Qutb al-Din Askevari-The Great Hermes, Part 1
Archaic bearded Hermes from a herm, early 5th century BC. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a chapter from Qutb al-Din Askevari ‘s, ‘The Hearts’ Beloved’, page 292 to 300. Edition du Cerf_2016. Mathieux Terrier’s timely French translation from the original Persian with impressive commentaries. After translating the notice devoted to ASCLEPIOS into English, we continue our labors of inter-textual, trans-cultural bridge-building with the note devoted to HERMES. It is a fascinating piece that offers an insider view of how Hermes, his hagiography and teachings were ‘understood’ and re-arranged and put to fit the needs of early Islam. We divided our work into two parts, as the notice is quite lengthy.
Hermes the Great
The Great Hermes (hirmis al-haramisa) is called Henoch by the Hebrews, Irmis by the Greeks-Irmis meaning for them ‘Mercury’-and Idris by the Arabs-just as God Almighty named him, after his diligence in studying God’s Book (Quran XIX,56 and XXI, 85). It is him, Henoch-son of Iered (Yazad), son of Mahalalel (Mihla’il), son of Qeinan, son of Enosh, son of Seth, son of Adam. It is him, the Trismegistus, ‘endowed with three blessings’ (al-mutallat bi-l-ni’ma) that are prophecy, wisdom and kingship. He was born in Egypt before the great flood that submerged this world, the first flood, after that came another one that submerged in particular the inhabitants of Egypt. He was, according to the Sabeans of Harran, the first disciple of Agathodaimon (Gutadimun) the Egyptian, one of the prophets of the Egyptians and the Greeks. Agathodaimon is Urya II and Idris is Urya III. The signification of ‘Agathodaimon’ is: ‘the Most Auspicious’.
Hermes left Egypt and travelled all around the earth and came back to Egypt. God raised him up to the Heavens, as He tells us: ‘We en-raptured him in a high place…’ (Quran XIX,57), as he was eighty-two years old. In his ‘History’, Ibn al-Gawzi tells us that he was raised up to the heavens when he was 368 years old.
He summoned, in 72 languages, the creatures of all the people of the earth to turn themselves towards the Creator, the Most Hight. He instructed and educated them. He built for them 108 gigantic cities, the smallest being Edessa (al-Ruha). He was the first to discover wisdom and taught astrology, under God’s inspiration-without Him all thoughts are unable to find the completion of their investigations. For all regions of the earth, he established a tradition (sunna) that suited its inhabitants and was close to their aspirations. Then he divided the earth in four equal parts and established a king in each of them so that ‘fair government’ (amr al-ma’ruf) would rule and asked each of them to submit their subjects to the reveled Law. This is how the law spread all around the earth. The four kings were named: Ilawus, meaning the merciful; Lawus, his son; Asclepios (Asqalbiyus) and Amul the wise king, father of Siavosh.
He preached God’s religion, bearing witness to the divine unity and to the cult due to the Creator. He admonished all souls in order to be saved from chastisement in the after-life by a fair and steady conduct in this one. He admonished asceticism in the conduct of one’s life and the application of justice. He introduced people to prayer-giving them explicit guidance, to fasting (siyam) during specific days of the month, to the inner-struggle (gihad) against one’s defects, to the practice of alms (zakwa) taken from personal wealth to relieve the poor. He condemned lust and necromancy, prohibiting the eating of pork, camel and donkey meat and, also, of onions, beans and all that hurt the brain. He also strongly discouraged intoxicating beverages.
He established many festivals and sacrifices at given dates of the year, like the entry of the sun at the peak of zodiacal signs, the vision of the moon’s crescent, the conjunction and the opposition, the entry of the planets in their mansion and their exaltation (asrafiha). He made a promise to his people that many prophets will come after him and defined for them their attributes in order to recognize them: The prophet to come will be without vices and reprehensible deeds; he will be well grounded in all virtuous actions; he will, without fail, answer all questions about everything on earth and above in the sky, especially about remedies and healing of all ailments; he will answer all requests given to him to make rain pour, repel plagues; his doctrine and predication will reform the world.
During his rule on earth, men were put into three social classes: Priests, kings and subjects. He put the rank of priest above the king, because the priest will pray God for themselves, the king and the subjects; the king will pray only for himself and the subjects; the subjects praying only for themselves. Of the four kings established by Idris, recalled earlier, the one with the strongest will-power was Asclepios. He endeavored to keep the words of Idris and strengthen his Law. When Idris was enraptured from human eyes, he was deeply saddened and made a statue representing him to be exhibited in all temples.
Idris was a tall man, with a light brown complexion. The forehead bare, thick beard, his features fair and gracious, long arms, large shoulders and thick bones. His eyes black and shiny. He spoke slowly, easily silent, looking at the ground while walking, often in his thoughts with an austere look. On the signet of the ring he was wearing every day, it was written: ‘Patience joined with faith breeds victory’. On the signet of the ring he was wearing during festivals: ‘Perfect joy during festival is to do good deeds’. On the signet of the ring he was wearing when he was praying upon a dead person: ‘Death is hope’s harvest. Death is a demanding vigil.’ On the belt he was wearing during festivals: ‘The observance of prescriptions and of the Law is the achievement of religion. The achievement of religion is the perfection of knightly virtue (muruwwa)’. And on the belt he was wearing when praying upon a dead person: ‘Who examines himself gains success with God through the intercession of righteous deeds.’ His prayers were directed towards south, on the equator line.
Abu Ma’sar says that there were many Hermes, but the most virtuous and wise were about three:
The first one is the one who lived before the Flood. The Harranian tell that he was the first human to talk about medicine and to write for the people of his time rhythmic verses about terrestrial and celestial subject, that did reached posterity. He was the first to warn about the Flood, fore-telling that a plague from the heavens will submerge the earth. He built the pyramids and sanctuaries complexes because he was fearing the loss of science to the Flood. He built also a structure upon the highest point of the sanctuaries, known as ‘Al-Yawmahiya’ (temple complex in Panopolis), where were represented all the arts and the tools of the craft. He indicated the minor sciences with drawings for those who will come after him, in fear that all will be lost of these sciences. He is known to be the first to write a book made of 30 leaflets reveled by God and study them after. He was known also to wear the clothes he had sewn.
The second Hermes was from Babylon. He lived there after the Flood, after the time of the tyrant Nemrod. Babil, in Syriac means ‘the river’, named after the river Tigris and Euphrates. He was brilliant in medicine and in philosophy, being also knowledgeable in the faculties of numbers-Pythagoras was his disciple. He restored all the sciences that were obliterated by the Flood. The city of Babylon, dwelling place of the Chaldeans was the East’s ‘City of Philosophers (al-masriq).
The third Hermes, lived also after the Flood. He was a ‘travelling philosopher’, who knew the souls of the inhabitants of the countries he would visit. He is the author of many discourses about alchemy that survived and his disciple was Asclepios. Some traditions made him also the author of a book about poisonous animals.
End of part I