Hermes Trismegistus is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism.

Hermes Trismegistus may be associated with the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

Greeks in the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt recognized the equivalence of Hermes and Thoth through the interpretatio graeca.

Consequently, the two gods were worshiped as one, in what had been the Temple of Thoth in Khemenu, which was known in the Hellenistic period as Hermopolis.

Hermes, the Greek god of interpretive communication, was combined with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, to become the patron of astrology and alchemy.

In addition, both gods were psychopomps, guiding souls to the afterlife. The Egyptian priest and polymath Imhotep had been deified long after his death and therefore assimilated to Thoth in the classical and Hellenistic periods

The renowned scribe Amenhotep and a wise man named Teôs were coequal deities of wisdom, science, and medicine; and, thus, they were placed alongside Imhotep in shrines dedicated to Thoth–Hermes during the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

A Mycenaean Greek reference to a deity or semi-deity called ti-ri-se-ro-e was found on two Linear B clay tablets at Pylos and could be connected to the later epithet “thrice great“, Trismegistos, applied to Hermes/Thoth.

On the aforementioned PY Tn 316 tablet—as well as other Linear B tablets found in Pylos, Knossos, and Thebes—there appears the name of the deity “Hermes” as e-ma-ha, but not in any apparent connection with the “Trisheros“.

This interpretation of the poorly understood Mycenaean material is disputed since Hermes Trismegistus is not referenced in any of the copious sources before he emerges in Hellenistic Egypt.

Cicero enumerates several deities referred to as “Hermes”

A “fourth Mercury (Hermes) was the son of the Nile, whose name may not be spoken by the Egyptians“; and “the fifth, who is worshiped by the people of Pheneus, is said to have killed Argus Panoptes, and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet.

The most likely interpretation of this passage is as two variants on the same syncretism of Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth (or sometimes other gods): the fourth (where Hermes turns out “actually” to have been a “son of the Nile,” i.e. a native god) being viewed from the Egyptian perspective, the fifth (who went from Greece to Egypt) being viewed from the Greek-Arcadian perspective.

Both of these early references in Cicero corroborate the view that Thrice-Great Hermes originated in Hellenistic Egypt through syncretism between Greek and Egyptian gods (the Hermetica refer most often to Thoth and Amun).

As a divine source of wisdom, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of highly esteemed writings, which were reputed to be of immense antiquity.

Plato’s Timaeus and Critias state that in the temple of Neith at Sais there were secret halls containing historical records which had been kept for 9,000 years.

Clement of Alexandria was under the impression that the Egyptians had forty-two sacred writings by Hermes, writings that detailed the training of Egyptian priests.

Siegfried Morenz has suggested, in Egyptian Religion:

“The reference to Thoth’s authorship… is based on ancient tradition; the figure forty-two probably stems from the number of Egyptian nomes, and thus conveys the notion of completeness.”

The Hermetica is a category of papyri containing spells and initiatory induction procedures. The dialogue called the Asclepius (after the Greek god of healing) describes the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems, and odors so that the statue could speak and engage in prophecy.

In other papyri, there are recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be fashioned hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.

Islamic tradition

Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus is the builder of the Pyramids of Giza and has a major place in Islamic tradition. He writes:

“Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned in the Quran in verse 19:56-57: ‘Mention, in the Book, Idris, that he was truthful, a prophet. We took him up to a high place'”.

The Jabirian corpus contains the oldest documented source for the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, translated by Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber) for the Hashemite Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid the Abbasid.

Jābir ibn Hayyān, a Shiite, identified as Jābir al-Sufi, was a student of Ja’far al-Sadiq, Husayn ibn ‘Ali’s great-grandson. Thus, for the Abbasid’s and the Alid’s, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus were considered sacred, as an inheritance from the Ahl al-Bayt and the Prophets.

These writings were recorded by the Ikhwan al-Safa and subsequently translated from Arabic into Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Russian, and English.

In these writings, Hermes Trismegistus is identified as Idris, the infallible Prophet who traveled to outer space from Egypt, and to heaven, whence he brought back a cache of objects from the Eden of Adam and the Black Stone from where he landed on earth in India.

According to ancient Arab genealogists, the Prophet Muhammad, who is also believed to have traveled to the heavens on the night of Isra and Mi’raj, is a direct descendant of Hermes Trismegistus. Ibn Kathir said:

“As for Idris… He is in the genealogical chain of the Prophet Muhammad, except according to one genealogist… Ibn Ishaq says he was the first who wrote with the Pen. There was a span of 380 years between him and the life of Adam. Many of the scholars allege that he was the first to speak about this, and they call him Thrice-Great Hermes”.

Ahmad al-Buni considered himself a follower of the hermetic teachings, and his contemporary Ibn Arabi mentioned Hermes Trismegistus in his writings.

The Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya of Ibn Arabi speaks of Hermes’s travels to “vast cities (outside earth), possessing technologies far superior then ours” and meeting with the Twelfth Imam, the Ninth (generation) from the Third (al-Husayn the third Imam), who also ascended to the heavens, and is still alive like his ancestor Hermes Trismegistus“.

A late Arabic writer wrote of the Sabaeans that their religion had a sect of star worshipers who held their doctrine to come from Hermes Trismegistus through the prophet Adimun.

Antoine Faivre, in The Eternal Hermes (1995), has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus has a place in the Islamic tradition, although the name Hermes does not appear in the Qur’an.

Hagiographers and chroniclers of the first centuries of the Islamic Hegira quickly identified Hermes Trismegistus with Idris, the nabi of surahs 19.57 and 21.85, whom the Arabs also identified with Enoch (cf. Genesis 5.18–24).

Idris/Hermes was termed “Thrice-Wise” Hermes Trismegistus because he had a threefold origin. The first Hermes, comparable to Thoth, was a “civilizing hero“, an initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world; he carved the principles of this sacred science in hieroglyphs.

The second Hermes, in Babylon, was the initiator of Pythagoras. The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy. “A faceless prophet,” writes the Islamicist Pierre Lory, “Hermes possesses no concrete or salient characteristics, differing in this regard from most of the major figures of the Bible and the Quran.

A common interpretation of the representation of “Trismegistus” as “thrice great” recalls the three characterizations of Idris: as a messenger of God, or a prophet; as a source of wisdom, or Hikmet and as a king of the world order or a “sultanate“.

Hermetic writings

The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum are the most important of the Hermetica, the surviving writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.

During the Renaissance, it was accepted that Hermes Trismegistus was a contemporary of Moses. However, after Casaubon’s dating of the Hermetic writings as being no earlier than the second or third century AD, the whole of Renaissance Hermeticism collapsed.

As to their actual authorship:

… they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all-wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.

Hermetic revival

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Hermetica enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists.

The “hermetic tradition” consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology, and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the philosophical and the technical Hermetica.

The former deals mainly with philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions, and alchemy. Magic spells to protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression “hermetically sealed“.

The classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, in De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis exercitationes XVI (1614), showed, through an analysis of the Greek language used in the texts, that those texts believed to be of ancient origin were in fact much more recent: most of the philosophical Corpus Hermeticum can be dated to around AD 300.

However, the 17th-century scholar Ralph Cudworth argued that Casaubon’s allegation of forgery could only be applied to three of the seventeen treatises contained within the Corpus Hermeticum.

New Age revival

Modern occultists suggest that some Hermetic texts may be of Pharaonic origin and that the legendary “forty-two essential texts” that contain the core Hermetic religious beliefs and philosophy of life remain hidden in a secret library.

Within the occult tradition, Hermes Trismegistus is associated with several wives and more than one son who took his name, as well as more than one grandson.

This repetition of given name and surname throughout the generations may at least partially account for the legend of his longevity, especially as it is believed that many of his children pursued careers as priests in mystery religions.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.