A Little ‘Hermetica’ Sampler From the Stobaeus Anthology
Thoth as the Ibis with a Maat feather. 4rth century B.C., possibly from Hermopolis in Middle Egypt. Collections from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are a few excerpts from David Litwa’s English translation of the Hermetic Excerpts found in the Classical Writings Anthology made by Joannes Stobaeus during the 5fth century C. E. in Stobi, Macedonia. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
‘This volume presents in new English translations the scattered fragments and testimonies regarding Hermes Thrice Great that completeBrian Copenhaver’s translation of the Hermetica (Cambridge).
It contains the twenty-nine fragments from Stobaeus (including the famous Korē Kosmou), the Oxford and Vienna fragments (never before translated into English), an expanded selection of fragments from various authors (including Zosimus of Panopolis, Augustine, and Albert the Great), and testimonies about Hermes from thirtyeight authors (including Cicero, Pseudo-Manetho, the Emperor Julian, Al-Kindī, Michael Psellus, the Emerald Tablet, and Nicholas of Cusa).
All translations are accompanied by introductions and notes which cite sources for further reading. These Hermetic texts will appeal to a broad array of readers interested in western esotericism including scholars of Egyptology, the New Testament, the classical world, Byzantium, medieval Islam, the Latin Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.’ From the Introduction.
From Stobaean Hermetica 23.
The Gifts of the Planets
28.The Sun spoke: ‘I will shine all the more.’
Moon promised to light up her course in Sun’s wake. She added that she had already engendered Fear, Silence, Sleep, and Memory that would be useful to human beings.
Saturn announced that he was already the father of Justice and Necessity.
Jupiter spoke: ‘So that the future race might not totally devote themselves to war, I have already fathered for their benefit Fortune, Hope and Peace.’
Mars said that he was already the father of Struggle, Wrath, and Strife.
Venus asserted without hesitation: ‘To them, Master, I will yoke Desire, Pleasure, and Laughter so that the souls akin to me, who suffer the most horrid condemnation, might not be punished beyond measure.’
God was greatly pleased, my child, when Venus said this.
29.‘And I will make human nature,’ Mercury said, ‘and entrust to them Wisdom, Moderation, Persuasion, and Truth. I will not cease to join with Invention. Moreover, I will forever benefit the mortal life of future humans born under my zodiacal signs. The signs that the father and Craftsman entrusted to me are wise and intelligent. I will benefit the race all the more when the movement of the stars that overlie them are in harmony with the natural energy of each individual.’
From Stobaean Hermetica 29
On Fate. An Extract from Hermes
Seven much-wandering stars turn round the Olympian threshold,
And with them time ever travels:
Moon shining in the night, sullen Saturn, sweet Sun,
The Paphian who bears the bridal bed, violent Mars, well-winged Mercury,
And Jupiter the progenitor, origin of nature’s bloom.
These same stars have obtained by lot the race of mortals. Among us there are
Moon, Jupiter, Mars, the Paphian, Saturn, Sun, and Mercury.
From their influence, we are allotted to draw from the aetherial breath
Tears, laughter, rage, reproduction, reason, sleep, and desire.
The tears are Saturn, Zeus is reproduction, Mercury is reason,
Anger is Mars, Moon is sleep, Cytheria desire,
Sun is laughter – for by him all mortal intelligence
Rightly laughs together with the infinite cosmos.
From Stobaean Hermetica 26
12. Up above there are springs for all the things that we do and say on earth. These springs pour down their essences upon us by measure and weight. There is not anything that has not descended from above. In turn, what ascends does so in order to descend.”
Horus: “What do you mean, mother? Show me.”
Isis explained again: “Most sacred Nature has placed this in animals as a clear sign of their return course: the breath that we draw from the air above. This we send up again so that we can receive it again. Moreover,
in us there are a pair of bellows that do the work of respiration. When these bellows close their breath-receiving valves, then we no longer exist here, but have risen above.
13. There are other things as well, my most famous son, that come from the equilibrium of our (body’s) composition.”
“What is our (body’s) composition, mother?” Horus asked.
Isis: “It is the assembly and blend of the four elements. From this blend and assembly, a vapor is exuded. This vapor wraps itself round the soul and runs through the body. To both – I mean body and soul – it bestows its own quality. In this way, arise the different variations that occur in souls and bodies.
14. If fire predominates in the bodily frame, then the soul, already naturally hot, receives additional heat, becomes more enflamed, and produces an active and vigorous animal whose body is keen and agile.
15. If air predominates, then the animal will be light, springy, and unstable in soul and body.
16. If water predominates, then the animal will be easygoing, good-natured, and diffuse in its soul, able to associate with others and be joined to them due to water’s cohesive and uniting quality. Water spreads over all things. When in large volumes, it surrounds and dissolves everything into itself. In small, reduced quantities, it becomes one with what it seeps into. The bodies in which water prevails, however, are not firmly entwined due to their moistness and porousness. Rather, by reason of a slight malady, these bodies are dissolved and gradually lose their own cohesion.
17. If the earthly element predominates, then the soul of the animal is dull. Its body lacks supple tenuousness and the means to spring forth since its sensory organs are swollen. Within, the soul remains by itself chained
down by weight and bulk. The body is solid but inactive, heavy, and moved by willpower only by force.
18. If the state of all the elements is balanced, then the animal is constructed as heated for action, light for movement, well-tempered for touch, and nobly fortified.
19. By this reasoning, those that share in abundant fire and breath are turned into birds and live on high among other elements from which they were born.
20. Those who share in abundant fire, a small amount of breath, and an equal measure of water and earth become human beings. In the human animal, the excess of heat is turned into intelligence. Consciousness in us is something warm. It cannot burn up, but pervades and presides over all things.
21. Those that share abundant water and earth with a moderate amount of breath and a small amount of fire become beasts. Some beasts become braver than other animals by the presence of heat.
22. Those that receive an equal portion of earth and water will turn into reptiles. By lacking fire, they are born wary and skittish; by sharing in water, they are cold; by sharing in earth they are heavy and sluggish; and by sharing in breath they are agile if they so choose.
23. The bodies that receive a greater amount of moisture and a small amount of dryness become fish. By the lack of heat and air, they also are timid. By virtue of their excess moisture and earthy material, they live in elements familiar to them, namely mud and water.
24. Their bodies mature in size according to the share of each element and the extent of each share. The remaining animals are measured according to a smaller measurement, according to an application that is appropriate for each of the elements.
25. Once again, my dearly desired child, I say that from this (original) constitution the blending according to the first conjunction (of elements) and the vapor from this exhalation preserves its own character as much as it can. As a result, if the (creature’s own) heat does not receive an alien influx of heat and the airy element does not receive an alien breath nor the moist element an alien moisture nor the earthy element an alien density, then the animal will be healthy.
But if (the animal’s composition) does not remain in this state, my child, then the animal becomes sick. In this case, it does not preserve its original quantities of elements. Rather, the elements either increase <or decrease>. (Increase and decrease occur) not by extent or by growth of the animal species or individual animal bodies, but by a fluctuation in the aforementioned systemic blend of the elements. As a result, the hot excessively increases or decreases, and likewise with the other elements.
26. When the hot and airy (elements) – those constant companions of the soul – are disposed (to increase within) the animal, then it succumbs to bizarre cries and spastic behavior. These (hot and airy) elements are
condensed, and by their condensation the (animals’) bodies break down.
27. The earthly element itself is the body’s solidity, the moist element is what is spread out in the body for its cohesion, the airy element is what drives us, and the fire is the stimulating drive of all the elements.
28. So a vapor or, as it were, an act of combustion or exhalation –whatever exactly it is – arises from the first meeting and blending of the elements. This vapor blends with the soul and conforms it to its own nature – whether this nature be noble or not.
29. The soul, by virtue of retaining its original kinship and shared communion with fiery breath, preserves its rank. Yet when a portion greater than what was designed is externally added either to the entire blend or to its parts or to a single part, at that moment the fluctuating vapor changes either the condition of the soul or that of the body.
30. For fire and breath, naturally rising, rush to the soul that belongs to the same (upper) region. Conversely, the moist and earthly elements, naturally descending, take up residence in the body that belongs to the same environment.”
From Stobaean Hermetica 23
The Plea of the Elements
54. This violence went on until the Elements, deeply disturbed, saw fit to entreat the sole-ruling God concerning humans’ savage way of life. When much evil had already been done, the Elements approached God their maker, addressing him with speeches of blame.
55. Fire had the right to speak first. ‘Master and Craftsman of this new world,’ he said. ‘Name hidden among gods, sacrosanct among all humans to the present day. How long, O Divinity, will you be resolved to let the life of mortals be godless?
56. Rouse yourself, offer an oracle to the world, and initiate the savagery of life into the rites of peace. Grant laws to human life, grant oracles at night. Fill all with good hopes! Let humans fear vengeance from the gods and let no one persist in stubbornness. If they pay back due wages for sins, the rest will keep themselves from injustice.
They will fear oaths and not a single person will any more ponder sacrilege.
Let them learn, when benefited, to give thanks so that fire, rejoicing in libations, can perform its service – so that I can send fragrant mists to you from altar hearths. Up to the present moment I am defiled, master, and am forced by the godless daring of human creatures to melt fleshly bodies. They do not allow my nature to remain as it is, and indecently debase what is incorruptible!’
57. Then air spoke up: ‘I too am polluted, master. From the smoke of dead bodies I am diseased and no longer wholesome. I behold from above what is unlawful to see.’
58. Water had authority to speak next, my magnanimous child. It declared: ‘Father and wondrous maker of all, self-born Divinity and maker of nature who is ever-productive by your power – order now at last, O Divinity, that my ever-flowing streams be pure. For shame! Rivers and seas wash the hands of murderers or receive the bodies of those murdered!’
59. Earth was standing by, deeply sullen. I will set forth the <substance> of her speech, my great and glorious child. She began as follows: ‘King, presider, and master of the heavenly rings, leader and father of us elements who stand before you! From us elements all things commence to grow and diminish, and into us again when a creature ceases, it must find its end.
O God who are greatly honored, an irrational and godless chorus of inhuman creatures has risen up against me! I make space to hold the nature of all beings – for it is I, as you ordered, who bear all things and receive the bodies of those slain.
60. Now I am dishonored! Your earthly world is full of all things, but has no god. Humans act lawlessly with respect to everything, since what they should fear they do not. Into the ridges of my back they drill with every wicked device. I am entirely drenched and corrupted with the pus of corpses!
61. Henceforth, lord, and because I am forced to make a place for the unworthy, in addition to all I bear – I want to make room for a god. Grant to the earth, if not yourself – for I could not endure you – then some part of your sacred effluence. Transform the earth by making her more honored than the other elements. To her alone of your creations is it right to speak boldly, since she provides all things.’
62. So spoke the elements. Then God filled the universe with his sacred voice: ‘Go forth, sacred and worthy children of a great Father, and do not attempt to rebel in any way, nor leave my world bereft of your services. Among you already is another effluence of my nature who will be the holy overseer of deeds, an unbribable judge of the living, a lord not only frightening, but the punisher of those under the earth. To each human being through the generations a fitting reward will follow.’
63. At the master’s bidding, the elements ceased their entreaty, and grew silent. Each element ruled and was master over its own sphere of authority.
From Stobaean Hermetica 24
Diseases of Soul
16. Horus: “Explain this also to me, my queenly Mother. For what reason is human speech and reasoning itself and the very soul sometimes beset with chronic diseases while people are still alive?”
Isis answered: “Among living beings, my child, some feel at home in the fire, some in the water, some in the air, and some on earth; some feel at home in two or three elements and some in all of them. Conversely, some living things are estranged from fire, some from water, some from earth, some from air, some from two elements, some from three, and some from them all.
17. For example, the cricket and all flies, my child, flee fire. The eagle, hawk, and all birds that soar on high avoid water. Fish avoid air and earth. The snake spurns the pure air. Snakes and all reptiles love the earth, and creatures that swim love the water. Creatures that fly love the air in which they live, all that soar high and <are> near to air by virtue of their mode of life. There are also certain animals that love fire. Salamanders, for instance, even lurk in the fire.
18. Each of these elements serve as a covering for these bodies. Every soul in the body is weighed down and oppressed by these four elements. Accordingly, it is natural that the soul likes some elements and dislikes others. For this reason, the soul does not enjoy the height of its happiness.
Rather, because the soul is divine by nature, it struggles amidst these elements. The soul has understanding, to be sure, but does not understand the things it would if untethered from bodies. Whenever bodies experience
restlessness and turmoil, whether from disease or fear, then the soul itself is heaved by waves – like a person in the open sea – and produces nothing stable.”
From Stobaean Hermetica 17
Excerpt from a Writing of the Same Author
1. Thus the soul, Ammon, is a reality perfect in itself. In the beginning, soul chose a life according to Fate and drew to itself a rationality adapted to matter. (The soul) had in its control both drive and desire.
The Production of Virtues
2. Indeed, drive exists as matter. If drive generates a disposition fitted to the soul’s intellect, it becomes courage and does not fade away under fear. Desire, for its part, affords the same possibility. If it is produced as a disposition conforming to the rationality of the soul, it becomes self-control and is not stirred by pleasure.
3. Reasoning fills up the insufficiency of desire. The virtue of justice is born under three conditions: when
both drive and desire agree, when they produce a balanced state, and when they are controlled by the soul’s rationality. Their balanced state removes the excessiveness of drive and compensates for the insufficiency of desire.
4. The ruler of both drive and desire is intelligent reality, possessing itself as itself, existing in its own intelligizing reason, and controlling it.
5. This intelligent reality rules and governs as a ruler while its reason serves as counselor.
6. The discursive reason of reality, then, is knowledge of calculations that bestows a faded image of rationality in what is non-rational. In relation to (true) rationality, the image is dim. Yet in relation to the non-rational, discursive reason serves as reasoning like an echo in relation to a voice, and the light of the moon compared with the light of the sun.
7. Drive and desire are tuned to a certain rationality. They balance each other and draw within themselves the intelligence that revolves as a sphere.