Three of the many Greek terms of interest in respect of understanding the varied weltanschauungen outlined in the texts that comprise the Corpus Hermeticum are ἀγαθός and νοῦς and θεός, with conventional translations of these terms as ‘good’ and ‘Mind’ and ‘god’ (or God) imparting the sense of reading somewhat declamatory sermons about god/God and ‘the good’ familiar from over a thousand years of persons preaching about Christianity interspersed with definitive philosophical statements about ‘Mind’, as if a “transcendent intelligence, rationality,” or a “Mental or psychic faculty” or both, or something similar, is meant or implied.

Thus the beginning of tractate VI – τὸ ἀγαθόν, ὦ ᾿Ασκληπιέ, ἐν οὐδενί ἐστιν, εἰ μὴ ἐν μόνῳ τῷ θεῷ, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ ἀγαθὸν αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ θεὸς ἀεί – and dealing as it does with both ἀγαθός and θεός, has been translated, by Mead, as “Good, O Asclepius, is in none else save God alone; nay, rather, Good is God Himself eternally,” [1] and by Copenhaver as “The good, Asclepius, is in nothing except in god alone, or rather god himself is always the good.” [2]

In respect of νοῦς, a typical example is from Poemandres 12 – ὁ δὲ πάντων πατὴρ ὁ Νοῦς, ὢν ζωὴ καὶ φῶς, ἀπεκύησεν ῎Ανθρωπον αὐτῷ ἴσον, οὗ ἠράσθη ὡς ἰδίου τόκου· περικαλλὴς γάρ, τὴν τοῦ πατρὸς εἰκόνα ἔχων· ὄντως γὰρ καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἠράσθη τῆς ἰδίας μορφῆς, παρέδωκε τὰ ἑαυτοῦ πάντα δημιουργήματα. The beginning of this is translated by Mead as “But All-Father Mind, being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child for he was beautiful beyond compare,” and by Copenhaver as “Mind, the father of all, who is life and light, gave birth to a man like himself whom he loved as his own child. The man was most fair: he had the father’s image.”

Similarly, in respect of Poemandres 22 – παραγίνομαι αὐτὸς ἐγὼ ὁ Νοῦς τοῖς ὁσίοις καὶ ἀγαθοῖς καὶ καθαροῖς καὶ ἐλεήμοσι, τοῖς εὐσεβοῦσι, καὶ ἡ παρουσία μου γίνεται βοήθεια, καὶ εὐθὺς τὰ πάντα γνωρίζουσι καὶ τὸν πατέρα ἱλάσκονται ἀγαπητικῶς καὶ εὐχαριστοῦσιν εὐλογοῦντες καὶ ὑμνοῦντες τεταγμένως πρὸς αὐτὸν τῇ στοργῇ – which is translated by Mead as “I, Mind, myself am present with holy men and good, the pure and merciful, men who live piously. [To such] my presence doth become an aid, and straightway they gain gnosis of all things, and win the Father’s love by their pure lives, and give Him thanks, invoking on Him blessings, and chanting hymns, intent on Him with ardent love,” and by Copenhaver as “I myself, the mind, am present to the blessed and good and pure and merciful – to the reverent – and my presence becomes a help; they quickly recognize everything, and they propitiate the father lovingly and give thanks, praising and singing hymns affectionately and in the order appropriate to him.”

As explained in various places in my commentary on tractates I, III, IV, VIII, and XI, and in two appendices [3], I incline toward the view that – given what such English terms as ‘the good’, Mind, and god now impute, often as a result of two thousand years of Christianity and post-Renaissance, and modern, philosophy – such translations tend to impose particular and modern interpretations on the texts and thus do not present to the reader the ancient ethos that forms the basis of the varied weltanschauungen outlined in the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum.

To avoid such impositions, and in an endeavour to express at least something of that ancient (and in my view non-Christian) ethos, I have – for reasons explained in the relevant sections of my commentary – transliterated θεὸς as theos [4], νοῦς as perceiveration, or according to context, perceiverance; and ἀγαθός as, according to context, nobility, noble, or honourable [5]. Which is why my reading of the Greek of the three examples above provides the reader with a somewhat different impression of the texts:

° Asclepius, the noble exists in no-thing: only in theos alone; indeed, theos is, of himself and always, what is noble. [6]

° Perceiveration, as Life and phaos, father of all, brought forth in his own likeness a most beautiful mortal who, being his child, he loved.

° I, perceiveration, attend to those of respectful deeds, the honourable, the refined, the compassionate, those aware of the numinous; to whom my being is a help so that they soon acquire knowledge of the whole and are affectionately gracious toward the father, fondly celebrating in song his position.

But, as I noted in respect of ἀγαθός in the On Ethos And Interpretation appendix, whether these particular insights of mine are valid, others will have to decide. But they – and my translations of the tractates in general – certainly, at least in my fallible opinion, convey an impression about ancient Hermeticism which is rather different from that conveyed by other translations.

David Myatt
March 2017

Extract from a letter in reply to a correspondent who, in respect of the Corpus Hermeticum, enquired about my translation of terms such as ἀγαθός and νοῦς. I have, for publication here, added a footnote which references my translations of and commentaries on five tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum.
°°°

Notes

[1] G.R.S Mead. Thrice-Greatest Hermes. Theosophical Society (London). 1906.

[2] B. Copenhaver. Hermetica. Cambridge University Press. 1992

[3] My translations of and commentary on tractates I, III, IV, and XI – and the two appendices – are available in pdf format at https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/corpus-hermeticum-i-iii-iv-xi/

My translation of and commentary on tractate VIII is available in pdf format at https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/corpus-hermeticum-viii/

[4] To be pedantic, when θεὸς is mentioned in the texts it often literally refers to ‘the’ theos so that at the beginning of tractate VI, for example, the reference is to ‘the theos’ rather than to ‘god’.

[5] In respect of ‘the good’ – τὸ ἀγαθόν – as ‘honourable’, qv. Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, LXXI, 4, “summum bonum est quod honestum est. Et quod magis admireris: unum bonum est, quod honestum est, cetera falsa et adulterina bona sunt.”

[6] The suggestion seems to be that ‘the theos’ is the origin, the archetype, of what is noble, and that only through and because of theos can what is noble be presenced and recognized for what it is, and often recognized by those who are, or that which is, an eikon of theos. Hence why in tractate IV it is said that “the eikon will guide you,”; why in tractate XI that “Kosmos is the eikon of theos, Kosmos [the eikon] of Aion, the Sun [the eikon] of Aion, and the Sun [the eikon] of mortals,” and why in the same tractate it is said that “there is nothing that cannot be an eikon of theos,” and why in Poemandres 31 theos is said to “engender all physis as eikon.”

As I noted in my commentary – qv. especially the mention of Maximus of Constantinople in respect of Poemandres 31 – I have transliterated εἰκὼν.


Image credit: The beginning of Tractate VI from the book Mercvrii Trismegisti Pœmandres, published in Paris in 1554


 

 

°°°
Corpus Hermeticum – Tractate VIII
A Translation And Commentary

 

Corpus Hermeticum VIII
(pdf)

 

°°°

From the Introduction:

The eighth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, concise as it is, provides an interesting summary of some of the tenets of the Hermetic weltanschauung. As, for example, in the mention of a first being (the primary theos) and of a second being (a theos) who is an eikon (εἰκὼν) of the first, and which first being – theos – is the artisan of all beings; and as, for example, in the mention of mortals having a natural empathy (συμπάθεια) with this eikon, this second being, who is identified as κόσμος, with κόσμος understood here, as in tractate XI, either as a personification, as a divinity, the theos – a deathless living being, ζῷον ἀθάνατον – who is the living cosmic order, or, as in the Poemandres tractate as simply referring in an impersonal manner to ‘the cosmic order’ itself.

While most other translators have opted here, as in other tractates, to translate κόσμος as cosmos (which English term suggests that the physical universe is meant) I incline toward the view that here – as in tractate XI – a divinity is meant, especially given how κόσμος is described: as “a second theos and a deathless living being,” and as an eikon of the primary theos.

There are certain parallels with tractate XI and in which tractate it is stated that “Kosmos is the eikon of theos, Kosmos that of Aion, the Sun that of Aion, and mortals that of the Sun. It is said that changement is death since the body disintegrates with life departing to the unperceptible,” (section 15) and, in section 14, that “Life is the enosis of perceiverance and psyche, while death is not the loss of what was joined but the end of enosis.”

What therefore emerges from this, the eighth, tractate are two things: how we mortals are part of, and connected to, Kosmos and thence – since Kosmos is an eikon – to the first, the primary, theos, and how diverse the Hermetic weltanschauung is in respect of some details while nevertheless retaining an underlying ethos.

The references in the commentary to other tractates are to my translations of and commentary on tractates I (Poemandres), III (An Esoteric Mythos), IV (Chaldron Or Monas) and XI (From Perceiverance To Hermes), available in one volume [1]. As with those tractates I have, through transliterations and choice of English words, endeavoured to present something of the metaphysical nature of the tractate, although this particular tractate, concise as it is, is in places rather esoterically obscure, an obscurity that a study of the aforementioned tractates may somewhat alleviate, although it is interesting to speculate whether or not, in the decades following the composition of this tractate, such esoteric matters were explained by means of an aural tradition, individual mystic to aspiring individual mystic.

[1] Corpus Hermeticum I, III, IV, XI. 2017. ISBN 9781544269474


Image credit:
The beginning of Tractate VIII
from the book Mercvrii Trismegisti Pœmandres, published in Paris in 1554.

Corpus Hermeticum XI

°°°

The second edition of this work collects together my translations of and commentaries on the five tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum which were published separately between 2013 and 2017.

Corpus Hermeticum I, III, IV, VIII, XI
(pdf)

Contents:

Tractate I. Ποιμάνδρης. Poemandres.
Tractate III. Ιερός Λόγος. An Esoteric Mythos.
Tractate IV. Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς. Chaldron Or Monas.
Tracate VIII. Ὅτι οὐδὲν τῶν ὄντων ἀπόλλυται. That No Beings Are Lost.
Tractate XI. Νοῦς πρὸς Ἑρμῆν. From Perceiverance To Hermes.
Appendix I. Some Examples Regarding Translation and Questions of Interpretation.
Appendix II. On Ethos And Interpretation.
Appendix III. Concerning ἀγαθός and νοῦς in the Corpus Hermeticum.


Image credit:
The beginning of Tractate XI
from the book Mercvrii Trismegisti Pœmandres, published in Paris in 1554.

hermetica7

°°°

The link below is to a pdf version of my now completed translation of and commentary on tractate XI of the Corpus Hermeticum, which tractate is entitled Νοῦς πρὸς Ἑρμῆν: From Perceiverance To Hermes.

 Νοῦς πρὸς Ἑρμῆν: From Perceiverance To Hermes
(pdf)

Image credit:
The beginning of Tractate XI
from the book Mercvrii Trismegisti Pœmandres, published in Paris in 1554.

Corpus Hermeticum XI

°°°

N.B. The following complete version replaces the extract which was previously on this page. The pages in that extract – in respect of both translation and commentary – have been significantly revised.

°°°

The link below is to a pdf version of my now completed translation of and commentary on tractate XI of the Corpus Hermeticum, which tractate is entitled Νοῦς πρὸς Ἑρμῆν: From Perceiverance To Hermes.

Νοῦς πρὸς Ἑρμῆν: From Perceiverance To Hermes
(pdf)

Image credit:
The beginning of Tractate XI
from the book Mercvrii Trismegisti Pœmandres, published in Paris in 1554.


WWI British cemetery at Abbeville

There is such a failure of understanding, at least by me [1]. Such a failure because there seems no end to such human-made suffering – such killing, human upon human, such human-made emotionally-induced violence, such destruction – that we men in our majority cause and have caused, world-wide, year following year, decade following decade, century upon century, millennia after millennia.

For millennia, any and every cause – any ideology, any faith, any belief, any personal emotion,  personal loyalty, a chain-of-command – has hallowed our violence, our hatred, our killing. Every century we seem to invent some new excuse – or regurgitate some old excuse – for our unempathic behaviour.

Yet compassion, hope of peace, personal and familial love – those now so familiar muliebral virtues – endure and continue to enchant at least some of us. So much so that many men continue to believe in God, in Allah, or in some inscrutable mechanism such as karma. Are we men then the phenotype of Janus?

Perhaps we are. But can our human culture of pathei-mathos perhaps change, redeem, us? Yet again I do not know, and can only once again hope even given that:

I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

So I am returned to whence and where I was, the only fallible personal certainty now being personal and familial love.

David Myatt
2016


An extract from an e-mail to a friend, inspired by Gymnopédie No. 1 (Erik Satie) played by Lavinia Meijer,
with a footnote added, and some emendations made, post scriptum

°°°

[1] εἶτα τὸν τὰ χαλεπὰ γνῶναι δυνάμενον καὶ μὴ ῥᾴδια ἀνθρώπῳ γιγνώσκειν τοῦτον σοφόν. “Yet the wise person is the one able to understand such complex matters as seem incomprehensible to other human beings.”

Thus it follows – quod erat demonstrandum – that I am still far, so very far, from being wise.


Image credit: British cemetery at Abbeville, World War One

Attic Vase c. 480 BCE, depicting Athena (Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany)
Breaking My Silence

As someone brought up as a Catholic, who in his early years was educated at a Catholic Preparatory School, who entered the noviciate of a Catholic monastery, and who – perhaps unusually – also some years later converted to Islam, lived for a decade as a Muslim, travelled in Muslim lands, and studied the Quran and Sunnah in Arabic, I am dismayed, unsettled, at the killing of an elderly Priest in a Church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in France by two persons who (according to information received so far) were radical Muslims and probably inspired by the Middle-Eastern group ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil ‘Iraq wa ash-Sham, named in the lands of the West as Daesh, Isis, and ‘Islamic State’.

So dismayed, unsettled, that I have the temerity to break my self-imposed, years-long, silence regarding ‘current affairs’ and ‘current events’. For such a killing of such an elderly religious figure – taken hostage with (according to current and informed reports) two nuns during Mass – is just so dishonourable, so cowardly, that it yet again places (for me at least) into perspective “what is at stake”, remembering as I do that quotational phrase because it was said to me in 2001 by a Special Branch (SO12) British police officer shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

What is at stake – as that Special Branch officer, and so many of his colleagues, intuitively knew – is the culture of the West itself, manifest as that culture is in such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, and created as such a culture has been by hundreds of years of communal and individual hardship and pathei-mathos. For the lands of such a culture are – despite their many imperfections, and in comparison to so many other non-Western lands – places of relative safety and peace and opportunity for the majority of their citizens. Places of law, and order, where so many know – and try to do – what is right, what is just, what is honourable. And places where so many other people, world-wide, hope and seek to reach and live.

Of course, such truths are not what I, personally, believed for many decades, seeking as I so often did to undermine such Western societies by political, by revolutionary, and even by terrorist, means. But as I mentioned in a fairly recent essay:

“The reality of The United States of America – in its vastness and its diversity (social, religious, racial) – is, as so discovered via my own recent pathei-mathos, so very different from the answers propagated by those who, lacking such a personal pathei-mathos extending over years of such a diverse America, personally or ideologically fixate on ‘this’ or ‘that’ perceived or even real causal personal problems as exist in a land such as America. Yet the reality of America is of many people – both in government and otherwise – who, from the best of intentions, seek and have saught to make their family, their local area, their State, their nation, a better place.”  [1]

What therefore can be done, and is there as some have assumed a clash of ‘civilizations’ with “us” contrasted with “them”?

As to what can be done, my own fallible answer born as it is from some four decades of experience of extremism and pathei-mathos, is that it seems incumbent upon us to know, to remember, how and why our Western societies came into being, how and why they have been progressively reformed over a century and more, and why it is incumbent on each one of us to be prepared to do what is honourable in the immediacy of the living moment.

In this I recall what another member of SO12 said to me following my arrest in 1998 following allegations of ‘conspiracy/incitement to murder’ and ‘incitement to racial hatred’. Which was that he was simply doing his duty, in an honourable way, according to what was laid down: according to the oath of his office and thus according to the accumulated law of the land, and that it was not for him or his colleagues to judge since such judgement was the prerogative of an established Court of Law so constituted in its longevity that a fair trial was possible. He had guidelines, a supra-personal and well-established duty, while I realized I had none, having been guided for so long only by hubris.

As to whether there is a ‘clash of civilizations’, my own fallible answer is that there is not; that here, now – as so often in our human past – there is only a clash between the honourable and the dishonourable, and that while such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, are far from perfect they do often manifest for perhaps a majority what is decent, honourable, especially when compared to the majority of past societies, so that when dishonour occurs in such societies – when some dishonourable deed is done – there are usually individuals, be they Police officers, or soldiers, or journalists, or some citizen, who will seek to redress that dishonour.

For honour is only and ever honour, always the same, while the dishonourable, the cowardly, can hide behind, and have for millennia hidden behind, some cause or ideology or religion or some personal excuse that they or others have manufactured and denoted by some name.

For the fault is not that of some religion named Islam; nor of some extremist version of that religion. The fault is ourselves, our human nature; our propensity – and seemingly, sometimes, our need – to be violent, to find in some cause or some ideology or some religion, an excuse for our desire, our need, to be selfish, dishonourable, violent, or establish a ‘name’ for ourselves.

What we – in societies such as those in Britain, France, and the United States – have evolved, so slowly, so painfully over a century and more are some reasonable guidelines, a sense of duty, regarding what is honourable and what is dishonourable.

As Homer declaimed well over two thousand years ago:

τὸν δ᾽ ἐπαλαστήσασα προσηύδα Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη:
‘ὢ πόποι, ἦ δὴ πολλὸν ἀποιχομένου Ὀδυσῆος
δεύῃ, ὅ κε μνηστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφείη.
εἰ γὰρ νῦν ἐλθὼν δόμου ἐν πρώτῃσι θύρῃσι
σταίη, ἔχων πήληκα καὶ ἀσπίδα καὶ δύο δοῦρε  [2]

David Myatt
July 26th 2016

 

Extract From A Letter To A Friend

 

°°°

[1] In Praise Of America And Britain, 2015.

[2] Then Pallas Athena – angry at this – said to him:
Before the gods! How great is the need here for the absent Odysseus –
For him to set about these disrespectful ones with his fists!
Would that he would arrive at the outer gate of this dwelling
With his helmet on and holding his shield and two spears.

Odyssey, Book I, 252-256


Image credit: Attic Vase c. 480 BCE, depicting Athena (Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany)