Tractate 13, Corpus Hermeticum

N.B. This has been superseded by the compilation Corpus Hermeticum: Eight Tractates which contains translations of and commentaries on tractates I, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI, XII, XIII.

Gratis Open Access: https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/eight-tractates-v2-print.pdf

Printed book: ISBN-13: 978-1976452369. 190 pages. 2017.


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


Tractate 13, Corpus Hermeticum

Some Notes On Translating Tractate XIII

As with many of the tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Greek text of tractate XIII provides an interesting insight into ancient Hellenic paganism and mysticism. It also – as with most of those tractates – presents the translator with certain problems, sometimes related to textual corruption, sometimes grammatical (should ῥοίζῳ, for example, in v. 9  of XIII be related to νικηθεῖσαι or to ἐξέπτησαν) and many of which problems concern the variety of meanings which can be assigned to certain words, as for instance in the important matter of νοῦς which is invariably translated as either “intellect” or as “mind”, neither of which is satisfactory especially given what both of those English words now often denote almost two thousand years after those Greek tractates were written.

My own choice in this tractate in respect of νοῦς – as in my translations of other Hermetic tractates – is perceiveration/perceiverance, which, even though such English words hint at what I believe νοῦς meant and implied esoterically and philosophically in Hellenistic times, are not entirely satisfactory. The only reasonable alternative seems to be a transliteration, as I do in this tractate – and have done in other tractates – in respect of λόγος, θεός and several other Greek words.

However, given that the goal of the translator is to provide for the general reader an intelligible interpretation of the text, to utilize transliterations for every problematic word would fail to accomplish that goal. Which is why the translator has to use their judgement and why every translation is ‘an interpretation of meaning’.

Such problematic words occur not only in the title of tractate XIII but also from the very first line of the text. In respect of the title – Ερμού του τρισμεγίστου προς τον υιόν Τάτ εν όρει λόγος απόκρυφος περί παλιγγενεσίας και σιγής επαγγελία – there is the question of translating (i) Τάτ, (ii) λόγος απόκρυφος, (iii) παλιγγενεσία, and (iv) ἐπαγγελία. In respect of the first line there is the question, at the very beginning, of Ἐν τοῖς Γενικοῖς, and what ὦ πάτερ – and the related ὦ τέκνον – might imply.

All of which questions – and the many subsequent ones together with the Cantio Arcana (The Esoteric Song) of sections 17 and 18 – make tractate XIII most interesting in regard to ancient Hellenic paganism and mysticism.


Title

A conventional translation of the title (by GRS Mead) is: “Concerning Rebirth and the Promise of Silence Of Thrice-greatest Hermes unto Tat his Son.”

My translation, however, is:

“On A Mountain: Hermes Trismegistus To His Son Thoth, An Esoteric Discourse Concerning Palingenesis And The Requirement of Silence.”

Which translation requires some explanation:

Thoth. As in other tractates I translate Τάτ by Thoth, avoiding the conventional Tat which, in English, has a colloquial meaning inappropriate here. As to which ‘Thoth’ is meant, the consensus is that in this and some other tractates it refers to the son (possibly biologically or more probably metaphorically) of Hermes Trismegistus who himself was named by the Greeks as Thoth, with the Τάτ of some other tractates being a scribal corruption of the name Thoth.

Esoteric Discourse. λόγος απόκρυφος. While ‘esoteric’ is an apt translation in regard to απόκρυφος, ‘discourse’ is not entirely satisfactory in respect of λόγος since it could be here interpreted to mean ‘disclosure’ or ‘explanation’. However, given what follows in section 1 – πυθομένου τὸν τῆς παλιγγενεσίας λόγον μαθεῖν…παραδιδόναι μοι – ‘discourse’ does seem appropriate.

Palingenesis. Rather than ascribe a particular meaning to παλιγγενεσία – such as ‘rebirth’ or ‘regeneration’ – I have chosen the English word palingenesis (from the Latin palingenesia) with that word explained by what follows in this particular discourse, qv. sections 12 and 13.

Requirement. The sense of ἐπαγγελία here, given what is discussed in this tractate, is ‘requirement’ rather than the strident ‘command’ or what is implied by the rather vague word ‘promise’.


The First Line

The first part of the first line of XIII is: Ἐν τοῖς Γενικοῖς͵ ὦ πάτερ͵ αἰνιγματωδῶς καὶ οὐ τηλαυγῶς ἔφρασας περὶ θειότητος διαλεγόμενος.

Conventionally: “In the General Sermons, father, thou didst speak in riddles most unclear, conversing on Divinity.”

My translation is:

When, father, you in the Exoterica conversed about divinity your language was enigmatic and obscure.

Which translation, as with title, requires some explanation:

Father. The Greek ὦ πάτερ – literally ‘my father’ – is a polite form of address, akin to the English ‘sir’. Similarly, ὦ τέκνον – ‘my son’ – is a polite reply. Given the esoteric nature of the text, a possible interpretation here of ὦ πάτερ would be ‘Master’, and of ὦ τέκνον ‘my pupil’.

in the Exoterica. Ἐν τοῖς γενικοῖς. Since the term γενικῶν λόγων occurs in tractate X it is reasonable to assume that γενικός here refers to the same thing although the meaning of the term is moot given that no details are provided in this tractate nor in tractate X, nor in Stobaeus  – Excerpts, III, 1 and VI, 1 – where the term also occurs. While most translators have assumed that it refers to ‘generic’ things or ‘generalities’ and thus (by adding λόγοι) have opted for an expression such as ‘General Sermons’, and given that a transliteration – such as genikois or genikoi – is awkward, I have in respect of the γενικοὶ opted for exoterica (from the Latin via the Greek τὰ ἐξωτερικά) with the meaning of “exoteric treatises designed for or suitable to the generality of disciples or students,” with the plausible suggestion thus being that there are exoteric Hermetic treatises and esoteric Hermetic treatises, with Reitzenstein describing these other treatises as διεξοδικοί λόγοι (R.A. Reitzenstein. Poimandres. Teubner, Leipzig. 1904. p.118) a distinction he also mentioned in his later work Die Hellenistischen Mysterien Religionen. One such esoteric treatise is tractate XIII.

The Esoteric Song

This much translated part of XIII has, in my opinion, been somewhat misunderstood given, for example, that θεὸς has invariably been translated by ‘God’ – implying as that word now so often does the God of Christianity – and φῶς (as in translations of the New Testament) translated by ‘light’, with ἀλήθεια as some kind of abstract ‘truth’, and with ὕμνος as ‘hymn’ suggestive as that English word now so often is of the hymns of Christian worship.

Conventionally, the first few verses are translated along the following lines:

“Let every nature of the World receive the utterance of my hymn!
Open thou Earth! Let every bolt of the Abyss be drawn for me. Stir not, ye Trees!
I am about to hymn creation’s Lord, both All and One.
Ye Heavens open, and ye Winds stay still; and let God’s deathless Sphere receive my word.”

My translation [1] is as follows:

Let every Physis of Kosmos favourably listen to this song.
Gaia: be open, so that every defence against the Abyss is opened for me;
Trees: do not incurvate;
For I now will sing for the Master Artisan,
For All That Exists, and for The One.
Open: you Celestial Ones; and you, The Winds, be calm.
Let the deathless clan of theos accept this, my logos.

Which, for me at least, evokes – as tractate XIII does in its entirety – something redolent of paganism rather than of Christianity.

David Myatt
2017

[1] https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/eight-tractates-v2-print.pdf


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


Corpus Hermeticum XII

N.B. The translations are now included in the compilation Corpus Hermeticum: Eight Tractates which contains translations of and commentaries on tractates I, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI, XII, XIII.

Gratis Open Access: https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/eight-tractates-v2-print.pdf

Printed book: ISBN-13: 978-1976452369. 190 pages. 2017.

David Myatt


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


Corpus Hermeticum XII

N.B. The extracts that were previously here have been superseded by Hermeticum: Eight Tractates which contains translations of and commentaries on tractates I, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI, XII, XIII.

Gratis Open Access: https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/eight-tractates-v2-print.pdf

Printed book: ISBN-13: 978-1976452369. 190 pages. 2017.


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


N.B. This work has been superseded by the compilation Corpus Hermeticum: Eight Tractates which contains translations of and commentaries on tractates I, III, IV, VI, VIII, XI, XII, XIII.

Gratis Open Access: https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/eight-tractates-v2-print.pdf

Printed book: ISBN-13: 978-1976452369. 190 pages. 2017.


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


Cicero On Summum Bonum

In De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum Marcus Tullius Cicero, in criticizing Epicurus and others, presents his view of Summum Bonum, a term normally translated as ‘the supreme good’. According to Cicero, honestum (honourable conduct) is the foundation of Summum Bonum which itself can be discerned by careful consideration (ratio) in conjunction with that knowing (scientia) of what is divine and what is mortal that has been described as wisdom (sapientia).

aequam igitur pronuntiabit sententiam ratio adhibita primum divinarum humanarumque rerum scientia, quae potest appellari rite sapientia, deinde adiunctis virtutibus, quas ratio rerum omnium dominas, tu voluptatum satellites et ministras esse voluisti. (II, 37)

He then writes that honestum does not depend on any personal benefit (omni utilitate) that may result or be expected but instead can be discerned by means of consensus among the whole community in combination with the example afforded by the honourable actions and motives of the finest of individuals.

Honestum igitur id intellegimus, quod tale est, ut detracta omni utilitate sine ullis praemiis fructibusve per se ipsum possit iure laudari. quod quale sit, non tam definitione, qua sum usus, intellegi potest, quamquam aliquantum potest, quam communi omnium iudicio et optimi cuiusque studiis atque factis, qui permulta ob eam unam causam faciunt, quia decet, quia rectum, quia honestum est, etsi nullum consecuturum emolumentum vident. (II, 45f)

In effect, Summum Bonum – what the Greeks termed τὸ ἀγαθὸν – depends on certain personal qualities such as a careful consideration of a matter; on a personal knowing of what is divine and what is mortal; on the example of personal noble deeds and motives, and on a communal consensus.

There is therefore nothing morally abstract or dogmatic about Cicero’s understanding of Summum Bonum which so well expresses, as does Seneca [1], the Greco-Roman view, with a perhaps more apt translation of the term Summum Bonum thus being “the highest nobility”.

David Myatt
2017

An extract from the Introduction to my forthcoming translation of and commentary on the sixth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, entitled as that tractate is ῞Οτι ἐν μόνῳ θεῷ τὸ ἀγαθόν ἐστιν ἀλλαχόθι δὲ οὐδαμοῦ: That In The Theos Alone Is Nobility And Not Anywhere Else.

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[1] “summum bonum est quod honestum est; et quod magis admireris: unum bonum est, quod honestum est, cetera falsa et adulterina bona sunt”.  Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, LXXI, 4


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


 

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