Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 1

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"TO the first zone he gives the energy of Growth and Waning; unto the second zone, Device of Evils now de-energized; unto the third, the Guile of the Desires de-energized; unto the fourth, his Domineering Arrogance also de-energized; unto the fifth, unholy Daring and the Rashness of Audacity de-energized; unto the sixth, Striving for Wealth by evil means deprived of its aggrandisement; and to the seventh zone, Ensnaring Falsehood de-energized."--C. H., i. 25.


Let us first turn to the commentary of Macrobius on the famous "Dream of Scipio," which Cicero introduces into his Republic (Bk. VI.), just as Plato appends the Vision of Er to his. Macrobius devotes the twelfth chapter of his First Book to a consideration of "The Descent of the Soul from the Height of Cosmos to the Depths of Earth," and professes to base himself on Pythagorean and Platonic traditions. His dissertation covers more ground than the precise subject of the zones with which we are more immediately concerned; but as the whole scheme is of interest to our present

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studies, we will append a translation of practically the whole chapter.

"[According to Pythagoras] when the Soul descends from the Boundary where the Zodiac and Galaxy [or Milky Way] meet, from a spherical form, which is the only divine one, it is elongated into a conical one [*1] by its downward tendency.

"Just as the line is born from the point and proceeds into length out of the indivisible, so the soul from its point, that is 'monad,' comes into 'dyad'--its first production [or lengthening].

"And this is the essence which Plato in the Timaeus, speaking about the construction of the World-Soul, describes as indivisible yet at the same time divisible.

"For just as the Soul of the World so also the soul of an individual man will be found in one respect incapable of division--if it is regarded from the standpoint of the simplicity of its divine nature--and in another capable [of division]--since the former is diffused through the members of the world, and the latter through those of a man.

"When then the soul is drawn towards body--in this first production of it--it begins to experience a material agitation, matter flowing into it. [*2]

"And this is remarked by Plato in the Phaedo [when he says] that the soul is drawn to body staggering with recent intoxication,--meaning us to understand by this a new draught of matter's superfluity, by which it becomes defiled and gravid and so is brought down.

"A symbol of this mystic secret is that Starry Cup (Crater) of Father Bacchus placed in the space between

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[paragraph continues] Cancer and Leo [*1]--meaning that intoxication is there first experienced by souls in their descent by the influx of matter into them. From which cause also forgetfulness, the companion of intoxication, then begins secretly to creep into souls.

"For if souls brought down to body memory of the divine things of which they were conscious in heaven, there would be no difference of opinion among men concerning the divine state. But all, indeed, in their descent drink of forgetfulness--some more, some less.

"And for this cause on earth, though the truth is not clear to all, they nevertheless have all some opinion about it; for opinion arises when memory sinks. Those, however, are greater discoverers of truth who have drunk less of forgetfulness, because they remember more easily what they have known before in that state.

"Hence it is that what the Latins call a 'lecture' (lectio) the Greeks call a 're-knowing' (repetita cognitio [*2]), because when we give utterance to true things, we re-cognize the things which we knew by nature before the influence of matter intoxicated our souls in their descent into body.

"Now it is this Matter (Hyle) which, after being impressed by the [divine] ideas, fashioned every body in the cosmos which we see. Its highest and purest nature, by means of which the divinities are either sustained or consist, [*3] is called Nectar, and is believed to be the drink of the gods; while its lower and more

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turbid nature is the drink of souls. The latter is what the Ancients called the River of Lethe [or Forgetfulness].

"The Orphic [initiates], however, suppose that Dionysus himself is to be understood as 'Hylic Nous' [*1]--[that Mind] which after its birth from the Indivisible [Mind] is itself divided into individual [minds].

"And it is for this reason that in their Mystery-tradition Dionysus is represented as being torn limb from limb by the fury of the Titans, and, after the pieces have been buried, as coming together again whole and one; for Nous--which, as we have said, is their term for Mind--by offering itself for division from its undivided state, and by returning to the undivided from the divided, both fulfils the duties of the cosmos and also performs the mysteries of its own nature.

"The soul, therefore, having by means of this first weight [of matter] fallen down from the Zodiac and Galaxy into the series of spheres that lie below them, in continuing its descent through them, is not only enwrapped in the envelope of a luminous body, [*2] but also develops the separate motions which it is to exercise.

"In the sphere of Saturn [it develops] the powers of reasoning and theorizing [*3]--which [the Greeks] call to logistikon and to theuretikon; in that of Jupiter, the power of putting into practice--which they call to praktikon; in that of Mars, the power of ardent vehemence--which they call to thymikon; in that of the Sun, the nature of sensing and imagining--which they call to aisthetikon and to fantastikon; in that of Venus, the motion of desire--which they call to

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epithymetikon, in the sphere of Mercury, the power of giving expression to and interpretation of feelings--which they call to erme neytikon; on its entrance into the sphere of the Moon it brings into activity to fytikon--that is, the nature of making bodies grow and of moving them.

"And this [soul], though the last thing in the divine series, is nevertheless the first thing in us and in all terrestrial beings; just as this body [of ours], though the dregs of things divine, is still the first substance of the animal world.

"And this is the difference between terrene bodies and supernal--I mean those of the heaven and stars and of the other elements [*1]--that the latter are summoned upwards to the abode of the soul, and are worthy of immunity from death from the very nature of the space in which they are and their imitation of sublimity.

"The soul, however, is drawn down to these terrene bodies, and so it is thought to die when it is imprisoned in the region of things fallen and in the abode of death. Nor should it cause distress that we have so often spoken of death in connection with the soul, which we have declared to be superior to death. For the soul is not annihilated by [what is called] its death, but is [only] buried for a time; nor is the blessing of its perpetuity taken from it by its submersion for a time, since when it shall have made it worthy to be cleansed clean utterly of all contagion of its vice, it shall once more return from body to the light of Everlasting Life restored and whole." [*2]

The characteristics of the spheres given by Macrobius are according to their simple energies; there is no

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question of good or bad; it is the "thinking" of the soul that conditions the use of these energies for beneficent or maleficent ends.


Servius, however, in his Commentary on Virgil's Aeneid, vi. 714, hands on another tradition, in which the Spheres were regarded as inimical to the good of the soul, its evil propensities being ascribed to their energies. Some scholars are of opinion that Virgil in his famous Sixth Book is largely dependent on the ideas of popular Egyptian theology; [*1] however that may be, Servius writes as follows:

"The philosophers tell us what the soul loses in its descent through the separate spheres. For which cause also the Mathematici imagine that our body and soul are knit together by the powers of the separate divinities, on the supposition that when souls descend, they bring with them the sluggishness of Saturn, the passionateness of Mars, the lustfulness of Venus, the cupidity of Mercury, and the desire for rule of Jupiter. And these things perturb souls, so that they are unable to use their own energy and proper powers."

It is to be noticed that the characteristics of the Sun and Moon are omitted, and this points to a doctrine in which Sun and Moon were treated as distinct from "the five." So also in the "Books of the Saviour" appended to the Pistis Sophia document we find (pp. 360, 366 ff.) mention of only five planets. The

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tradition of this doctrine is exceedingly obscure, [*1] and does not immediately concern us, as our text works on a "seven" basis.


I have done my best to discover some consistent scheme by which the contradictory data in Macrobius, Servius, and Hermes might be reconciled, but the tabularising of their indications only makes confusion worse confounded.

It is evident, however, that the main thing that Macrobius hands on, and which he attributes to Orphic-Pythagorean-Platonic tradition, contains in itself no suggestion that these philosophers attributed any evil tendencies to the characteristics of the spheres in themselves. The tradition of Macrobius is as follows:



to theuretikon
to logistikon





to praktikon


vis agendi.



to thymikon


ardor animositatis.



to aisthetikon
to fantastikon


natura sentiendi.
natura opinandi.



to epithymetikon


motus desiderii.



to ermeneytikon


vis pronuntiandi
et interpretandi
quae sentiantur.



to fytikon


natura plantandi
et agendi corpora.

The confusion between the "vis agendi" of Jupiter and that of the Moon may be resolved by supposing that the former was the application of the reasoning

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faculty to the practical things of life, while the latter was the power of moving one's own physical body, if indeed the "et agendi" is not a gloss of Macrobius.

Servius, on the contrary, is following a tradition in which the spheres were regarded as the sources of evil tendencies; ethical considerations dominate the whole conception. Seeing, however, that it is a fivefold distribution, we are unable to equate it with the doctrine of Hermes, which is sevenfold. Nevertheless, there are some parallels.

The lustfulness (libido) of Servius is to be paralleled with the "guile of the desires" or "lustful error" (e epithymetike apate) of Hermes. This is ascribed to the third zone by Hermes, and to Venus by Servius, Venus further coming third in Macrobius.

The "desire of rule" (desiderium regni) of Servius is clearly the "domineering arrogance" (e arxontike profania) of Hermes. In Hermes this belongs to the middle zone (fourth); in Servius it is ascribed to Jupiter, presumably as the ruler of the age--the ruler of the previous age being Saturn, who has been deprived of his energy and so rendered "torpid."

The "passion" or "wrathfulness" (iracundia) of Servius is also to be paralleled to some extent with the "unholy daring" of Hermes. It is ascribed to the fifth zone by Hermes and to Jupiter by Servius, Mars also coming fifth in Macrobius.

Finally, the "love of gain" (lucri cupiditas) of Servius may be paralleled by the "striving for wealth by evil means" (ai aformai ai kakai tou ploutoy) of Hermes. Hermes attributes this to the sixth zone, and Servius to Mercury.

The remaining quality mentioned by Servius, "torpor," which he ascribes to Saturn, equates with nothing in Hermes, unless we can persuade ourselves that the

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"ensnaring falsehood" or "falsehood that lies in wait" (to enedreuon pseudos) of Hermes has some connection with it.

The scheme of Hermes is septenary, and connected with the ideas of the ascent of the soul through seven zones, which we must locate as seven superimposed atmospheres extending from the surface of the earth to the moon's orbit. There is no question here of the Celestial Spheres proper of the Philosophers, the characteristics of the energies of which are neither good nor evil in themselves; nor is there apparently any question of the "animal soul" proper, for the "passions and desires" are said to withdraw into the "nature which is void of reason." Though nothing more is said about this nature in this connection, in the general belief of the time its dominion was thought of as located below the earth-surface--as a Tartarus of seven zones, corresponding to those above, in which the "animal soul" or "vehicle of desire" was thought of as being gradually disintegrated, its energies finally going back to their source in the Depths of the Darkness, while the process of such disintegration or metamorphosis produced a parallel consciousness of chastisements and horrors. The seven zones of our text, however, are apparently the region of purification of the lower energies of the human soul; the mental energies led into error by the animal passions.


Now if we turn to Salmon's article on the "Hebdomad," [*1] and to his discussion of the tradition of the "Ophites"--a mysterious medley of chaotic elements, which have not yet been analysed in any satisfactory

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fashion, but which have their roots in pre-Christian traditions of a very varied nature within the general characteristic of a syncretic Gnosticism--we find that after treating of the Celestial Hebdomad, he continues as follows:

"Besides the higher hebdomad of the seven angels, the Ophite system told of a lower hebdomad. After the serpent in punishment for having taught our first parents to transgress the commands of Ialdabaoth was cast down into this lower world, he begat himself six sons, [*1] who with himself form a hebdomad, the counterpart of that of which his father Ialdabaoth is chief. These are the seven demons, the scene of whose activity is this lower earth, not the heavens; and who delight in injuring the human race on whose account their father had been cast down. Origen (Adv. Cels., vi. 30) gives their names and forms from an Ophite Diagram; Michael in form as a lion, Suriel as an ox, Raphael as a dragon, Gabriel as an eagle, Thautabaoth as a bear, Erataoth as a dog, Onoel as an ass."

Here, I think, we are on the track of one aspect of a general mystery-tradition that Hermes has "philosophized." I say one aspect, for the "Ophite" tradition is not a single form of tradition, but a medley of traditions containing a number of forms; it is a complex or syncretism of Chaldaean, Persian, and Egyptian elements, patched together, or "centonized," if we may use the term, with Jewish industry.

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The wealth of symbolism and profusion of mysterious personifications with which these systems of subjective imagery were smothered, could exercise only a partial fascination on the clear-thinking, philosophical mind which had been trained in the method of Plato. If such a mind was combined with the mystic temperament, as was indubitably the case with the writer of our "Poemandres" treatise, his main effort would be to simplify and categorize in the terms of philosophy at the expense of apocalyptic detail; nevertheless, when a man lived in the midst of such ideas, and was presumably in intimate relations with mystics and seers of all sorts, he could not but be strongly affected by the main presuppositions of all such apocalyptic, and the general notions of the schematology of the Unseen World, which all students of such matters at that period seem to have accepted in common.

We thus find that our Trismegistic literature, though dealing throughout with the Gnosis, treats it in a far more simple way than any other known system of the time. Nevertheless, even the complex imagery of the Ophite schools is occasionally summed up in a few graphic general symbols, and these, too, representing probably the oldest elements in them.


From the confused description by Origen [*1] of the famous but exceedingly puzzling Ophite Diagram that both Celsus and Origen had before them, though in different forms, we can make out with certainty only

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that this chart of the Unseen Spaces was divided into three main divisions--Upper, Middle, and Lower. The Middle Space contained a geometrical diagram of a group of ten circles surrounded by one great circle. This Great Circle was called Leviathan, and the grouping of circles within it was apparently divided into a three and a seven. The Lower Space had in it a grouping of seven circles, the circles of the seven ruling daimones (xxx.)--elsewhere called Archontics--and the whole group was apparently called Behemoth (xxv.).

Celsus, quoted by Origen (xxvii.), tells us that the doctrine was that on the death of the body two groups of angels range themselves on either side of the soul, [*1] the one set being called "Angels of Light" and the other "Archontics"--evidently intended for "Angels of Darkness." Thus the evil soul was thought to be led away by the Daimones to Behemoth, and the pure soul to Leviathan.

We cannot enter into the endless discussions concerning these two Great Beasts, mentioned together in Job xl. 15-24, and separately in Isaiah and Psalms; the most recent research comes to the conclusion that "it would seem that Leviathan was regarded as lord of the ocean and Behemoth of dry land." [*2]

But in our diagram Leviathan is Lord of the Heaven-Ocean or Great Green or Cosmic Air, and Behemoth Lord of the Cosmic Earth.

Indeed, in the Book of Enoch, [*3] the apocalyptic writer associates these two monsters with precisely the same eschatological considerations which Origen tells us were the purpose of the Diagram, only "Enoch" speaks of

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the Last Day, while the Ophite writer has in view the ascent of the soul of an initiate after death.

At the final separation of Righteous and Unrighteous, "Enoch" tells us, these Great Creatures, which before were united, will be parted. That is to say, at death there is a metamorphosis of the soul.

From what is said in "Enoch," moreover, I deduce that the Upper Space of the Ophite Diagram was intended to represent the Celestial Paradise, that is the state of the Pure Mind or of the Righteous.

Leviathan and Behemoth are figured in IV. Esdras vi. 49-52, as Devourers of the Unrighteous; while general Jewish apocalyptic in both Apocrypha and Talmud believed that these monsters would in their turn become the food of the Righteous in Messianic times. [*1]

From all these indications we deduce that Behemoth was the Great Beast and Leviathan the Great Fish. The animal soul, intensified by contact with the human mind, then goes back to its source the Great Beast, and is devoured by it, and reabsorbed by it, its energies returning to the sum total of energies of the Great Animal Group-Soul, the whole energy and experience of which shall eventually become the "food" of the perfected man; that is to say, presumably, he will in his turn devour and so transmute these energies; the perfected man will thrive by transmuting the Body of the Great Beast into the Body of the Great Man.

The Great Fish, however, would seem to symbolize the higher energies of the soul, which also require transmutation. In being born into the stature of the Great Man, the Son of Man must needs pass "three days" in the Belly of the Whale. This Great Fish is of the nature of knowledge; for does not Oannes come

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out of the Ocean in fish-form to teach, [*1] in the Assyrian Mystery-tradition, and does not the Ophite tradition in another of its phases [*2] derive the inspiration of the great prophets of Israel, in their several degrees, from this same Group of Angels which the Diagram calls Leviathan?

It is also of interest to notice that Leviathan and Behemoth were believed to have once formed one monster, which was subsequently divided into male and female, Behemoth being male and Leviathan female. This reminds one of the primaeval Water-Earth of Hermes, which was subsequently divided into Water and Earth, just as the animals were first of all male-female, and subsequently were separated. Moreover, in the Vision of Er the arcs of the journeyings of the ascending and descending souls end in two orifices above in the sky and two below in the earth, as though they were the ends of a once great hollow ring or circle that had been divided, or as it were two serpents arched above and below, with mouths and tails as orifices; and, curiously enough, in the Pistis Sophia the souls of the unrighteous enter by the mouth of the Lower Dragon and depart by the tail.

Now, Leviathan being female and Behemoth male, and both forming together as it were the circumference of the Great Wheel of Necessity, the Wheel of Genesis, the attribution of the gestation, so to speak, of the

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virtues of the soul to the one and the digesting of its vices to the other, is not so surprising. Further, they could be regarded as the right-hand or left-hand arcs or hemispheres of the Wheel, or Sphere, or Egg, according to celestial topography; whereas in Egyptian terrestrial parallelism the right hand was to the north and the left hand the south, upper and lower Egypt. Curiously enough, in Isa. xxx. 6, Behemoth is called the monster "of the south land." [*1]

Whether or no the writer of the "Poemandres" was directly influenced by the precise forms of tradition to which we have referred, is impossible to determine; but that he was influenced by the general ideas as symbolized is indubitable, and that he understood the esoteric meaning of the "hippopotamus" and "crocodile" symbols in Egyptian mysticism is highly probable.


Origen (xxxi.), moreover, tells us that, according to the Ophites, the consciousness of the soul after passing through the domain of the animal-formed Rulers, broke through what was called the "Fence of Iniquity," and so turned towards the higher spheres, through which it also had to pass. In the seventh and highest of them, over which ruled the Virtue which was called Horaeus, [*2] it addresses the Ruler thereof with an apology or defence of its own innocence, beginning with the words: "O thou who hast transcended the 'Fence of Fire' without fear!"

This Fence of Fire was symbolised in the form of the Diagram which Origen (xxxiii.) had before him, as a

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circle of fire with a flaming sword lying across its diameter. This must then have been intended to represent the Sphere of Fire, or Angel or Guardian of the Gate, which had to be passed before the Celestial Paradise could be entered, for the flashing, circling blade is said to have guarded the "Tree of Gnosis and of Life."

The same idea of a typical Boundary or Fence meets us in the "Poemandres." It is Man who breaks through the seven spheres and also their enclosing Sphere, the Might or Power that circumscribed the Fire. The root idea is the same. The point of view of Hermes, however, like that of the Ophite Gnostics, is not the passage round the Circle of Necessity of the souls of the unregenerate, as in the Vision of Er, but of the Straight Ascent of the soul of the initiate, his breaking through the spheres. It is the ascent of a soul who has reached the Hermes-stage, or Thrice-greatest grade, the final stage of winning its freedom, the Ascent after the last compulsory birth--the Ascent "as now it is for me" ( section 25).


^414:1 Not into a mathematical cone, but into an egg-shaped or elliptical form resembling that of a pine-cone.

^414:2 This shows that the soul was thought of as being without or outside body of every kind, and body was taken into it.

^415:1 Cf. Pistis Sophia, pp. 371 and 367.

^415:2 That is, presumably, anagnusma--a philosophical discourse, or sacred sermon.

^415:3 As distinguished from "exist." Latin, however, is but a poor medium for the expression of philosophical distinctions.

^416:1 nous ylikos.

^416:2 The augoeides.

^416:3 Or of contemplative reason, synthesis as opposed to analysis.

^417:1 That is, the elements other than those of earth.

^417:2 Ed. Eyssenhardt (F.), pp. 531 ff. (Leipzig, 1893).

^418:1 Cf., for instance, Maass (E.), Die Tagesgotter in Rom und den Provinzen, p. 33. See R. 53, n. 1.

^419:1 For references, see R. 53, n. 2.

^421:1 Smith and Wace's D. of Christ. Biog., ii. 849-851.

^422:1 In Irenaeus (C. Haer., I. xxx. 5; ed. Stieren, i. 266) this sevenfold serpent is the son of Ialdabaoth (the Creative Mind), and is said to be "mind," also "crooked mind," coiled up like a serpent.

^423:1 C. Cels., VI. xxv. ff.

^424:1 Plainly a conflation of Persian and Chaldaean ideas.

^424:2 Cheyne's article, "Behemoth and Leviathan," in the Encyclopaedia Biblica.

^424:3 Charles' Trans., lx. 7 ff. (Ethiop. V., p. 155).

^425:1 See Charles, op. cit., p. 155, n. 7.

^426:1 Oannes also comes to teach from the Waters of the Euphrates; the Jewish overwriter of the Naassene Document (see "Myth of Man in the Mysteries") equates Euphrates with Great Jordan, and this with the Stream of Ocean; and, curiously enough, Origen (xxviii.) ascribes the Ophite teaching to a certain Euphrates, of whom no one else has ever heard. It is, however, a common error of the Church Fathers to mistake a principle of the Gnosis for the founder of a heresy.

^426:2 See Salmon, loc. sup. cit.

^427:1 According to Cheyne's rendering in the above-quoted article.

^427:2 That is, presumably, the Horus-like; thus showing traces of an Egyptian element.

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"AND the soul's vice is ignorance. For that the soul who hath no knowledge of the things that are, or knowledge of their nature, or of Good, is blinded by the body's passions and tossed about.

"This wretched soul, not knowing what she is, becomes the slave of bodies of strange form in sorry plight, bearing the body as a load; not as the ruler, but the ruled."--C. H., x. (xi.) 8. [*1]

For the better understanding of this passage, we may appropriately refresh the memory of our readers with the Platonic doctrine of the transmigration of souls, as given in the Phaedrus, 248 ff., using for this purpose the best translation we have in English, namely, that of Stewart, [*2] as a basis, but often departing from it for greater clearness.


"This is the life of the Gods. Of the other Souls, whosoever followeth God best, and is being made most like unto Him, keepeth the Head [*3] of her Charioteer

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lifted up into the Space without the firmament; so she is carried round with the circuit thereof, yet being [still] troubled with the Horses, [*1] and hardly beholding the Things-which-are; so she is now lifted up, now sinketh down, and because of the compulsion of the Horses, seeth some of the Things-which-are, and some she seeth not.

"And the rest of the Souls, you must know, follow all striving after that which is above, but unable [to reach it], and so are carried round together and sink below it, [*2] trampling upon one another, and running against one another, and pressing on for to outstrip one another, with mighty great sound of tumult and sweat.

"And here by reason of the unskilfulness [*3] of the Charioteers, many Souls are maimed, and many have many feathers [of their wings] broken; and all, greatly travailing, depart without initiation in the Sight of That-which-is, and departing betake them to the food of Opinion.

"Now this is why there is so great anxiety to see the Space where is the Plain of Truth,--both because the pasture suited to the Best Part of the Soul groweth in the Meadow there, and the power of wing, whereby the Soul is lightly carried up, is nourished by it, and that the law of Adrasteia is that whatsoever Soul by following after God hath seen somewhat of the true things, shall be without affliction till its next journey round; and if she can always do this, [*4] she shall be without hurt alway.

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"But when through incapacity to follow [God] she doth not see, and, overtaken by some evil chance, filled with forgetfulness and wickedness, she is weighed down, and, being weighed down, she sheds the feathers of her wings and falls on to the Earth,--then is the law not to plant her [*1] in her first birth in a beast's nature; but to implant the Soul that hath seen most into the seed of one who shall become a Wisdom-lover, or a lover of the Beautiful, or a man who truly loves the Muses; the Soul that hath seen second best, into the seed of one who shall become a king that loveth law, and is a warrior and a true ruler; the Soul that hath seen third, unto the seed of one who shall become busied in civic duties, or in some stewardship, or in affairs; the one that hath seen fourth, into the seed of one who shall be a hardship-loving master of the body's discipline or skilled in healing of the body; the Soul that hath seen fifth, into that which shall have a life connected with the oracles or mystic rites some way; [*2] unto the sixth a life poetic shall be joined, or that of some one or of another of the tribe of copiers; unto the seventh, the life of workman or of husbandman; unto the eighth, that of a sophist or a demagogue; unto the ninth, that of a tyrant.

"In all these lives, whoever lives them righteously obtains a better fate; he who unrighteously, a worse.

"Now to the selfsame state from which each Soul hath come, she cometh not again for some ten thousand years. For sooner than this period no Soul [re-]gains

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its wings, except the Soul of him who has loved wisdom naturally or contrary to nature. [*1]

"Such Souls in the third period of a thousand years, if they have chosen thrice this life successively, thus getting themselves wings, depart in the three thousandth year. [*2]

"But the other Souls, when they have ended their first life, are brought to judgment; and being judged, some go to places of correction below the Earth and pay the penalty, while others are rewarded by being raised unto a certain space in Heaven where they live on in a condition appropriate unto the life they lived in a man's form.

"But in the thousandth year both classes come to the lottery of lives, and each doth make choice of its second life, whatever it may choose. [*3]

"And now is it that a Soul that once had had a man's life doth pass into a brute's life, [*4] and from a

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brute, he who was once a man, passes again into a man; for that indeed the Soul that never hath seen truth, will never come into this configuration. [*1]

"For we must understand 'man,' in the sense of form, as one proceeding from many sensations and collected into a unit by means of ratiocination. [*2] But this [*3] is recollection (anamnesis) of those things which our Soul once did see when she journeyed with God, [*4] and looked beyond the things we now call things that are, by raising her face [*5] to That-which-really-is.

"Wherefore of right, alone the understanding of the Wisdom-lover hath got wings; for he is ever engaged upon those things in memory as far as he can be, on being engaged at which, as being a God, he is divine.

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"The man then who doth make a right use of memories such as these, ever being made perfect in perfect perfectionings, alone becometh really Perfect. [*1]

"But in as much as he eschews the things that men strive after, and is engaged in the Divine [alone], he is admonished by the many as though he were beside himself, [*2] for they cannot perceive he is inspired by God."


Let us now turn to the genuine disciples of the master for further light on this tenet, and first of all to Plotinus.

The most sympathetic notice of this tenet in Plotinus is to be found in Jules Simon's Histoire de l'Ecole d'Alexandrie (Paris, 1845), i. 588 ff., based for the most part on En., I. i. 12; II. ix. 6; IV. iii. 9; V. ii. 2; and on Ficinus' Commentary (p. 508 of Creuzer's edition).

After citing some "ironical" passages from Plotinus (in which the philosopher disguised the real doctrine which in his day still pertained to the teachings of a higher initiation), Jules Simon goes on to say:

"Even though admitting that this doctrine of metempsychosis is taken literally by Plotinus, we should still have to ask for him as for Plato, whether the human soul really inhabits the body of an animal, and whether it is not reborn only into a human body which reflects the nature of a certain animal by the character of its passions.

"The commentators of the Alexandrian school sometimes interpreted Plato in this sense. Thus, according

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to Proclus, Plato in the Phaedrus condemns the wicked to live as brutes and not to become them, katienai eis bion the'reion, kai oyk eis suma the'reion (Proc., Comm. Tim., p. 329). Chalcidius gives the same interpretation, for he distinguishes between the doctrines of Plato and those of Pythagoras and Empedocles, qui non naturam modo feram, sed etiam formas. [*1] Hermes (Comm. of Chalcidius on Timaeus; ed. Fabric., p. 350) declares in unmistakable terms that a human soul can never return to the body of an animal, and that the will of the Gods for ever preserves it from such disgrace." [*2]


Again, Proclus in his Commentaries on the Timaeus, writes very definitely with reference to the following passage of Plato:

"And if he still in these conditions did not cease from vice, he would keep on changing into some brutish nature according as he acted in a way resembling the expression in genesis of such a mode of vicious living." [*3]

For he says:

"With reference to this descent of souls into irrational animals, it is usual for men to enquire how it is meant.

"And some think that what are called brute-like lives are certain resemblances of men to brutes, for that it is not possible for the rational essence to become the soul of a brute.

"Others allow that even this [human soul] may be

[p. 436]

immediately degraded to reason-less creatures, for that all souls are of one and the same species, so that they may become wolves and panthers and ichneumons.

"But the true reason (logos) asserts that though the human soul may be degraded to brutes, it is [only] to brutes which possess the life suited to such a purpose, while the degraded soul is as it were vehicled on this [life], and bound to it sympathetically.

"And this has been demonstrated by us at great length in our lectures on the Phaedrus, and that this is the only way in which such de-gradation can take place. If, however, it is necessary to remind you that this meaning (logos) is that of Plato, it must be added that in the Republic [*1] he says that the soul of Thersites assumed an ape [life], but not an ape's body, and in the Phaedrus [*2] that [the soul] descends into a brutish life, and not into a brutish body, for the mode of life goes with its appropriate soul. And in the passage [from the Timaeus] he says that it changes into a brute-like nature; for the brutish nature is not the body but the life [principle] of the brute." [*3]


^429:1 See commentary thereon.

^429:2 Stewart (J. A.), The Myths of Plato (London, 1905), pp. 313 ff.; cf. also Jowett (Oxford, 1892), i. 454 ff.; and Taylor (London, 1804), iii. 325 ff.

^429:3 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 11: "Since Cosmos is a sphere--that is to say, a head."

^430:1 Cf. 246 B: "For 'tis a Yoke of Horses that the Charioteer of Man's Soul driveth, and, moreover, of his Horses the one is well favoured and good and of good stock, the other of the contrary and contrary."

^430:2 Lit., under water.

^430:3 Lit., evil--that is, ignorance.

^430:4 Viz., behold the truth.

^431:1 Sc. as a germ or seed.

^431:2 It is low down in the scale, indeed, that Plato places the soothsayers and hierophants; he is, however, "ironical," for he places poets even lower down, and still lower sophists and tyrants, all in keeping with his well-known views about these people as known in his own time.

^432:1 e paideraste'santos meta filosofias--Stewart, "Of loved his comrade in the bonds of wisdom"; Jowett, "or a lover who is not devoid of philosophy"; Taylor, "or together with philosophy has loved beautiful forms." I fancy that Plato has used this graphic expression simply to designate a man who has not true union with wisdom, but is seeking for union though ignorantly.

^432:2 "The numbers three and ten are called perfect; because the former is the first complete number, and the latter in a certain respect the whole of number; the consequent series of numbers being only a repetition of the numbers which this contains. Hence, as 10 multiplied into itself produces 100, a plane number, and this again multiplied by 10 produces 1000, a solid number; and as 1000 multiplied by 3 forms 3000, and 1000 by 10, 10,000; on this account Plato employs these numbers as symbols of the purgation of the soul, and her restitution to her proper perfection and felicity. I say, as symbols; for we must not suppose that this is accomplished in just so many years, but that the soul's restitution takes place in a perfect manner."--Taylor, op. cit., iii. 325.

^432:3 Cf. the "Vision of Er."

^432:4 "We must not understand by this that the soul of a man becomes the soul of a brute; but that by way of punishment it is bound to the soul of a brute, or carried in it, just as daemons used to reside in our souls. Hence all the energies of the rational soul are perfectly impeded, and its intellectual eye beholds naught but the dark and tumultuous phantasms of a brutal life."--Taylor, loc. cit.

^433:1 Viz., the form of a man; it is, however, also an astrological term.

^433:2 There seems to be no agreement among translators as to the meaning of this sentence: dei gar anthrupon xynienai kai eidos legomenon, ek pollun ion aisthe'seun eis en logismui xynairoumenon. Stewart translates: "Man must needs understand the Specific Form which proceedeth from the perceiving of many things, and is made one by Thought;" Jowett: "For a man must have intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed from the many particulars of sense to one conception of reason;" Taylor: "Indeed it is necessary to understand man, denominated according to species, as a being proceeding from the information of many senses, to a perception contracted into one reasoning power."

^433:3 Sc. collecting into one.

^433:4 That is to say, revolved in the Cosmos Order.

^433:5 Cf. C. H., i. 14: "So [Man] . . . bent his face downwards through the Harmony."

^434:1 All these are technical terms of the Mysteries.

^434:2 Cf. C. H., ix. (x.) 4: "For this cause they who Gnostic are please not the many nor the many them. They are thought mad and laughed at."

^435:1 Who not only made the soul go into an animal nature but into animal forms.

^435:2 The last sentence of C. H., x. (xi.) being quoted textually by Chalcidius.

^435:3 Tim., 42 C.

^436:1 Lib. X. 620 C.

^436:2 Phaedr., 249 B.

^436:3 Comment, in Plat. Tim., 329 D; ed. Schneider (Warsaw, 1847), pp. 800, 801. With all of this the views of Basilides (F. F. F., 275 ff.) may be most instructively compared.

[p. 437]



"BUT to the Mindless ones, the wicked and depraved, the envious and covetous, and those who murder do and love impiety, I am far off, yielding my place to the Avenging Daimon."--C. H., ff., i. 23.


To this Daimon it is that the "way of life" of the man is surrendered at death ( section 24). In this connection we may consider the Story or Vision of "Er Son of Armenius," which Plato tells at the end of the last book (X.) of his Republic (614 B ff.), for the symbolism is very similar to that of our tractate and the subject is more or less the same.

This Er is said by Clement of Alexandria to have been Zoroaster, "but no trace of acquaintance with Zoroaster is found elsewhere in Plato's writings, and there is no reason for giving him the name of Er the Pamphylian. The philosophy of Heracleitus cannot be shown to be borrowed from Zoroaster, and still less the myths of Plato." [*1]

What the source of the story is, scholarship has so far been unable to discover; the vast majority of scholars holding it to be an invention of Plato.

[p. 438]

It is the story of a man "killed in battle," whose body was brought home on the tenth day still fresh and showing no sign of decomposition. On the twelfth day, when laid on the funeral pyre, Er awakes and tells a strange story of his experiences in the invisible world.

This story should be taken in close connection with Plutarch's similar but fuller Vision of Aridaeus (Thespesius), upon which I have commented at length in my "Notes on the Eleusinian Mysteries." [*1]


I there stated that the experiences of Aridaeus were either a literary subterfuge for describing part of the instruction in certain Mysteries, or the Vision, in popular story form, was considered so true a description of what was thought to be the nature of the invisible world and the after-death conditions of the soul, that it required little alteration to make it useful for that purpose.

I would now suggest that the Story of Er is also used by Plato for a somewhat similar purpose. It is further interesting to notice that one of the characters in the Vision of Er is called Ardiaeus, while in Plutarch the main personage is called Aridaeus. The transposition of a single letter is so slight as to make the names practically identical, and the subject matter is so similar that we are inclined to think that there must be some connection between the Visions. Moreover, Aridaeus is said to have been a native of Soli in Cilicia, just as Er is said to have been a Pamphylian; the tradition of such stories would thus seem to have been derived from Asia Minor, and the origin of them may

[p. 439]

thus be hidden in the syncretism of that land--where West and East were for ever meeting. It is, however, much safer to assume that, in the Story of Er, Plato is handing on the doctrines of Orphic eschatology; [*1] whether or not the story already existed in some form, and was worked up and elaborated by the greatest artist in words of all philosophers, will perhaps never be known. But to the story itself.


614 C.--Er, in a certain daimonian or psychic plane (topos tis daimonios), is made a spectator of a turning-point or change of course in the ascent and descent of souls. He thus seems to have been in a space or state midway between Tartarus and Heaven--presumably the invisible side of the sublunary space.

The world-engine of Fate, or Karmic World-whorl, is represented by seven spheres (surrounded by an eighth) whose harmonious spinning is adjusted by the three Fates, the Daughters of Necessity.

Jowett (loc. cit.) says that the heaven-sphere is represented under the symbol of a "cylinder or box." Where the "box" comes in I do not know; the term "cylinder" does not occur in the text, and even the cylinder idea is exceedingly difficult to discover in any precise sense. Indeed, it may be doubted whether the "heaven-sphere" is to be so definitely interpreted; for then our discussion of the meaning of the term "cylinder," which occurs definitely in our K. K. Fragments, would be greatly simplified.

The matter is hard to understand, and Jowett's

[p. 440]

attempts at exposition are hazy and sketchy in the extreme. Either Plato is talking nonsense, or Jowett does not understand the elements of his idea. Stewart's attempt, which makes use of the latest Platonic research, is far more successful, but he also has to abandon many points in despair. [*1] How difficult the solution of the problem is may be seen from the text, which gives the symbolism of the vision of the spheres somewhat as follows:


616 B.--"Now when those in the meadow [*2] had tarried seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey upwards, and, on the fourth day after, [*3] he [Er] said they came to a region where they saw light extended straight as a column from above throughout the whole extent of heaven and earth, in colour resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer.

"Another day's journey brought them to it, and there they saw the extremities of the boundaries of the heaven extended in the midst of the light; for this light was the final boundary of the heaven--somewhat like the under-girdings of ships--and thus confined its whole revolution.

"From these extremities depended the spindle of Necessity, by means of which all its revolutions are made to revolve. The spindle's stalk [*4] and its hook are made of adamant, [*5] and the whorl of a mixture of adamant and other kinds [of elements].

[p. 441]

"And the nature of the whorl is as follows. In shape it was like that of the one down here; but in itself we must understand from his description that it was somewhat as though in one great hollow whorl clean scooped out there lay another similar but smaller one fitted into it, as though they were jars [*1] fitting into one another. And so he said there was a third and a fourth, and [also] four others. For in all there are eight whorls set in one another--looking like circles from above as to their rims, [*2] [but from below] finished off into the continuous belly [*3] of one whorl round the shaft, which is driven right through the eighth whorl.

"The first and outermost whorl had the circle of its rim first in width; that of the sixth was second; that of the fourth, third; that of the eighth, fourth; that of the seventh, fifth; that of the fifth, sixth; that of the third, seventh; that of the second, eighth.

617.--"And the circle of the largest was variegated; that of the seventh brightest; that of the eighth had its colour from the seventh shining on it; those of the second and of the fifth had [colours] somewhat like one another, but yellower than the preceding; the third had the whitest colour; the fourth was reddish; the sixth was second in whiteness. [*4]

[p. 442]

"Now the spindle as a whole circled round at the same rate in its revolution; and within this revolution as a whole the seven circles revolved slowly in a contrary direction to the one as a whole; of these the eighth went the fastest of them; the seventh, sixth, and fifth came second [in speed, and at the same rate] with one another; the fourth, in a reversed orbit, as it appeared to them, was third in speed; the third was fourth and the second fifth.

"The spindle revolved on the knees of Necessity; and on its circles above, on each of them, was a Siren whom they carried round with them, singing a single sound or tone; and from all eight of them a single harmony was produced.

"And there were three others seated at equal distances round about, each upon a throne,--the Daughters of Necessity, the Fates, clothed in white robes, with garlands on their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos; and they sang to the tune of the Sirens' harmony,--Lachesis sang things that have been, Clotho things that are, and Atropos things that shall be.

"And Clotho from time to time with her right hand gave an extra turn to the outer spin of the spindle; Atropos, with her left, in like fashion to the inner ones; while Lachesis in turn touched the one with one hand and the other with the other.

"Now when they [Er and the souls] arrived, they had to go immediately to Lachesis. Accordingly a prophet [a proclaimer] first of all arranged them in their proper order, and taking from the lap of Lachesis both lots [*1] and samples of lives, he ascended a kind of raised place and said:

"'The word (logos) of the Virgin Lachesis, Daughter of Necessity! Ye souls, ye things of a day, lo the

[p. 443]

beginning of another period of mortal birth that brings you death. It is not your daimon who will have you assigned to him by lot, but ye who will choose your daimon. He who obtains the first turn let him first choose a life to which he will of necessity have to hold. As for Virtue, Necessity has no control over her, but every one will possess her more or less just as he honours or dishonours her. The responsibility is the chooser's; God is blameless.'

"Thus speaking he threw the lots to all of them, and each picked up the one that fell beside him, except Er, who was not permitted to do so. So every one who picked up a lot knew what turn he had got.

618.--"After this he set on the ground before them the samples of the lives, in far greater number than those present. They were of every kind; not only lives of every kind of animal, but also lives of every kind of man. There were lives of autocratic power [lit., tyrannies] among them, some continuing to the end, some breaking off half-way and ending in poverty, exile, and beggary. There were also lives of famous men, some famed for their beauty of form and strength, and victory in the games, others for their birth and the virtues of their forebears; others the reverse of famous, and for similar reasons. So also with regard to the lives of women.

"As to the rank of the soul, it was no longer in the power [of the chooser], for the decree of Necessity is that its choosing of another life conditions its change of soul-rank. As for other things, riches and poverty were mingled with each other, and these sometimes with disease and sometimes with health, and sometimes a mean between these."

Thereupon Plato breaks into a noble disquisition on what is the best choice, and how a man should take

[p. 444]

with him into the world an adamantine faith in truth and right; and then continues:

619 B.--"And this is precisely what the messenger from that invisible world reported that the prophet said:

"'Even for him who comes last in turn, if he but choose with his mind, and live consistently, there is in store a life desirable and far from evil. So let neither him who has the best choice be careless, nor him who comes last despair.'

"And when he had thus spoken, the one who had the first choice, Er said, immediately went and chose the largest life of autocratic power, but through folly and greediness he did not choose with sufficient attention to all points, and failed to notice the fate wrapped up with it, of 'dishes of his own children' [*1] and other ills. But when he had examined it at leisure, he began to beat his breast, and bemoan his choice, not abiding by what the prophet had previously told him; for he did not lay the blame of these evils on himself, but on ill-luck and daimones, and everything rather than himself. And he was one of those who came from heaven, who in his former life had lived in a well-ordered state, and been virtuous from custom and not from a love of wisdom. [*2]

"In brief, it was by no means the minority of those who involved themselves in such unfortunate choices who came from heaven, seeing that such souls were unexercised in the hardships of life. Many of those who came from earth, as they had suffered hardships themselves, and had seen others suffering them, did not make their choice off-hand.

[p. 445]

"Consequently many of the souls, independently of the fortune of their turn, changed good for evil, and evil for good. For if a man should always, whenever he comes into life on earth, live a sound philosophic life, and the lot of his choice should not fall out to him among the last, the chances are, according to this news from the other world, that he will not only spend his life happily here, but also that the path which he will tread from here to there, and thence back again, will not be below the earth [*1] and difficult, but easy and of a celestial nature.

620.--"Yes, the vision he had, Er said, was well worth the seeing, showing how each class of souls chose their lives. [*2] The vision was both a pitiful and laughable as well as a wonderful thing to see. For the most part they chose according to the experience of their former life. For Er said that he saw the soul that had once been that of Orpheus becoming the life of a swan for choice, [*3] through its hatred of womankind, because owing to the death of Orpheus at the hands of women, it did not wish to come into existence by conception in a woman. He further saw the soul of Thamyras [*4] choose the life of a nightingale. On the contrary, he saw also a swan change to the choice of a human life, and other musical animals in like fashion.

"The soul that obtained the twentieth lot chose

[p. 446]

the life of a lion; it was the soul of Ajax, son of Telamon, to avoid being a man, because it still remembered the [unjust] decision about the arms. The next soul was Agamemnon's; and it too, out of hatred to the human race on account of its sufferings, changed into the life of an eagle. [*1] The soul of Atalanta obtained its lot in the middle, and letting her eye fall on the great honours paid an 'athlete,' was unable to pass it by, and took it. The soul of Epeius, [*2] son of Panopeus, he saw pass into the nature of a woman skilful in the arts. And far away among the last he saw the soul of the buffoon Thersites putting on an 'ape.'

"By a stroke of luck also he saw the soul of Odysseus, which had obtained the last lot of all, come to make its choice. From memory of its former labours it had given itself a rest from love of renown, and for a long time went about to find the life of a man in private life with nothing to do with public affairs, and with great difficulty found one lying in a corner and thus passed over by all the rest; on seeing it, it declared that it would have done the same even if it had had first turn, and been glad to do it.

"And Er said that of the rest of the brutes also in like fashion some of them passed into men, and some into one another, the unrighteous ones changing into wild ones, and the righteous into tame; in fact, there were intermixings of every kind.

"When, then, all the souls had chosen their lives according to the number of their turn, they went in order to Lachesis; and she sent along with them the daimon each had chosen, as watcher over his life and bringer to pass of the things he had chosen. And

[p. 447]

the daimon first of all brought the soul to Clotho, set it beneath her hand and the whirling of the spindle, thus ratifying the fate each soul had chosen in its turn. And after he had attached it to her, he brought it to the spinning of Atropos, thus making its destinies [*1] irreversible.

621.--"Thence [Er] went, without turning, [down] beneath the Throne [*2] of Necessity, and when he had passed down through it, and the others had also done so, they all passed on to the Plain of Forgetfulness (Lethe) in a frightful and stifling heat; for it was bare of trees and vegetation of every kind.

"As it was now evening they camped by the River Heedlessness whose water no vessel can hold. [*3] They were all, however, compelled to drink a certain quantity of its water; those who are not safeguarded by prudence drink more than their quantity, while he who keeps on drinking it forgets everything.

"When they had fallen asleep and midnight had come, there was thunder and earthquake, and thence suddenly they were carried up into birth [genesis] some one way some another, like shooting stars.

"Er, however, was prevented from drinking the water; but in what manner and by what means he got back to his body he could not say, only, suddenly waking in the morning, he found himself lying on the pyre."

[p. 448]


The question that one naturally asks oneself is: Did Plato conclude his great treatise on the Ideal State with a popular legend in jest, or had he some deeper purpose? I cannot but think that he was jesting seriously. Is it too wild a supposition that he is hinting at things which he could not disclose because of his oath? Those who knew would understand; those who did not would think he was jesting simply, and so the mysteries would not be disclosed.

In any case we have, I think, got a hint of the part played by the Daimon in our treatise. Whether or not Hermes "copied" the idea from Plato, or both derived it from the same tradition, must be left to the fancy and taste of individual scholars. The Daimon is the watcher over the "way of life" (Ethos); he is not necessarily a Kakodaimon, but so to speak the Karmic Agent of the soul, appointed to carry out the "choice" of that soul, both good and ill, according to the Law of Necessity. [*1] The choice is man's; Nature adjusts the balance.

The Vision is of a typical nature, and the types are mythologized in the persons of well-known characters in Grecian story. The "way of life" the souls choose becomes the garment of "habit" they are to wear, their form of personality, or karmic limitation. Apparently some souls, instead of choosing a reincarnation in a human body, prefer to live the "lives" of certain animal natures. Are we then to believe that Plato seriously endorsed the popular ideas of metempsychosis? Or is it possible that he is referring to some state of existence of souls, which was symbolized by certain animal types

[p. 449]

in the Mysteries; as was certainly the case with the "lion" and "eagle," though the "swan" and "nightingale" and "ape" are, as far as I am aware, never mentioned in this connection? Can it be that Plato here gives play to his imagination, basing his speculations on some general idea he may have learned in Egypt?

We know from the so-called "Diagram of the Ophites," which is still traceable in a fragmentary form in the polemic of Origen against Celsus, that the "seven spheres" of the lower psychic nature were characterised by the names of animals: lion, bull, serpent, eagle, bear, dog, ass. We also know how the whole subject of animal correspondences preoccupied the attention of the Egyptian priesthood. But not only can we now make no reasonable scheme out of the fragmentary indications that have come down to us, but we also feel pretty well certain that if Plutarch's account of the beliefs of the later Egyptians on the subject is approximately reliable, the priests themselves of those days had no longer any consistent scheme.

We may, therefore, conclude either that the whole matter was a vain superstition entirely devoid of any basis in reality; or that there was a psychic science of animal natures and their relationship to man which was once the possession of the priesthood of the ancient civilisation of Egypt, but that it was lost, owing to the departure from amongst men of those who had the power to understand it, and subsequently only fragments of misunderstood tradition remained among the lesser folk on earth. This at anyrate is the theory of our Trismegistic treatises.


^437:1 Jowett, Dialogues, iii. clxvi.

^438:1 The Theosophical Review (April, May, June, 1898), xxii. 145 ff., 232 ff., 312 ff.

^439:1 And this I find to be the opinion of the last commentator on the subject; see Stewart (J. A.), The Myths of Plato (London, 1905), pp. 152 ff.

^440:1 So also Dreyer (J. L. E.), History of the Planetary Systems from Thales to Kepler (Cambridge, 1906), pp. 56 ff.

^440:2 The daimonian region.

^440:3 That is the eleventh day; Er, it will be remembered, was "unconscious" for twelve days.

^440:4 Or shaft.

^440:5 That which cannot be destroyed or changed.

^441:1 The shape would thus approximate to an oblate spheroid.

^441:2 To carry out the metaphor of the jars.

^441:3 Lit., "back."

^441:4 The names of the spheres may be deduced from Tim. 38, and are as follows: 1. Fixed Stars (all-coloured); 2. Saturn (yellow); 3. Jupiter (whitish); 4. Mars (reddish); 5. Mercury (yellowish); 6. Venus (white); 7. Sun (light-colour); 8. Moon (light-colour reflected). How the above statements as to "width of rim" and colours are to be made to work in with the scheme of rates of motions and numbers given in Tim. 36, I have not as yet been able to discover from any commentator. And seeing that Er is said to have seen this mystery from a region that transcended even the daimonian region, it is perhaps out of place to insist on a purely physical interpretation of the data.

^442:1 Or number-turns.

^444:1 A literary embellishment from the Tragic Muse of Greece, and the mythical recitals of Thyestian banquets.

^444:2 ethei aney filosofias.

^445:1 The Tartarean spheres of the invisible world, popularly believed to be below the earth; that is, philosophically, more material than earth-life.

^445:2 The vision (thea) was therefore typical.

^445:3 The birds are typical of souls living in the air--that is, in aery bodies and not in physical ones; or types of intelligence.

^445:4 Or Thamyris, an ancient Thracian bard; it is said that in his conceit he imagined he could surpass the Muses in song, in consequence of which he was deprived of his sight and the power of singing.

^446:1 Notice the "lion" and "eagle" are selected as types--they being typical sun-animals, as we have already seen.

^446:2 The fabled engineer of the Trojan Horse.

^447:1 ta epiklusthenta--a play on Kluthw'.

^447:2 This is probably a symbol of the heaven-plane.

^447:3 oy to ydur aggeion oyden stegein. So this is usually translated; but as the souls drink of it, the appropriateness of the rendering is not very apparent. On the other hand, stegein is used of things that are water-tight--e.g. houses and ships; hence "whose water no vessel can keep out." The "vessel" might thus stand for the ship of the soul; and if so, we are in contact with an Egyptian idea. The River is in the Desert--the reverse of the Nile and Egypt, of Osiris and Isis, their Typhonean counterparts.

^448:1 For the more intimate teaching on this point, see C. H., x. (xi.) 16 ff.

[p. 450]



"HE filled a mighty Cup with it [Mind], and sent it down, joining a Herald [to it], to whom He gave command to make this proclamation to the hearts of men: Baptize thyself with this Cup's baptism," etc.--C. H., iv. (v.) 4.


Whence came this idea of a Crater or Cup into our Trismegistic literature? Most scholars will answer unhesitatingly: From Plato. The Crater was the Cup in which the Creator mixed the Elements of the World-Soul; for we read in Timaeus (41 D), where Plato is treating of the formation of human souls:

"Thus spake He, and once again into the Cup which He had used in blending and mingling the Soul of the Universe, He poured the remains of the Elements He had employed, and mingled them in much the same manner; they were not, however, pure as before, but in the second and third degree."

I am, however, not inclined to attribute the origin of this symbolic expression simply to the imagery of Plato's poetic mind, but am far more inclined to believe that Plato was using a familiar figure of "Orphic" symbolism. The idea of not only an Ultimate Crater,

[p. 451]

but of many subsidiary ones in the celestial and invisible realms, is closely connected with the "Orphic" idea of a Vortex.


Orpheus is said to have called the Aether the Mighty Whirlpool. [*1] This forms the Egg or Womb of Cosmos; it is a modification of Chaos or Rhea, the Eternally-flowing, the Mother of the Gods, the Great Container. Thus Proclus, in speaking of Chaos, says:

"The last Infinity, by which also Matter (yle) is circumscribed, is the Container, the field and plane of ideas. About her is 'neither limit, nor foundation, nor seat, but excessive Darkness.'" [*2]

Plato, as we have seen, in his psychogony, speaks openly of this Cup or Crater (Mixing Space, or Vortex) in two aspects; in it the Deity mixes the All-Soul of universal nature from the purest Cosmic Elements, and from it He also "ladles out" the souls of men, composed of a less pure mixture of these Elements.

Further, Macrobius tells us that Plato elsewhere indirectly refers to another aspect of this Cup.

"Plato speaks of this in the Phaedo, and says that the soul is dragged back into body, hurried on by new intoxication, desiring to taste a fresh draught of the overflow of matter, [*3] whereby it is weighed down and brought back [to earth]. The sidereal [astral] Crater of Father Liber [Dionysus, Bacchus] is a symbol of this mystery; and this is what the Ancients called the

[p. 452]

[paragraph continues] River of Lethe, the Orphics saying that Father Liber was Hylic Mind." [*1]

We have here, therefore, a higher and lower Cup. Proclus, moreover, speaks of several of such Craters, when he writes:

"Plato in the Philebus hands on the tradition of the Vulcanic Crater . . . and Orpheus is acquainted with the Cup of Dionysus, and ranges many such Cups round the Solar Table." [*2]

Elsewhere, again, Proclus tells us that the Demiurge is said "to constitute the psychical essences in conjunction with the Crater"; this "Crater is the peculiar cause of souls, and is co-arranged with the Demiurgus and filled from Him, but fills souls"; thus it is called the Fountain of Souls. [*3]

If with these indications before us we might venture to generalize, we might say that, according to Orpheo-Pythagorean, Platonic, and Hermetic ideas, the "matter" of every "plane" was thought of as proceeding from such a Crater or Cup, from within without, and the elements thereof as being refunded into such a Cup or Centre or Receptacle--that is, from a more subtle, simpler, and inner phase to a more gross, complex, and outer phase, and vice versa. In other words, the Crater is the "monadic" or "atomic" state of the matter of any given phase or state of existence.


With the above data before us, it will also be instructive to turn to the Vision of Aridaeus (Thespesius)

[p. 453]

as related by Plutarch, [*1] a vision that may be compared with profit with the Vision of Er as told by Plato. Thespesius is being conducted through Hades, or the Invisible World in contact with earth-life, by a kinsman who has "passed over," as Spiritists would say, and curiously enough he there comes across a Chasm and a Crater--for part of the story runs:

"After these explanations he was conducted by his kinsman at great speed across an immense space, as it seemed, nevertheless easily and directly as though supported by wings of light-rays; until having arrived at a Vast Vortex (xasma) extending downwards, he was abandoned by the power that supported him.

"He observed also that the same thing happened to the rest of the souls there, for checking their flight, like birds, and sinking down, they fluttered round the Vortex in a circle, not daring to go straight through it.

"Inside it seemed to be decked like Bacchic caves [*2] with trees and verdure and every kind of foliage, while out of it came a soft and gentle air, laden with marvellous sweet scents, making a blend like wine for topers, so that the souls feasting on the fragrance were melted with delight in mutual embraces, while the whole place was wrapt in revelry and laughter and the spirit of sport and pleasure. [*3]

"Thespesius' kinsman told him that this was the Way by which Dionysus ascended to the Gods and

[p. 454]

afterwards took up Semele; [*1] it was called the Place of Lethe (Oblivion). [*2]

"Wherefore he would not suffer Thespesius to stay there, though he wished to do so, but forcibly dragged him away, explaining how that the rational part of the soul was melted and moistened [*3] by pleasure, while the irrational part, and that which is of a corporeal nature, being then moistened and made fleshly, awakens the memory of the body, and from this memory come a yearning and a desire which drag down the soul into

[p. 455]

generation . . . the soul being weighed down with moisture.

"Next Thespesius, after travelling another great distance, seemed to be looking at a huge Cup, [*1] with streams flowing into it; one whiter than the foam of the sea or snow, another like the purple which the rainbow sends forth, while from a distance the others were tinged with other colours, each having its own shade.

"But when he came closer, the Cup itself (into which they flowed)--the surroundings disappearing, and the colours growing fainter--lost its varied colouring and only retained a white brilliance."

Compare also the Hellenist writer in the Naassene Document ( section 17 S.): "The Greek theologi generally call Him [the Logos] the "Heavenly Horn of Men," because he has mixed and mingled all things with all."

On this the Jewish Gnostic writer comments: "This is the Drinking Vessel,--the Cup in which 'the King drinketh and divineth.'"

It is, says the Hellenist commentator again, "the Cup (of Anacreon) speaking forth speechlessly the Ineffable Mystery."

The Jewish commentator was a contemporary of Philo's, and the Hellenist was prior to him; thus we see that the Cup symbol was used in precisely the same significance as in our text in at least the first century B.C., and that the idea was referred to the Greek theologers--in other words, the Orphics--and not to Plato.

[p. 456]


With the above data before us, I think we may be persuaded without difficulty that the idea of the Cup, or Mixing-Bowl, did not owe its origin to any invention of Plato's, but that the greatest of philosophers, when he makes use of the symbol, does but employ a familiar image well known to his audience--as, indeed, is very apparent in the summary fashion in which he introduces the figure. In other words, the symbol or image was a commonplace of the Orphic tradition, and doubtless, therefore, familiar to every Pythagorean.

Now, in our treatise it is noticeable that this Cup-symbol is equated with the Monad [*1] or Oneness--a technical Pythagorean term.


^451:1 pelw'rion xasma (Simplicius, Ausc., iv. 123); magna vorago (Syrianus, Metaph., ii. 33a). Cf. Prolegg. ch. xi., "The Orphic Tradition of the Genesis of the World-Egg."

^451:2 Comment. in Tim., ii. 117. See my Orpheus, p. 154.

^451:3 Gnostice, "the superfluity of naughtiness."

^452:1 Comment, in Som. Scip., XI. ii. 66.

^452:2 Comment. in Tim., v. 316 (Taylor's trans.).

^452:3 Taylor (T.), Theology of Plato, V. xxxi.

^453:1 De Sera Numinis Vindicta, xxii. (ed. Bernardakis, iii. 454-466).

^453:2 Were the Bacchic Mysteries then celebrated in caves?

^453:3 This is clearly in correspondence with the "Astral Crater of Father Liber" of Macrobius.

^454:1 His "mother," from the under-world; referring to the mysteries of generation and the indestructibility of life. Semele in giving birth to Dionysus the Son of Zeus (the Creative Power), is said to have been killed by the Power of her Lord, but she was subsequently restored to life among the Gods by the Power of her Son. In reincarnating, it is said that part of the soul in giving birth to itself in this state "dies." The "child" then born may, in his turn, in the case of one perfect, become the saviour of his "mother," now become his spouse, and raise her, who is also himself, to a higher state.

^454:2 Compare Pistis Sophia (336, 337), which tells us how certain karmic agencies "give unto the old soul [prior to reincarnation] a Draught of Oblivion composed of the Seed of Iniquity, filled with all manner of desire and all forgetfulness. And the moment that that soul drinketh of that Draught, it forgetteth all the spaces [or regions] through which it hath travelled, and all the chastisements through which it hath passed; and that deadly Draught of Oblivion becometh a body external to the soul, like unto the soul in every way, and its perfect resemblance, and hence they call it the 'counterfeit spirit.'"

But in the case of the purified soul it is different; for a higher power "bringeth a Cup full of intuition and wisdom, and also prudence, and giveth it to the soul, and casteth the soul into a body which will not be able to fall asleep or forget, because of the Cup of Prudence which hath been given unto it, but will be ever pure in heart and seeking after the Mysteries of Light, until it hath found them, by order of the Virgin of Light, in order that [that soul] may inherit the Light for ever." (Ibid., 392, "Books of the Saviour.")

^454:3 Compare the "Moist Essence" of C. H., i. 4, and iii. (iv.) 1.

^455:1 krate'r--bowl or basin.

^456:1 It is of interest to notice that one of the apocryphal Books of Moses was called The Monad, and another The Key; this argues an early date and wide renown for our two treatises so entitled. See R. 182, n. 3.

[p. 457]




BUDGE, in his Gods of the Egyptians (vol. i. ch. xvi.), tells us that the Great Triad of Memphis consisted of Ptah, Sekhet, and I-em-hetep.

Ptah, as we have seen, was the "Sculptor or Engraver," the Demiurge par excellence. He is called the "Very Great God who came into being in the earliest time"; "Father of fathers, Power of powers"; "Father of beginnings and Creator of the Egg[s] of the Sun and Moon"; "Lord of Maat [Truth], King of the Two Lands, the God of the Beautiful Face . . . who created His own Image, who fashioned His own Body, who hath established Maat throughout the Two Lands"; "Ptah the Disk of Heaven, Illuminer of the Two Lands with the Fire of His Two Eyes." The "Workshop of Ptah" was the World Invisible.

It was Ptah who carried out the commands concerning the creation of the universe issued by Thoth.

The Syzygy or female counterpart of Ptah was Sekhet, "who was at once his sister and wife, and the mother of his son Nefer-Tem, and a sister-form of the Goddess Bast" (op. cit., i. 514). She is called: "Greatly Beloved One of Ptah, Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Two Lands"; and one of her commonest names is "Nesert," that is "Flame."

[p. 458]

It was Thoth (Tekh) who, with his Seven Wise Ones, planned the world (ib., 516). But if Ptah is the executive power of Thoth and his Seven Wise Ones, so is Thoth the personification of the Intelligence of Ptah. It is in this way that Sekhet becomes identified with Maat, the inseparable spouse of Thoth.


The third member of the Memphite Triad is Nefer-Tem, or the "Young Tem." In the Ritual (Ch. lxxxi., version B) we read the "apology": "Hail, thou Lotus, thou type of the God Nefer-Tem! I am he who knoweth you, and I know your name among the Gods, the Lords of the Underworld, and I am one of you." Again, in Ch. clxxiv. 19, Nefer-Tem is compared with "the Lotus at the nostrils of Ra"; also, in Ch. clxxviii. 36, Nefer-Tem has the same title.

In the later texts Nefer-Tem is identified with many Gods, all of them forms of Horus or Thoth (ib., 522).

Here we are in contact with the Ptah-tradition of Memphis which, we have seen, played an important part in the heredity of the cosmogenesis of our "Poemandres" tractate. In it the simultaneous identification and distinction of Thoth and Ptah and of Maat and Sekhet are naturally explained, and the Son of these Powers is the Young Tem, identified with the Young Horus or Young Thoth who is to succeed his Father. Are we here on the track of the ancestry of our Tat?

At Heliopolis (Annu) the Ancient God Tem was equated with Ra. Tem was the Father-God, Lord of Heaven, and Begetter of the Gods (op. cit., i. 92, 93). Usertsen I. rebuilt the sanctuary of Heliopolis about

[p. 459]

[paragraph continues] 2433 B.C., and dedicated it to Ra in the two forms of Horus and Temu (ib., 330).

"Tem was the first living Man-God known to the Egyptians, just as Osiris was the first dead Man-God, and as such was always represented in human form and with a human head. . . .

"Tem was, in fact, to the Egyptians a manifestation of God in human form. . . . It is useless to attempt to assign a date to the period when the Egyptians began to worship God in human form, for we have no material for so doing; the worship of Tem must, however, be of very great antiquity, and the fact that the priests of Ra in the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties united him to their God under the name of Ra-Tem, proves that his worship was wide-spread, and that the God was thought to possess attributes similar to those of Ra" (ib., 349, 350).

In the Trismegistic tradition in which Thoth holds the chief place, the Young Tem would thus represent the Young Thoth who succeeded to his Father when that Father ascended to the Gods.


Moreover the Egyptian texts prove that besides Nefer-Tem still another Son of Ptah was regarded as the third member of the Memphitic Triad. This Son was called I-em-hetep (or Imhotep), whom the Greeks called Imouthes or Imuth, and equated him with their Asclepius.

The name I-em-hetep means "He who cometh in Peace," and is very appropriate to the God who brought the knowledge of Healing to mankind; but I-em-hetep, though specially the God of medicine, was also the God of study and learning in general.

[p. 460]

"As a God of learning he partook of some of the attributes of Thoth, and he was supposed to take the place of this God in the performance of funeral ceremonies, and in superintending the embalming of the dead; in later times he absorbed the duties of Thoth as 'Scribe of the Gods,' and the authorship of the words of power which protected the dead from enemies of every kind in the Underworld was ascribed to him" (ib., 522, 523).

In the "Ritual of Embalmment" [*1] it is said to the Deceased: "Thy soul uniteth itself to I-em-hetep whilst thou art in the funeral valley."

The oldest shrine of the God was situated close to Memphis, and was called the "Temple of I-em-hetep, the Son of Ptah," which the Greeks called the Asclepieion.

Under Ptolemy IV., Philopator (222-205 B.C.), a temple was built to I-em-hetep on the Island of Philae, and from the hieroglyphic inscriptions we learn that the God was called: "Great One, Son of Ptah, the Creative God, made by Thenen, begotten by him and beloved by him, the God of divine forms in the temples, who giveth life to all men, the Mighty One of wonders, the Maker of times [?], who cometh unto him that calleth upon him wheresoever he may be, who giveth sons to the childless, the wisest and most learned one, the image and likeness of Thoth the Wise." [*2]

Imhotep-Asclepius was thus the "image and likeness of Thoth the Wise," even as Nefer-Tem was

[p. 461]

[paragraph continues] Young Thoth. Here we have precisely the distinction drawn between Asclepius and Tat in our Trismegistic literature; Asclepius was trained in all philosophy, Tat was young and as yet untrained.

"I-em-hetep," concludes Budge, "was the God who sent sleep to those who were suffering and in pain, and those who were afflicted with any kind of disease formed his special charge; he was the Good Physician both of Gods and men, and he healed the bodies of mortals during life, and superintended the arrangements for the preservation of the same after death. . . . He was certainly the God of physicians and of all those who were occupied with the mingled science of medicine and magic; and when we remember that several of the first Kings of the Early Empire are declared by Manetho, whose statements have been supported by the evidence of the papyri, to have written, i.e. caused to be edited, works on medicine, it is clear that the God of medicine was in Memphis as old as the archaic period" (ib., 524).

So much for the more important information that Budge has to offer us on the subject of Asclepius-Imuth from the side of pure Egyptian tradition--if we can use such a phrase of that tradition as strained through the sieve of almost purely physical interpretation. [*1]


And now let us turn to Reitzenstein and his instructive Dissertation, "Hermes u. Schuler" (pp. 117 ff.).

[p. 462]

Unquestionably the most general form of sermon found in the remains of our Trismegistic literature is that of instruction to Tat the "Son" of Hermes, who is "Father" and Initiator. Of these instructions two Corpora existed, namely, "The General Sermons" and "The Expository Sermons."

The name Tat is, of course, a variant of Thoth (Tehut); but whereas Hermes himself is always in such sermons characterised as Thrice-greatest, Tat has not yet reached to this grade of mastership; he is still "Young."

The name "Tat" occurs in one of the prayers in the Magic Papyri, part of which is undecipherable, and can only be translated by following the conjecture of Reitzenstein (p. 117, n. 6).

"Show thyself unto me in thy prophetic power O God of mighty mind, Thrice-great Hermes! Let him who rules the four regions of the Heavens and the four foundations of the Earth appear. Be present unto me O thou in Heaven, be present unto me thou from the Egg. . . . Speak, the Two Gods also are round thee,--the one God is called Thath and the other Haf." [*1]

Spiegelberg equates Haf with Hpj, the "Genius of the Dead" who appears coupled with Thoth in a Coptic Magic Papyrus of the second century A.D., [*2] where Isis speaks of "my father Ape-Thoth." This thus seems to identify Haf with Anubis--that is, Harmanup or Horus as Anubis. And Anubis, as Hermes-Tat, was considered in Egyptian tradition to be a composer of sacred scripture. [*3]

[p. 463]


The prayer just cited appears to put us into contact with the atmosphere of some inner mysteries of spiritual instruction. The God or Spiritual Master contains in himself his disciple, or a duad or triad of disciples; the relationship of Master and disciple is of the most intimate nature; not only is it of that of father to son, but of mother to child--for the disciple is born in the womb of the Master Presence. The disciple is as it were his ka.

Thus for the Egyptians, as Sethe and others have pointed out, the wise priest, that is a priest truly initiated into the Wisdom, was regarded as an incarnation of Thoth, and such an one after the death of his body was worshipped as Thoth.

And so we find at Medinet Habu the remains of a shrine, erected in the time of Ptolemy IX. (Euergetes II.)--146-117 BC.--to a certain High Priest of Memphis, Teos, who is called "Teos the Ibis," [*1] that is Thoth, and so identified with Thoth himself.

What we learn from the general tradition of this belief in the "incarnation" of Thoth into the perfected disciple of Wisdom, and the ascription of sacred literature to similar though not identical God-names to that of Thoth himself, is that there was on the one

[p. 464]

hand a firm belief in the unity of the Thoth-tradition, and on the other a necessary division of the sacred literature into older and later periods. The Thoth of the older period was regarded as a God, the Thoth of more recent times as a God-man. [*1] And so we find Plato in the famous passage of the Philebus, 18 B, uncertain whether to speak of Thoth as God or man.


In the known oldest references to the Thoth-Hermes literature, there has so far not been discovered anything that suggests the existence of a distinction between Hermes [Thoth] and Tat [Thoth]; but the absence of references proves little. Already, however, Nechepso and Petosiris, in the second century B.C., make Hermes the teacher of the younger God-disciples Anubis and Asclepius; in which connection it is of interest to note the following passage from a horoscope for the first year of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, [*2] set up by the priests of Hermes at Thebes--the Greek of which is very faulty and evidently written by "Barbari":

"After enquiry based on many books, handed down to us by the wise Ancients, the Chaldaeans,--both Petosiris,and especially King Necheus [sic; i.e. Nechepso], in as much as they also took counsel of our Lord Hermes and of Asclepius, that is of Imouthes, son of Hephestus. . . ." [*3]

[p. 465]

From this we learn that in the second century A.D. the writings of Petosiris and Nechepso, together with the "Chaldaean Books," still formed part of the Temple Library at Thebes; moreover, that Petosiris and Nechepso, in the second century B.C., based themselves on these Books as well as on Books ascribed to both Hermes and Asclepius. Moreover, from the Fragments of Nechepso [*1] we learn that he had before him a sermon of Asclepius called Moirogenesis, concerning the Genesis of Fate, and also Dialogues in which Hermes instructs Asclepius and Anubis concerning the mysteries of astrology. These Trismegistic works must thus be dated prior to the beginning of the second century B.C.

Sethe, in his essay on Asclepius-Imhotep, has endeavoured to show that this Imuth was originally a man, and that divine honours were first paid to him in the reign of Amasis (Amosis--Aah-mes), about 1700 B.C.


Manetho, however, tells us another story, when he writes of a certain king of the Third Dynasty (B.C. 3700): "Toso[r]thrus reigned twenty-nine years. He is called Asclepius by the Egyptians, for his medical knowledge. He built a house of hewn stones, and greatly patronised literature." [*2]

Tosothrus is Tcheser or Tcheser-sa (Dos'er), the second king of the Third Dynasty from Memphis. The "house of hewn stones" which he built, received remarkable confirmation from the excavations which were carried out by the Prussian General Minutoli in 1819, [*3] in the Step-Pyramid of Sakkara. This temple,

[p. 466]

says Budge (op. cit., i. 219) "is certainly the oldest of all the large buildings which have successfully resisted the action of wind and weather, and destruction by the hand of man."

In the Inscription of the Seven Famine Years, [*1] moreover, belonging in its present form to the later Ptolemaic period, but a copy of a far more ancient record, we read, in Sethe's restored Greek text:

"Tosothrus, in whose days (lived) Imouthes. He was considered by the Egyptians to be Asclepius because of his knowledge of the healing art; he discovered the art of building with hewn stones, and, moreover, occupied himself with literature."

We thus learn that long before Manetho's time there was an Asclepian literature, and not only did this deal with medicine but also with scripture in general and with "masonry."


That Asclepius was specially occupied with the sacred building-art, may be seen from Sethe's study, whose industry has discovered a book on Temple-building ascribed to Imuth, a "Book that came from Heaven northwards from Memphis." It was according to this Book that Ptolemy X. (Soter II.) and Ptolemy XI. (Alexander I.) enlarged the building of their ancestors at Edfu, "in agreement with the writing concerning the plans of the Temple of Horus, which the chief prelector of the priests, Imhotp, the son of Ptah, had written."

There were also certain very ancient Sermons (or Songs) of Imhotp, and a saying from one of these

[p. 467]

[paragraph continues] Sermons, the "Song from the House of King Intf," is given by Sethe as follows:

"I have heard the words of Imhotp and Hardadaf; they are still much spoken of, but where are their abodes?"

Perhaps this explains the statement in S. H. I. (Stob., Ec., i. 49; W. p. 467, 4) that Asclepius-Imuth was the inventor of poetry. Imuth was to the Egyptians what Orpheus, Linus or Musaeus was to the Greeks.

And so Reitzenstein (p. 121) concludes that the tradition of the old Egyptian and Hellenistic literature is unbroken. In Hellenistic times this view of the Divine Son of Ptah of Memphis and of his chief Shrine at Memphis spread widely, and his cult was extended to Thebes and even to Philae. At Thebes he appears united with the Theban Thoth and his younger likeness or image Amenhotep--the twin-brother of Imhotep (Asclepius) Son of Hapu, who is said to have lived as a man under King Amenophis III. (Amen-hetep), 1450 B.C., and who tells us himself how he became acquainted with the "Book of God" and saw in vision the "Pre-eminence of Thoth." [*1]

The chief Temple of Asclepius at Memphis was still honoured in later times, and even in the days of Jerome its priesthood was renowned for its occult wisdom. [*2]


Of the Cult of Aesculapius in Greece and of the widespread influence of this ideal there is little need to remind the student of the comparative history of religions; we cannot, however, refrain from appending a paragraph

[p. 468]

from a remarkable address recently delivered by the Rev. J. Estlin Carpenter to the students of Manchester College, Oxford, [*1] in which he says:

"Pass beyond the limits of Israel and its hopes, and you enter a world of religious phenomena, so varied as to be practically inexhaustible, and all the patient labour of the last thirty years has only begun to exhibit to us its contents. At every turn you are confronted with beliefs resembling those which pervade our New Testament, so that Prof. Cheyne has recently attempted in a very remarkable little volume, Bible Problems, to trace archaeologically the roots of four great doctrines associated with the person of Jesus--the Virgin Birth, the Descent into Hades, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. The inscriptions reveal to you the very language of Christianity in the making. The hymns and liturgies of other faiths derive their strength from similar ideas, and express similar aspirations. Does Jesus, according to the Gospels, give sight to the blind, and call the dead back to life? So does Aesculapius. He, too, is wondrously born; he, too, is in danger in his infancy. He, too, heals the sick and raises the dead, till Zeus, jealous of this infringement of his prerogatives, smites him with his thunderbolt, and translates him to the world above. But from his heavenly seat he continues to exercise his healing power. His worship spreads all through Greece. After a great plague in Rome, in 291 B.C., it is planted on a sacred island in the Tiber. In the first century of our era you may follow it all round the Eastern Mediterranean. In Greece alone Pausanias mentions sixty-three Asklepieia. There were others in Asia Minor, Egypt, Sicily; nearly two hundred being still traceable. They were both

[p. 469]

sanctuaries and medical schools. A number of inscriptions relate details of cures, or consecrate the ex-votos, which are still dedicated at Loretto or Lourdes. The temple by the Tiber won special fame in the reign of Antoninus Pius, for the restoration of the sight of a blind man. Aesculapius himself bears the titles 'king' and theos sute'r, 'divine saviour.' He was even suter tun olun, 'saviour of the universe.' In his cosmic significance he was thus identified-with Zeus himself, and on earth he was felt to be 'most loving to man' (cp. Tit. iii. 4). Harnack, in one of the fascinating chapters of his Expansion of Christianity, has traced the action of these influences on later Christianity conceived as a religion of healing or salvation, medicine alike of body and of mind. It must be enough now to remind you that the god was believed to reveal himself to those who sought his aid, and Origen affirms that a great multitude, both of Greeks and barbarians, acknowledge that they 'have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Aesculapius himself, healing and doing good, and foretelling the future.'"

But to pass on to the Trismegistic Asclepius.


Asclepius comes forward in our literature as the type of a disciple of Trismegistus already trained in philosophy. This prior training must presumably be referred to the Ptah-tradition--Ptah being himself a God of Revelation, that is of teaching by means of apocalypsis, and Asclepius being originally his "son" and "priest." But not only was Ptah a God of apocalypsis generally, but also a God of medicine, as he must needs have been for his son to have learned his wisdom from him.

[p. 470]

[paragraph continues] This view is brought out in a Hellenistic text which reads as follows:

"A Remedy from the shrines of Hephaestus [Ptah] at Memphis interpreted by the decision and owing to the philanthropy, they say, of Thrice-greatest Hermes; for he decided that it should be published with a view to man's saving. It was found on a golden tablet written in Egyptian characters." [*1]

The tradition of the date when Asclepius was admitted to the Trismegistic discipline is given in K. K., 3 (Stob., Ec., i. 49; W. p. 387, 1). After the ascension of Hermes, we are told:

"To him succeeded Tat, who was at once his son and heir unto these knowledges; and not long afterwards Asclepius-Imuth, according to the will of Ptah who is Hephaestus."

What precise historical worth this tradition may contain, it is impossible to say; all we can suppose is that there was at some early date a union of two schools of mystic discipline belonging respectively to the Thebaic and Memphitic traditions. This union may have been somewhat analogous to that of the disciples of John the Baptist and of Jesus. What is clear, however, from our Trismegistic writings, is that there is no doubt whatever in the writer's mind that the Trismegistic tradition is in possession of the higher wisdom; and, indeed, C. H., xiii. (xiv.) distinctly allows us to conclude that though. Tat was younger, in so far as he had not the technical training of the Asclepius-grade, it is nevertheless Tat, when he reaches "manhood," and not Asclepius, who succeeds to the mastership of the School.

Nevertheless we find a number of Trismegistic writings, presupposed especially in "The Definitions of

[p. 471]

[paragraph continues] Asclepius" and in "The Perfect Sermon," in which both Tat and Asclepius share in a common instruction--Asclepius appearing as the older and riper scholar.

This makes Reitzenstein (p. 122) suppose that this type of what we may call a company of two disciples was invented by the Hermes priests at Thebes, and that it was later on taken over by the Memphitic Ptah-Asclepius priests and developed in their own interest.

This may be so if we must be compelled to speculate on the dim shades of history which may be recovered from these obscure indications.


Of the Trismegistic writings of Asclepius, Lactantius (D. I., ii. 15, 7) mentions a "Perfect Sermon" to the King (Ammon), [*1] and also refers to a rich ancient literature by Asclepius addressed to the same king.

Reitzenstein (p. 123), moreover, says that C. H., (xvii.) presupposes writings addressed to the same King Ammon by Tat; but I gather that the persons of the dialogue are really Asclepius and the King, and not Tat, and that Tat has been substituted for Asclepius by some copyist in error.

However this may be, there was a large literature addressed by Hermes himself to Ammon, as we may see from the distinct statement in P. S. A., i. 2, and also from Stobaeus, Exx. xii.-xix. The same tradition is preserved in the presumably later Hermetic treatise, Iatromathematica, which is also addressed to Ammon. [*2]

[p. 472]


Here, then, we have another type of literature, and that, too, very ancient, in which the wise Priest and Prophet is set over against the King as teacher or discoverer of hidden wisdom. This we have already seen to have been the relationship between the Priest and Prophet Petosiris and King Nechepso. But the type goes still further back to pre-Greek times in Egypt. It was, as we have learned from Plutarch, who probably hands on the information direct from Manetho, a necessity that the King, to be a true King, should be initiated into the wisdom of the Priests.

As we have already seen, Imuth-Asclepius appears in Manetho as an inventor, so also in the charming story put into the mouth of Socrates by Plato in his Phaedrus (274 C) about "the famous old God whose name was Theuth,"--Thoth is the inventor par excellence. In this story--which elicits the remark from Phaedrus: "Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country"--Thoth takes his inventions to a certain King Thamus for his approval or disapproval, as to whether or no the Egyptians might be allowed the benefit of them. This Thamus was "King of the whole country of Egypt, and dwelt in that great city of upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the God Himself is called by them Ammon."

In Hecataeus, also, Osiris, King of Thebes, has all inventions laid before him, and gives special honour to Hermes whose inventions were far and wide renowned. [*1]

In this connection it is to be noted that in the Theban Thoth-cult, Thoth was regarded as the Representative

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of the King and Light-God Ra (or Ammon). And so we read on the tomb of Seti I.:

"Thou art in my place, my representative. Wherefore are thou moreover called Thoth, Representative of the Light-God Ra." [*1]

From these and other indications it is quite possible to conclude that Plato has used an ancient Egyptian logos as the basis of his story, and that this logos at a very early period found an echo in written instructions given by Thoth to the King.

All this took place on purely Egyptian ground, and hence the type of instruction from Thoth-Hermes to Ammon was fairly established in tradition before it was taken over by our Hellenistic Trismegistic writers.


So far, however, I believe, no reference to books written by Imhotep (Asclepius) to Ammon in the pre-Greek period has been discovered. Sethe, [*2] however, tells us that a certain Amenhotep who lived as early as the fifteenth century B.C., was a disciple and seer of Thoth. This Amenhotep was famous as a teacher of wisdom and discoverer of magic books; he was probably also renowned for his own writings as well. Gradually this Amenhotep became blended with Imhotep-Asclepius as his twin-brother, and finally in Ptolemaic times received divine honours at Thebes. Here, then, we have the blending in of another tradition, of a writer of books who was a disciple of Thoth, and was gradually confounded with Asclepius-Imuth, son of Ptah. And that there were two Asclepiuses, an older and a later, we are told distinctly by P. S. A., xxxvii. 3.

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Of the Sayings of this Asclepius a Greek porcelain [*1] gives us some idea. The first three Sayings, however, are simply taken from the Sayings of the Seven Sages of Greece; the rest may be partially Egyptian. This scrap of evidence, however, is of importance; for already in the third century B.C., Orphic Sayings are known to have been worked up with Egyptian material, and here we have Greek gnomic material blended with an Egyptian Imuth-tradition of Sayings.

Perhaps still more careful research may reward us with further side-lights on the development of this Asclepius-literature prior to the Greek period, and in its earliest Hellenistic forms. As it is, we are left with the impression that the traces which have been already discovered, justify the remarks made by the writer of our Trismegistic "Definitions of Asclepius unto the King" or "The Perfect Sermon of Asclepius unto the King"--C. H., (xvi.)--as based upon a well-established tradition in the School, concerning the change brought about by putting the Egyptian forms of the Asclepian writings, which were of a very mystical nature, into the more precise forms of the Greek tongue.

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