, the blind accuser, 1 in rivalry with the spiritual man of light. 2


17. And these things come to pass until the Counterfeit Daimon 3 come, in rivalry with themselves, and wishing to lead them into error, declaring that he is Son of God, being formless in both soul and body.

But they, becoming wiser from contemplation of

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[paragraph continues] Him who is truly Son of God, give unto him 1 his own Adam for death, 2 rescuing their own light spirits for [return to] their own regions where they were even before the cosmos [existed]. 3 . . .

18. And [it is] the Hebrews alone and the Sacred Books of Hermes [which tell us] these things about the man of light and his Guide the Son of God, and about the earthy Adam and his Guide, the Counterfeit, who doth blasphemously call himself Son of God, for leading men astray. 4

19. But the Greeks call the earthy Adam Epimetheus, who is counselled by his own mind, that is, his brother, not to receive the gifts of Zeus. Nevertheless being both deceived 5 and repenting, 6 and seeking the Blessed Land. . . . 7

But Prometheus, that is the mind, interprets all things and gives good counsel in all things to them who have understanding and hearing. But they who have only fleshly hearing are “processions of Fate.”

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To the foregoing we may append a version of Zosimus’ advice 1 to the lady Theosebeia, to which we have already referred, as offering an instructive counterpart to C. H., xiii. (xiv.). After a sally against the “false prophets,” through whom the daimones energize, not only requiring their offerings but also ruining their souls, Zosimus continues:

“But be not thou, O lady, [thus] distracted, as, too, I bade thee in the actualizing [rites], and do not turn thyself about this way and that in seeking after God; but in thy house be still, and God shall come to thee, He who is everywhere and not in some wee spot as are daimonian things.

“And having stilled thyself in body, still thou thyself in passions too—desire, [and] pleasure, rage [and] grief, and the twelve fates 2 of Death.

“And thus set straight and upright, call thou unto thyself Divinity; and truly shall He come, He who is everywhere and [yet] nowhere.

“And [then], without invoking them, perform the sacred rites unto the daimones,—not such as offer things to them and soothe and nourish them, but such as turn them from thee and destroy their power, which Mambres 3 taught to Solomon, King of Jerusalem, and all that Solomon himself wrote down from his own wisdom.

“And if thou shalt effectively perform these rites,

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thou shalt obtain the physical conditions of pure birth. And so continue till thou perfect thy soul completely.

“And when thou knowest surely that thou art perfected in thyself, then spurn . . . from thee 1 the natural things of matter, and make for harbour in Pœmandres’ 2 arms, and having dowsed thyself within His Cup, 3 return again unto thy own [true] race.” 4

This was how Zosimus understood the teaching of the Trismegistic tradition, for he had experienced it.


273:1 Op. sub. cit., p. 245.

273:2 Berthelot, Les Alchimistes grecs, pp. 229 ff. For a revised text, see R. pp. 102-106.

273:3 πομπάς,—processions, shows, or pageants. Cf. C. H., iv. (v.) 7: “Just as processions pass by in the middle of the way without being able to do anything but take the road from others, so do such men move in procession through the world led by their bodies’ pleasures.”

274:1 Or “in that they display naught”—φανταζομένους.

274:2 Codd. ἐναυλία. R. reads ἐν ἐναυλίᾳ, which is supported by the title of the Trismegistic treatise mentioned in the next paragraph but one. I feel almost tempted to propose to read ἐν ἀϋλίᾳ—(fr. ἄϋλος—“immaterial,” the being in a state free from ὕλη or “matter”), and so to translate it “for ever living in the immaterial.”

274:3 Codd. καταδεχόμενοι. R. reads καταδέχεσθαι. I suggest καταδεχομένους.

274:4 Codd. κακῶν, which I prefer to R.’s κακόν.

274:5 Op. et. Dies, 86.

274:6 Sc. Pandōra; cf. §§ 14 and 19 below.

274:7 Or wisdom-loving.

274:8 Presumably what the Vaidic theurgist would call mantravidyā.

275:1 Cf. C. H., i. 21.

275:2 Or decision or judgment.

275:3 τριάδα.

275:4 Sc. the soul.

275:5 Cf. § 15 below. Zosimus is apparently condensing from the original.

275:6 Sc. the soul or mind.

276:1 Cf. S., § 9 in the Naassene Document.

276:2 πίνακα—or tablet.

276:3 Lit. translates.

276:4 Priestly or hieratic. With this compare Syncellus’ (Chron., xl.) quotation, from Manetho’s Sothis, which declares that the first monuments recording the wisdom-mystery of most ancient Egypt “were engraved in the sacred language by Thōth, the first Hermes; after the Flood they were translated from the sacred language into the common tongue.” Cf. vol. i., ch. v., on “Hermes according to Manetho.”

276:5 ὀνοματοποιός,—referring specially to the making of names or words corresponding to natural cries and sounds. Compare the Adam of Genesis.

276:6 Cf. Plato, Philebus, 18 B: “Some god, or rather some godlike man, who in Egypt their tradition says was Theuth, observing that sound was infinite, first distinguished in this infinity a certain number of pure sounds [or vowels], and then other letters [or sound elements] which have sound, but are not pure sounds [the semi-vowels]; these two exist [each] in a definite number; and lastly he distinguished a third class of letters, which we now call mutes; and divided these, and likewise the two other classes of vowels and semi-vowels, into their individual elements, and told the number of them, and gave to each and all of them the names of letters.” (Cf. Jowett’s Trans., 3rd ed., iv. 583, 584.)

According to the number-system of the Gnostic Marcus, there are: seven vowels, eight semi-vowels, and nine mutes (F. F. F., p. 368). It is also of interest to notice that these elements of sound are applied to what Marcus calls the “Configuration of the Element”—? Sound—(τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ στοιχείου); they constitute the Glyph (or Character, or Impression, or Expression) of the Figure (or Diagram) of the Man of Truth. In the phrase “Glyph of the Figure” (ὁ χαρακτὴρ τοῦ γράμματος), the word γράμμα means either (i) a letter of the alphabet, or (ii) a note of music, or (iii) a mathematical figure or diagram (ibid., p. 367). Is there then any connection between the Pinax of Bitos and the Diagram of the Ophites referred to by Celsus?

277:1 Sc. the First Man.

277:2 Or of the nature of blood.

277:3 Codd. πυρὰ—? πυρία.

277:4 Or libraries.

277:5 That is, a learned priest or scribe.

277:6 Much translation of this kind was done at that period. Compare the Arabic translation of a “Book of Ostanes” (Berthelot, La Chimie au Moyen Age, iii. 121), in which an old inscription on an Egyptian stēlē is quoted: “Have you not heard the story that a certain philosopher [i.e. Egyptian priest] wrote to the Magi in Persia, saying: ‘I have found a copy of a book of the ancient sages; but as the book is written in Persian, I cannot read it. Send me then one of your wise men who can read for me the book I have found’?” R. 363.

277:7 Presumably referring to the whole Body of the Heavenly Man, to whose Limbs all the letters were assigned by Marcus.

278:1 προσηγορικόν,—this signifies generally the prœnomen as opposed to the nomen proper.

278:2 διὰ τὸ τέως,—lit. “because of the so long”; otherwise I cannot translate the phrase. This would, then, presumably refer to the length of time since the physical tradition of the ancient Thōyth initiates had disappeared; or the length of time the soul of Zosimus had been revolving in Genesis.

278:3 Lit. God-victor,—symbolizing the victory of the Inner God, or of a man who had raised himself to the status of a god. For Nikotheos, see the Gnostic “Untitled Apocalypse” of the Codex Brucianus (C. Schmidt, Gnos. Schrift. in kop. Sprach. aus d. C. B., p. 285), p. 12a: “Nikotheos hath spoken of Him [namely, the Alone-begotten,—see ibid., p. 601], and seen Him; for he is one [sc. of those who have seen Him face to face]. He [N.] said: ‘The Father exists exalted above all the perfect.’ He [N.] hath revealed the Invisible and the perfect Triple-power.”

In the Life of Plotinus, by Porphyry (c. xiv.), among the list of “Gnostics” against whose views on Matter the great coryphæus of Later Platonism wrote one of the books of his Enneads (II. ix.), there is mention of Nikotheos in close connection with Zoroaster and others (S. 603 ff.). If we now turn to Schmidt’s Plotins Stellung zum Gnosticismus und kirchlichen Christentum (Leipzig, 1900), in which he has examined at length the matter of the treatise of Plotinus and the passage of Porphyry, we find him returning to the consideration of Nikotheos (pp. 58 ff.). Schmidt (p. 61) takes the “hidden Nikotheos” for a “heavenly being,” indeed as identical with the Alone-begotten, and as, therefore, the revealer of Himself. This Alone-begotten is the “Light-Darkness” of p. 13a of the “Untitled Apocalypse” of C. B. In other words, Nikotheos seems to be a synonym of the Triumphant Christos. See R. Liechtenhan, Die Offenbarung in Gnosticismus (Gottingen, 1901), p. 31. So far for the inner meaning; but is there possibly an outer one? As there was an apocalypse, for the words of Nikotheos are quoted, there was a seer, a prophet, a Christos, who had seen and handed on. It is somewhat remarkable that one of the by-names given to Jesus (Jeschu) by Rabbinical theological controversy was Balaam (Bileam), meaning “Destroyer of the people.” Is there, then, any connection between Niko-theos on the one hand and Niko-laos (the Greek equivalent of Balaam) on the other? There are, at any rate, many other parallels in the Talmud Jeschu-Stories of names of dishonour on the Rabbinical side equating with names of exalted honour on the Gnostic and Christian side. If so—dare we ask the question?—have we in the logos of Nikotheos a fragment from an “Apocalypse of Jesus”?

Nay, may not Balaam-Niko-laos,—to take a lesson from the mystic word-play of the time,—“allegorically” have symbolized on the one hand the “victory of the many” (λαός), and on the other the “Victor of the many,” for “people” in Philo signifies the “many” as opposed to the “one’’ “race” (γένος) which sums up all His “limbs” in the Christ?

279:1 φὼς,—according to the accenting of R., but φῶς would mean “Light.”

279:2 This is evidently a quotation.

279:3 Reading διαπνεόμενος with the Codd., and not διαπνεομένῳ with R. This means “exhaling his light.” In the Egypto-Gnostic tradition underlying the Pistis Sophia, it is the function of the Rulers of the Fate to “squeeze out” the light from the souls and to devour it, or absorb it into themselves.

279:4 The Rulers of the Fate.

279:5 Sc. Fate’s.

279:6 Sc. the Seven Rulers or Energies of the Fate-sphere,—ἀνενέργητον.

280:1 This is evidently a quotation from a Greek translation of one of the Books of the Chaldæans (§§ 9, 10) in the Serapeum. It seems to me to be a “source” on which both the Hebrew and non-Hebrew Hellenists commentated in Alexandria. Thus both the commentator in S. and J. in the Naassene Document and the Pœmandrists of the period would use it in common.

280:2 Theog., 614.

280:3 Cf. §§ 3 and 19.

280:4 That is, Fore-thought and After-thought.

280:5 Sc. Man.

280:6 I am almost persuaded that § 14 is also a quotation or summary and not the simple exegesis of Zosimus; the original being from the pen of some non-Hebrew Hellenistic allegorizer.

280:7 That is, Pœmandrēs, the Shepherd of men.

280:8 Cf. § 7 above; evidently a quotation from the “Inner Door.” Compare also the logos quoted by S. (§ 8) in the Naassene Document from some Hellenistic scripture: “I become what I will, and am what I am.” Do Hermes and S. then both depend on the same scripture, in the form of an apocalypse; that is, does Hermes in his “expository sermon” depend on the direct teaching of the Mind to himself, which would be instruction in the first person?

281:1 τυφληγοροῦντος. The lexicons do not contain the word. It is probably a play on κατηγοροῦντος. Cf. note on “blind from birth” of C. in the Conclusion of Hippolytus in “Myth of Man” (vol. i. p. 189).

281:2 That is, presumably, though in one aspect only, the soul that sees in the Light as opposed to the blind body. This passage reflects the same thought-atmosphere as that which surrounds the saying underlying Matt. v. 25 (= Lk. xii. 57-59): “Agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen, I say unto thee, thou shalt not come forth thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” The third Evangelist, instead of the vague “agree,” preserves the technical terms ἀπηλλάχθαι, used of the discharge of a debt (cf. the technical καταλλαγὴν ἔχειν of our text), and πράκτωρ, an officer charged with the collection of taxes and debts. This Saying was interpreted by the Gnostics as having reference to the reincarnation of the soul into another body in order to discharge its kārmic debts.

281:3 ὁ ἀντίμιμος δαίμων. The term “counterfeit spirit” (ἀντίμιμον πνεῦμα) occurs frequently in the Pistis Sophia.

282:1 The Counterfeit Daimon.

282:2 Or execution.

282:3 The two last paragraphs are apparently also quoted or summarized from a Hellenistic commentary on a Book of the Hebrews, translated into Greek, and found in the libraries of the Ptolemies. It is remarkable that the contents of this book are precisely similar not only to the contents of the Books from which J. quotes in the Naassene Document, but also to the ideas about the Chaldæans which the commentator of S. sets forth.

282:4 If we can rely on this statement of Zosimus, this proves that there was a developed Anthrōpos-doctrine also in the Trismegistic Books, as apart from the Chaldæan Books,—that is, that the Pœmandrists did not take it from the Chaldæan Books, but had it from their own immediate line of tradition, namely, the Egyptian.

282:5 Cf. 13 above.

282:6 Lit. changing his mind.

282:7 A lacuna occurs in the text. We could almost persuade ourselves that Zosimus had the text of S. and even the source of J. before him. For “Blessed Land,” cf. § 7 above.

283:1 Berth., p. 244; for a revised text see R. 214, n. 1.

283:2 The twelve tormenting or avenging daimones of C. H., xiii. (xiv.).

283:3 The famous Egyptian Theurgist and Magician who is fabled to have contended with Moses; while others say he was the instructor of Moses.

284:1 The soul having now found itself wings and become the winged globe.

284:2 ἐπὶ τὸν Ποιμένανδρα (sic).

284:3 Cf. C. H., iv. (v.) 4.

284:4 Cf. C. H., i. 26, 29.

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