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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

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The more intimate contact of Greek thought and philosophy with Egyptian lore and mystic tradition began immediately with the brilliant era of the Lagides, who gradually made Alexandria the intellectual and religious, philosophic and scientific, centre of the Hellenistic world.

Thoth-Hermes, as we have seen, had been for the Egyptians from the earliest times the teacher of all ancient and hidden wisdom; he was par excellence the writer of all sacred scripture and the scribe of the gods. We should then naturally expect that his dominating influence would play a leading part in the new development; and this, indeed, is amply demonstrated by the evidence of the religious art of the time, which presents us with specimens of statues of the Greek type of Hermes, bearing at the same time either the feather of truth (the special symbol of Maāt) on the head, or the papyrus-roll in the hand 1—both symbols of Thoth in his dual character as revealer and scribe.

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Of the complex nature of the mystic and apocalyptic literature that thus came into existence we have very distinct testimony. 1 In keeping with its Egyptian prototype it was all cast in a theological and theosophical mould, whether it treated of physics, or medicine, or astrology. Thus we learn that Pamphilus, the grammarian, 2 was intimately acquainted with a Greek-Egyptian literature dealing with “sacred plants” and their virtues as determined by the influences of the thirty-six Decans; this lore, he tells us, was derived from the “Books ascribed to the Egyptian Hermes.” 3


Of still greater interest are the Greek fragments of Petosiris and Nechepso which have come down to us. 4 These Greek fragments are to be dated at least before the end of the second century B.C., 5 and afford us striking parallels with our extant Trismegistic literature.

In them we find the Prophet Petosiris represented as the teacher and counsellor of King Nechepso, as Asclepius of Ammon in one type of our literature; while it is Hermes who reveals the secret wisdom to two younger gods, Asclepius and Anubis, as in our sermons he does to Asclepius and Tat.

As to Petosiris himself, Suidas (s.v.) tells us that he was an Egyptian philosopher who wrote on comparative

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[paragraph continues] Greek and Egyptian theology, making selections from the “Holy Books,” and treating of astrology and the Egyptian Mysteries. Moreover, Proclus 1 tells us that Petosiris had an intimate knowledge of every order of the Gods and Angels, and refers to a hieratic formula of theurgic invocation to the greatest of the goddesses (Necessity), for inducing the vision of this Power, and the ritual of the manner of addressing her when she appeared, as handed on by the same Petosiris.

The mystical nature of this literature is still more clearly shown in what Vettius Valens 2 tells us of Nechepso, who surpassed the Ammon of our literature and attained to direct knowledge of the Inner Way.

Vettius, in the first half of the first century A.D., laments that he did not live in those days of initiate kings and rulers and sages who occupied themselves with the Sacred Science, when the clear Æther spake face to face with them without disguise, or holding back aught, in answer to their deep scrutiny of holy things. In those days so great was their love of the holy mysteries, so high their virtue, that they left the earth below them, and in their deathless souls became “heaven-walkers” 3 and knowers of things divine.

Vettius then quotes from a Greek apocalyptic treatise of Nechepso, where the King tells us that he had remained in contemplation all night gazing into the æther; and so in ecstasy he had left his body, 4 and had then heard a heavenly Voice 5 addressing him. This Voice was not merely a sound, but appeared as a

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substantial presence, who guided Nechepso on his way through the heaven-space.

It is, moreover, exceedingly probable that the magnificent spectacle of the star-spheres 1 to which Vettius refers, speaking of it as “the most transcendent and most blessed vision (θεωρία) of all,” was taken directly from the same source.

With this we may compare the wish of Trismegistus that Tat might get him the wings of the soul and enjoy that fair sight, 2 and the seeing of it by Hermes himself through the Mind. 3

All of which proves the existence of books in Greek in middle Ptolemaic times treating in the same manner of identical subjects with those contained in our Trismegistic literature.


When, then, the sovereignty of Egypt passed into the hands of the Diadochi of Alexander, and the Ptolemies made Alexandria the centre of learning in the Greek world, by the foundation of the ever-famous Museum and Library and Schools in their capital, there arose an extraordinary enthusiasm for translating, paraphrasing, and summarising into Greek of the old scriptures and records of the nations. The most famous name of such translators and compilers and comparative theologians is that of Manetho, 4 who introduced the

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treasures of Egyptian mysticism, theology, mythology, history, and chronology to the Grecian world. Moreover, seeing that the veracity and reliability of Manetho as a historian is with every day more and more accepted as we become better acquainted with the monuments, he seems to have done his work loyally enough.

Manetho was contemporary with the first two Ptolemies; that is to say, he lived in the last years of the fourth and the first half of the third century B.C. He was a priest of Heliopolis (On), 1 and was thoroughly trained in all Greek culture 2 as well as being most learned in the ancient Wisdom of Egypt. 3 Manetho not only wrote on historical subjects, but also on the mystic philosophy and religion of his country, and it is from his books in all probability that Plutarch and others drew their information on things Egyptian. Manetho derived his information from the hieroglyphic inscriptions in the temples 4 and from the rest of the priestly records; but unfortunately his books are almost entirely lost, and we only possess fragments quoted by later writers.


One of these quotations is of great importance for our present enquiry. It is preserved by Georgius

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[paragraph continues] Syncellus, 1 and is stated to be taken from a work of Manetho called Sothis 2 a work that has otherwise entirely disappeared. The passage with the introductory sentence of the monk Syncellus runs as follows:

“It is proposed then to make a few extracts concerning the Egyptian dynasties from the Books of Manetho. [This Manetho,] being high priest of the Heathen temples in Egypt, based his replies [to King Ptolemy] on the monuments 3 which lay in the Seriadic country. [These monuments,] he tells us, were engraved in the sacred language and in the characters of the sacred writing by Thoth, the first Hermes; after the flood they were translated from the sacred language into the then common tongue, 4 but [still written] in hieroglyphic characters, and stored away in books by the Good Daimon’s son and the second Hermes, father of Tat—in the inner chambers of the temples of Egypt.

‘“In the Book of Sothis Manetho addresses King Philadelphus, the second Ptolemy, personally, writing as follows word for word:

“‘The Letter of Manetho, the Sebennyte, to Ptolemy Philadelphus.

“‘To the great King Ptolemy Philadelphus, the venerable: I, Manetho, high priest and scribe of the holy fanes in Egypt, citizen of Heliopolis but by birth a Sebennyte, 5 to my master Ptolemy send greeting.

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“‘We 1 must make calculations concerning all the points which you may wish us to examine into, to answer your questions 2 concerning what will happen to the world. According to your commands, the sacred books, written by our forefather Thrice-greatest Hermes, which I study, shall be shown to you. My lord and king, farewell.’”


Here we have a verbal quotation from a document purporting to be written prior to 250 B.C. It is evidently one of a number of letters exchanged between Manetho and Ptolemy II. Ptolemy has heard of the past according to the records of Egypt; can the priests tell him anything of the future? They can, replies Manetho; but it will be necessary to make a number of calculations. Ptolemy has also expressed a strong desire to see the documents from which Manetho derived his information, and the high priest promises to let him see them.

These books are ascribed to Hermes, the Thrice-greatest, and this is the first time that the title is used in extant Greek literature. This Hermes was the second, the father of Tat, we are told elsewhere by Manetho, and son of the Good Spirit (Agathodaimon), who was the first Hermes. Here we have the precise grading of the degrees in our treatises: (i.) The Shepherd of Men, or The Mind; (ii.) Thrice-greatest; (iii.) Tat. This refers to the ever-present distinction of pupil and master, and the Master of masters.

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If, however, we seek for historical allusions, we may perhaps be permitted to conclude that the first Hermes, that is to say the first priesthood among the Egyptians, used a sacred language, or in other words a language which in the time of the second Hermes, or second priesthood, was no longer spoken. It was presumably archaic Egyptian. The two successions of priests and prophets were separated by a “flood.” This “flood” was presumably connected with, if not the origin of, the flood of which Solon heard from the priest of Saïs, which happened some nine thousand years before his time, and of which we have considerable information given us in the Timæus and Critias of Plato. 1 The Good Angel is the same as the Mind, as we learn from the Trismegistic literature, and was regarded as the father of Hermes Trismegistus. This seems to be a figurative way of saying that the archaic civilisation of Egypt before the flood, which presumably swept over the country when the Atlantic Island went down, was regarded as one of great excellence. It was the time of the Gods or Divine Kings or Demi-Gods, whose wisdom was handed on in mystic tradition, or revived into some semblance of its former greatness, by the lesser descendants of that race who returned from exile, or reincarnated on earth, to take charge of the new populations who had gradually returned to the lower Nile plains after the flood had subsided.

Thus we have three epochs of tradition of the Egyptian mystery-cultus: (i.) The first Thoth or Agathodaimon, the original tradition preserved in the sacred language and character in the stone monuments of the

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[paragraph continues] Seriadic land, presumably the Egypt prior to the Atlantic flood; (ii.) the second Thoth, the Thrice-greatest, the mystery-school after the period of the great inundation, whose records and doctrines were preserved not only in inscriptions but also in MSS., still written in the sacred character, but in the Egyptian tongue as it was spoken after the people reoccupied the country; and (iii.) Tat, the priesthood of Manetho’s day, and presumably of some centuries prior to his time, who spoke a yet later form of Egyptian, and from whose demotic translations further translations or paraphrases were made in Greek.


This natural line of descent of the fundamental doctrines in the tradition of the Trismegistic literature, however, is scouted by encyclopædism, which would have our sermons to be Neoplatonic forgeries, though on what slender grounds it bases its view we have already seen. It will now be interesting to see how the testimony of Manetho is disposed of. Our encyclopædias tell us that the book Sothis is obviously a late forgery; parrot-like they repeat this statement; but nowhere in them do we find a single word of proof brought forward. Let us then see whether any scholars have dealt with the problem outside of encyclopædism. Very little work has been done on the subject. The fullest summary of the position is given by C. Müller. 1 Müller bases his assertion on Böckh, 2 and Böckh on Letronne. 3

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The arguments are as follows: (i.) That the term “venerable” (σεβαστός) is not used prior to the time of the Roman emperors; (ii.) that Egypt knows no flood; (iii.) that the ancient mythology of Egypt knows no first and second Hermes; (iv.) that Egypt has no Seriadic land; (v.) that the term “Trismegistus” is of late use.


Let us take these arguments in order and examine them, bearing in mind, however, that the whole question has been prejudiced from the start, and that encyclopædism, in order to maintain its hypothesis of the spuriousness of our Trismegistic writings, is bound to argue the spuriousness of Manetho’s Sothis. The categorical statements of Manetho are exceedingly distressing to the former hypothesis; in fact, they give it the lie direct. As to the arguments, then:

(i.) The term σεβαστός is in later times equated with “Augustus,” the honorific title of the Roman emperors. Therefore, it is argued, it could not have been used prior to their times. But why not? The king to an Egyptian was divine—every inscription proves it—and the term “venerable” was in early times always applied to the Gods. Why not then apply it to the “Great King”? Indeed, what could be more natural than to do so?

(ii.) We have already shown that, according to Plato, Egypt knew most accurately of a Flood; Plato further tells us that Solon got his information from the priests of Saïs, who told him that all the records were preserved in the temple of Neïth.

It is not here the place to discuss the Atlanticum of Plato and the long history of opinion connected with

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it, for that would require a volume in itself. I have, however, acquainted myself with all the arguments for and against the authenticity of at least the germ of this tradition, and with the problems of comparative mythology and folklore involved in it, and also with the recent literature of the subject which seeks to corroborate the main conceptions of Plato by the researches of seership. All this, taken in conjunction with the general subject of the “myths” of Plato, and the latest views on this subject, has convinced me that the greatest of Greek philosophers did not jest when, his dialectic having gone as far as it could, he sought refuge in the mystery-traditions for corroboration of those intuitions which his unaided intellect could not demonstrate.

It can of course be argued that every reference to a flood in Egyptian Hellenistic literature is but a repetition of what the incredulous must regard as Plato’s brilliant romance; but in this connection, as in many others, it is equally arguable that all such references—Plato’s included—are derivable from one and the same source—namely, Egypt herself.

And, indeed, on 9th November 1904, at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Archæology, a paper by Professor Naville was read by Mr F. Legge on “A Mention of a Flood in the Book of the Dead.” The flood in question is that described in the Leyden version as Ch. clxxv. 1

(iii.) Cicero (106-44 B.C.) speaks of five Mercurii, the last two of whom were Egyptian. 2 One was the “son of Father Nile,” whose name the Egyptians considered it impiety to pronounce—and for whom, presumably, they substituted the term Agathodaimon; and the

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second was the later Thoyth, the-founder of Hermopolis. 1 Cicero could hardly have invented this; it must have been a commonplace of his day, most probably derived in the first instance from the writings of Manetho, from which generally the Greeks, and those imbued with Greek culture, derived all their information about Egypt.

And, indeed, Reitzenstein (p. 139), though he refers the information given by Syncellus to a Pseudo-Manetho (without a word of explanation, however), admits that the genealogy of Hermes there given is in its main features old. 2


(iv.) The statement that Egypt knew no Seriadic land or country seems to be a confident assertion, but the following considerations may perhaps throw a different light on the matter.

In the astronomical science of the Egyptians the most conspicuous solar system near our own, represented in the heavens by the brilliant Sirius, was of supreme interest. Cycles of immense importance were determined by it, and it entered into the highest mysticism of Egyptian initiation. Sirius was, as it were, the guardian star of Egypt. Now ancient Egypt was a sacred land, laid out in its nomes or provinces according to the heavens, having centres in its body corresponding to the centres or ganglia of the heavens. As the Hindus had a Heavenly Ganges (Ākāsha-Gangā) and an earthly Ganges, so had the heavens a Celestial

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[paragraph continues] Nile, and Egypt a physical Nile, the life-giver of the land. The yearly inundation, which meant and means everything for ancient and modern Khem, was observed with great minuteness, and recorded with immense pains, the basis of its cycle being the Sothiac or Siriadic; Sirius (Seirios) being called in Greek transliteration Sothis and Seth (Eg. Sepṭ). What more natural name, then, to give to the country than the Seriadic Land?

The Nile records in ancient times were self-registered by pyramids, obelisks, and temples, and in later times nearly all monuments were built according to the type of the masonic instruments of the Egyptian astrogeological science. This science has been studied in our own times by an Egyptian, and the results of his researches have been printed “for private circulation,” and a copy of them is to be found in the British Museum. In his Preface the author writes as follows: 1

“The astrogeological science gave birth to a monumental system, by means of which the fruits of the accumulated observations and experience of the human race have been preserved, outliving writings, inscriptions, traditions, and nationalities. The principal monuments had imparted to them the essential property of being autochronous landmarks of a geochronological nature. Many of them recorded, hydromathematically, the knowledge in astronomy, in geography, and in the dimension and figure of the earth obtained in their respective epochs. They were Siriadic monuments, because their magistral lines were projected to the scale

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of the revolutions of the cycles of the star Surios (sic) in terms of the standard astrogeological cubit.”

Doubtless our author flogs his theory too severely, as all such writers do; but nilometry and the rest was certainly one of the most important branches of the priestly science.


But before we deal with the last objection urged against the authenticity of Manetho’s Sothis, we will add a few words more concerning these Seriadic monuments known in antiquity as the Stelae of Hermes or of Seth, and erroneously spoken of in Latin and English as the “Columns” or “Pillars” of Hermes.

The general reader may perhaps be puzzled at the variety of spelling of the name of the star, but he should recollect that the difficulties of transliteration from one language to another are always great, and especially so when the two languages belong to different families. Thus we find the variants of Teḥuti, the Egyptian name of Hermes, transliterated in no less than nineteen various forms in Greek and two in Latin—such as Thoyth, Thath, Tat, etc. 1 Similarly we find the name of the famous Indian lawgiver transliterated into English as Manu, Menu, Menoo, etc.

With regard to these “Mercurii Columnæ,” it was the common tradition, as we have already pointed out, that Pythagoras, Plato, and others got their wisdom from these columns, that is to say, monuments. 2 The

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historian Ammianus Marcellinus, 1 the friend of the Emperor Julian, has preserved for us a peculiarity of the construction of some of these pyramids or temples which is of interest. The passage to which we refer runs as follows:

“There are certain underground galleries and passages full of windings, which, it is said, the adepts in the ancient rites (knowing that the flood was coming, and fearing that the memory of the sacred ceremonies would be obliterated) constructed in various places, distributed in the interior [of the buildings], which were mined out with great labour. And levelling the walls, 2 they engraved on them numerous kinds of birds and animals, and countless varieties [of creatures] of another world, which they called hieroglyphic characters.” 3

We are thus told of another peculiarity of some of the Seriadic monuments, and of the “Books preserved from the Flood” of which there were so many traditions. These are the records to which Sanchuniathon and Manetho make reference.


The Egyptian account is straightforward enough; but when Josephus, following the traditional practice of his race in exploiting the myths of more ancient nations for the purpose of building up Jewish history—for the

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[paragraph continues] Mosaic Books supply innumerable examples of the working-up of elements which the Jews found in the records of older nations—runs away with the idea that Seth (the Egyptian Sirius) was the Biblical patriarch Seth, the Jewish “antiquarian” enters on a path of romance and not of history. ’Tis thus he uses the Egyptian Seriadic tradition for his own purposes:

“All of these [the Sons of Seth] being of good disposition, dwelt happily together in the same country free from quarrels, without any misfortune happening to the end of their lives. The [great] subject of their studies was that wisdom which deals with the heavenly bodies and their orderly arrangement. In order that their discoveries should not be lost to mankind and perish before they became known (for Adam had foretold that there would be an alternate disappearance of all things 1 by the force of fire and owing to the strength and mass of water)—they made two monuments, 2 one of brick and the other of stone, and on each of them engraved their discoveries. In order that if it should happen that the brick one should be done away with by the heavy downpour, 3 the stone one might survive and let men know what was inscribed upon it, at the same time informing them that a brick one had also been made by them. And it remains even to the present day in the Siriad land.” 4

This passage is of great interest not only as affording a very good example of the method of inventing Jewish “antiquities,” but also as permitting us to recover the outlines of the original Egyptian account which Josephus purloined and adapted. The Sons of Seth were the initiates of the archaic priesthood of the First Hermes.

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[paragraph continues] Adam has been substituted for the First Man, in the sense of our “Shepherd” tradition; and the two kinds of monuments (which Josephus seems to regard as two single structures and not as relating to two classes of buildings) may refer to the brick structures and temples of that age, and to specially constructed and more lasting monuments of stone—perhaps rock-cut temples, or the most ancient pyramids. I have also asked myself the question as to whether there may not be some clue concealed in this “brick monument” reference to the puzzling statement in the Babylonian Talmud 1 that Jesus set up a “brick-bat” and worshipped it. Jesus is said in the Talmud Jeschu Stories to have “learned magic in Egypt,” and the magical wisdom of ancient Egypt is here said to have been recorded on monuments of brick. 2

Reitzenstein (p. 183), after pointing to the similarity of tradition as to the Seriadic Land contained in Josephus, and in what he characterises as Pseudo-Manetho, 3 adds the interesting information that the Seriadic Land is borne witness to by an inscription as being the home and native land of Isis; indeed, the Goddess herself is given the name of Neilotis or Seirias; she is the fertile earth and is Egypt. 4

To continue, then, with the consideration of the arguments urged against the authenticity of Manetho’s Sothis. With regard to objection (iv.), we have given very good reasons for concluding that so far from Egypt “knowing no Seriadic land,” Egypt was the Seriadic Land par excellence, and the Books of Hermes

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were the direct descendants of the archaic stone monuments of that land. And further, we have shown that our Trismegistic writings are a step or two further down in the same line of descent. The whole hangs together logically and naturally.

We have thus removed four of the five props which support the hypothesis of forgery with regard to the Sothis document. Let us now see whether the remaining prop will bear the weight of the structure.


(v.) We are told that the term “Trismegistus” is of late use. This assertion is based entirely on the hypothesis that all our extant Trismegistic writings are Neoplatonic forgeries of the third or at best the second century, before which time the name Thrice-greatest was never heard of. The term Trismegistus must go as far back as the earliest of these writings, at any rate, and where we must place that we shall see at the end of our investigations.

That the peculiar designation Trismegistus was known in the first century even among the Romans, however, is evident from the famous Latin epigrammatist Martial (v. 24), who in singing the praise of one Hermes, a famous gladiator, brings his pæan to a climax with the line:

Hermes omnia solus et ter unus1

A verse which an anonymous translator in 1695 freely renders as:

Hermes engrosses all men’s gifts in one,
And Trismegistus’ name deserves alone.

Such a popular reference shows that the name Trismegistus was a household word, and argues for

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many years of use before the days of Martial (A.D. 43-104?). But have we no other evidence?

In the trilingual inscription (hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek) on the famous Rosetta Stone, which sings the praises of Ptolemy Epiphanes (210-181 B.C.), Hermes is called the “Great-and-Great.” 1 Letronne renders this deux fois grand2 and in his notes 3 says that the term “Trismegistus” was not known at this date, thus contemptuously waving aside Manetho’s Sothis. Had it been known, he says, it would undoubtedly have been used instead of the feebler expression “great-and-great.” 4 But why undoubtedly? Let us enquire a little further into the matter. The Egyptian reduplicated form of this attribute of Hermes, ȧā ȧā, the “great-great,” is frequently elsewhere found with a prefixed sign which may be transliterated ur5 So that if the more simple form is translated by “great, great,” the intensive form would naturally be rendered “great, great, great,” or “three times great.” But we have to deal with the form “thrice-greatest,” a superlative intensive. We have many examples of adjectives intensified with the particle τρίς in Greek, 6

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but no early instances of their superlatives; therefore, what? Apparently that the term “Trismegistus” is a late invention.

But may we not legitimately suppose, in the absence of further information, that when the Egyptian had intensified his reduplicated form he had come to an end of his resources—it was the highest term of greatness that he could get out of his language? Not so when he used Greek. He could go a step further in the more plastic Hellenic tongue. Why, then, did he not use “thrice-greatest” instead of “great-and-great” on the Rosetta Stone?

Because he was translating ȧā ȧā and not its intensified form. But why did he not use the intensified form in the demotic inscription? Well, “whys” are endless; but may we not suppose that, as Ptolemy was being praised for his justice, which he is said to have exercised “as Hermes the great-and-great,” the reduplicated form was sufficient for this attribute of the idealised priesthood, while the still more honorific title was reserved for Hermes as the personified Wisdom? Or, again, may it not have been politic to refrain from adjectives which would have dimmed the greatness of Ptolemy?


So I wrote in November 1899, when the major part of this chapter was first published in The Theosophical Review. Shortly afterwards, however, I came across an entirely new clue. In his Stories of the High Priests of Memphis: the Sethon of Herodotus and the Demotic Tales of Khamuas (Oxford, 1900), F. Ll. Griffiths presents us with the translation of an exceedingly interesting demotic text, found on the verso of two Greek

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documents, the contents of which prove them to be official land-registers of the seventh year of Claudius (A.D. 46-47). There is also “strong evidence for attributing the demotic text to some time within thirty years from that date” (p. 41). So much for the copy of the original; but what of its contents? As they belong to the most important cycle of folk-tates of Egypt, it is to be assumed that their form and substance is old.

In this papyrus we are told that on an occasion of great need when the Pharaoh of Egypt was being overcome at a distance by the sorceries of the Ethiopian enchanters, he was saved, and the magic of the Black Ones sent back upon them, by a certain Hor, son of Pa-neshe, most learned in the Books. Before his great trial of strength with the Ethiopian spells, we read of this Hor that:

“He entered the temple of Khmûn; he made his offerings and his libations before Thoth, the Eight-times-great, the Lord of Khmûn, the Great God” (p. 58).

To this Griffiths appends the following note:

“‘Thoth, eight times great’; the remains of the signs indicate this reading. The title, which here appears for the first time in Egyptian literature, is the equivalent of τρισμέγιστος [thrice-greatest], a late epithet first used about the date of this MS. 1 ὁ is μέγας [great], which we may represent algebraically by a; ὁ ὁ (2a), a common title of Thoth in late hieroglyphic, is μέγας καὶ μέγας [great and great] on the Rosetta Stone, but probably represents μέγιστος [greatest], and 8ὁ is therefore τρισμέγιστος [thrice-greatest], i.e. (2a)³. The famous epithet of Hermes which has puzzled commentators thus displays its mathematical formation. 6ὁ = 3(2a) would not fill the

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lacuna on the papyrus, nor would it give the obviously intended reference to the name of Thoth’s city, ‘the Eighth,’ and the mythological interpretation of that name.”

The mythological interpretation of that name, namely Khmun (Khemen-nw), which Budge transliterates Khemennu, Griffiths says is “the eighth city,” i.e. “the eighth in Upper Egypt going up the river.” 1

We are loth to deprive any one of a so fair adaptation to environment in the evolution of purely physical interpretation; but we are afraid that our readers will have already learned for themselves that Khemennu was the City of the Eight, the City of the Ogdoad, and will expect some less mundane explanation of the name; not that we altogether object to Khemennu being the “Eighth City up the River,” if that river is interpreted as the Celestial Nile on which the soul of the initiated sailed in the solar boat.

Reitzenstein then is wrong in supposing (p. 117, n. 6) that Griffiths connects the honorific title Trismegistus with the eight cynocephali who form the paut of Thoth; but we may do so.

The nature of this symbolic Ogdoad is most clearly seen in the inscription of Dêr-el-Bahari, of the time of the Twenty-second Dynasty which Maspero has lately published. 2

In it the Osirified says to the Supreme:

“I am One who becomes Two; I am Two who becomes Four; I am Four who becomes Eight; I am the One after that.”

So also in the first Hermes Prayer, quoted in a preceding chapter, addressed to Hermes as Agathodaimon,

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[paragraph continues] Thoth is he “whom the Eight Wardens guard.”

These Eight, we may perhaps be permitted to speculate, were generated Two from One, ȧā ȧā, Greatest; Four from Two, Twice-greatest; Eight from Four, Thrice-greatest.

Such a combination would specially commend itself to men trained in Pythagorean mathematical symbols, as were doubtless many who took part in compiling the Egyptian Hellenistic theosophical literature.

I, therefore, conclude that the honorific title Thrice-greatest can very well go back to early Ptolemaic times; and therefore, as far as I can see, the authenticity of Manetho’s Sothis stands unimpugned as far as any arguments so far brought against it are concerned. I therefore regard the quotation of Syncellus as a most valuable piece of information in tracing the genesis of the Trismegistic literature. Whether or not any of our extant sermons can be placed among these earlier forms of this literature will be discussed later on.


That, however, literature of a similar nature existed in early and middle Ptolemaic times we have already seen from the material adduced at the beginning of this chapter; we may therefore fitly conclude it by pointing out that in later Ptolemaic times, and down to the first century A.D., we find in the same literature specimens of cosmogenesis closely resembling the main elements of the world-formation given in our “Shepherd” treatise.

An excellent example is that of the fragmentary cosmogonical poem, the text of which Reitzenstein has printed in his Zwei religionsgesch. Fragen, to which we

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have already referred. This poem Reitzenstein (p. 92) dates as belonging to the first century B.C., though it may probably be earlier; it declares itself to be of the Hermes tradition, both in its statement about itself and also in the fact that it is Hermes, the Beloved Son of Zeus, who is the Logos-Creator of the cosmos, and also the progenitor or “father” of the prophet-poet who writes the vision.


But not only did the tradition of Egyptian Hermes dominate the Greek forms of cosmogony which emanated from Alexandria and spread through the Hellenic world, but it also imposed itself upon the forms of cosmogony and the history-writing of other nations; the most striking example of this is to be found in the Phœnician Histories of Philo Byblius, who lived in the second half of the first century A.D.

The fragments of this work are of great interest to our present enquiry, as they tend to show that both Egypt and Phœnicia, the two most sacred nations, derived their cosmogonical knowledge and mystery-traditions from the same source; that source being traced to the most archaic Books of Thoth.

This is all, no doubt, an overwriting of Phœnician records in the light of Egyptian tradition; Philo, however, would have us regard his work as a Greek translation or paraphrase of a compilation made by an ancient and learned Phœnician priest, Sanchuniathon, based immediately upon archaic Phœnician records by one who was also learned in the oral tradition of his own mysteries.

The initial question as to whether Philo had a genuine Phœnician document before him or not, need

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not occupy us here, save in the most superficial fashion, as we are at present interested in the Egyptian elements of his account solely, and not in disentangling the native Phœnician substratum.

It must, however, in fairness be said that though the Byblian prefaces his account with an introduction and intersperses it with occasional remarks, all this is transparently his own, and is clearly distinguishable from what have every appearance of being translated passages.


The general theory, however, since the time of Orelli 1 has been that Philo forged the whole of this cosmogony and history. On the contrary, it was made considerable use of by Porphyry in his criticism of Christianity, and Eusebius 2 quotes the passages used by Porphyry. 3 The whole work of Philo, moreover, is claimed to be recovered by Wagenfeld, who has elaborately defended its genuineness. 4 There indeed seems no reason to

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accept the forgery-hypothesis, which apparently rests on an even flimsier basis than the forgery-theory of the Trismegistic writings. The work, on the contrary, considered as a specimen of Phœnician story strongly influenced by Egyptian tradition, is a most interesting document for understanding the ancient Semitic mystery-tradition as distinguished from Jewish adaptations of general Semitic legend—in other words, the distinction of Semitismus and Israëlitismus. Porphyry was not only a Semite himself but also a good critic, and not likely to base his arguments on a forgery; nor would Philo have ventured to put forward a forgery when there were thousands of learned and fanatical Jews who would have been only too glad to expose it.

Philo tells us that the Phœnician public traditions being chaotic, “Sanchuniathon, a man of great learning and a busy searcher [after knowledge], who especially desired to know the first principles from which all things are derived, most carefully examined the Books of Taaut, for he knew that Taaut was the first of all under the sun who discovered the use of letters and the writing of records. So he started from him, making him as it were his foundation—from him the Logos whom the Egyptians called Thōuth, the Alexandrians Thōth, 1 but whom the Greeks have turned into Hermes.” 2


This evidently means that the source of Sanchuniathon’s information as to the mystic beginning of things was derived from the Books of Thoth, and

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that this was so may be seen from the following passage:

“He supposes the beginning of all things to consist of a Dark Mist of a spiritual nature, or as it were a Breath of dark mist, and of a turbid Chaos black as Erebus; 1 that these were boundless, and for many an age 2 remained without a bound. ‘But when,’ he 3 says, ‘the Spirit fell in love with his own principles, 4 and they were interblended, that interweaving was called Love; 5 and this Love was the origin of the creation of all things. But [Chaos] did not know its own creation. 6 From its embrace with Spirit Mōt was born. 7 From her [Mōt, the Great Mother] it was that every seed of the creation came, the birth of all the cosmic bodies.

“‘[First of all] there were [Great] Lives 8 devoid of sensation, and out of these came subsequently [Great]

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[paragraph continues] Lives possessed of intelligence. 1 The latter were called Zophasemin (that is to say, “Overseers of the Heavens”). The latter were fashioned in the form of eggs, and shone forth as Mōt, the Sun and Moon, the Stars and the great Planetary Spheres.

“‘Now as the [original] nebula began to lighten, through its heat mists and clouds of sea and earth 2 were produced, and gigantic downpours and torrents of the waters in the firmaments. Even after they were separated, 3 they were still carried from their proper places by the heat of the sun, and all the [watery and earthy elements] met together again in the nebula one with the other, and dashed together, amid thunder and lightning; and over the crash of the thunderings the [Great] Rational Lives before-mentioned watched, 4 while on the land and sea male and female cowered at their echo and were dismayed.’

“After this our author proceeds to say: ‘These things we found written in the Cosmogony of Taaut, and in his commentaries, based on his researches and the evidences which his intelligence saw and discovered, and so enlightened us.’” 5

There are many other points of interest in Philo’s translation, but we need not elaborate them here. One point, however, must not be omitted, because of its importance with regard to the Hermes-Æsculapius tradition, an important factor in the Trismegistic writings.

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“And Cronus [Ammon] going to the land of the South gave the whole of Egypt to the God Taaut to be his kingdom. All these things were first recorded by the Seven Sons of Sydyk, the Cabiri, and their eighth brother, Asclepius, as it was commanded them by the God Taaut.” 1

Æsculapius is here at once identified with the cult of the “Great Gods” (כבר, KBR, Kabirim), who were, according to the old Semitic tradition, the Sons of King Sydyk (? Melchizedec). The whole subject of the very ancient mysteries of these Great Gods is one of immense interest, but we must not be tempted to follow this alluring bye-path. 2 Enough has been said to show that both Sanchuniathon and the writer of “The Shepherd” drew their accounts of cosmogony from the same sources, namely, the “Books of Thoth,” or, in other words, the Egyptian mystery-tradition.


99:1 R. 3, nn. 1, 2.

100:1 See R. 3-7, to whom I am indebted for the indications.

100:2 Of the school of Aristarchus (fl. 280-264). The great Lexicon of Pamphilus is supposed by some to have been the basis of that of Hesychius.

100:3 Apud, Galen, περὶ ἁπλῶν φαρμ., vi. Proœm. (tom. ix. p. 798 K).

100:4 See Riess, Philologus Supplem., Fragg. 27-29.

100:5 See Kroll, “Aus der Geschichte der Astrologie,” Neue Jahrbb. f. Phil. u. Päd., vii. 559 ff.

101:1 Kroll, ii. 344; Riess, Frag. 33.

101:2 Riess, Frag. 1.

101:3 οὐρανοβατεῖν.

101:4 So R. (5) completes a lacuna.

101:5 βοή—presumably a parallel with the Bath-kol of Talmudic Rabbinism.

102:1 The same rapturous vision of the soul after death is translated by Seneca (Cons. ad Marciam, 18, 2) from Poseidonius (135-(?)51 B.C.), who also clearly derived it from the same Egyptian Hellenistic literature.

102:2 C. H., v. (vi.) 5.

102:3 C. H., xi. (xii.) 6, 7; also Stob., Ecl., i. 49 (386, 3, W.).

102:4 There are some dozen variants in the spelling and accenting of this name in Greek transliteration; in Egyptian we are told it means “Beloved of Thoth” (Mai en Thoth).

103:1 Plutarch, De Is. et Osir., ix. and xxviii.

103:2 Josephus, C. Apion., i. 14.

103:3 Ælian, De Animalium Natura, x. 16.

103:4 Budge, op. sup. cit., i. 332, says: “A tradition says Solon, Thales, and Plato all visited the great college at Heliopolis, and that the last-named actually studied there, and that Manetho the priest of Sebennytus, who wrote a history of Egypt in Greek for Ptolemy II., collected his materials in the library of the priesthood of Rā.”

104:1 Chron., xl. See Cory (I. P.), Ancient Fragments, pp. 173, 174—mispaged as 169 (2nd ed.; London, 1832); and Mitller, Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum, pp. 511 ff. (Paris, 1848).

104:2 βίβλος Σώθεος.

104:3 στηλῶν, generally translated “columns”; but the term is quite a general one and denotes any monument bearing an inscription.

104:4 Syncellus has “into the Greek tongue,” an evident slip, as many have already pointed out.

104:5 Sebennytus was the chief city of the Sebennyte province, situated about the centre of the Delta. Heliopolis or On, the City of the Sun, was situated some thirty miles north of Memphis.

105:1 Presumably Manetho and his fellow priests.

105:2 Lit., “for you questioning.”

106:1 See my article on “The Sibyl and her Oracles,” in The Theosophical Review, vol. xxii. pp. 399 S. See also the passage preserved from the Ethiopian History of Marcellua by Proclus in his commentary on the Timæus of Plato; Cory, Ancient Fragments, p. 233.

107:1 Frag. Hist. Græc., ut sup. cit., p. 512.

107:2 A. Böckh, Manetho und die Hundsternperiode: em Beitrag zur Geschichte der Pharaonen, pp. 14-17 (Berlin, 1845).

107:3 M. Letronne, Recueil des Inscriptions grecques et latines de l’Égypte, tom, i., pp. 206, 280 ff. (Paris, 1842).

109:1 See The Athenæum, 12th November 1904.

109:2 De Nat. Deorum, iii. 22.

110:1 Ursin, De Zoroastre, etc., p. 73.

110:2 For a permutation of the elements in this genealogy, in the interests of Heliopolis, see Varro, De Genie Pop. Rom., as quoted by Augustine in De Civ. Dei, xviii. 3 and 8.

111:1 Hekekyan Bey, C. E., A Treatise on the Chronology of Siriadic Monuments, demonstrating that the Egyptian Dynasties of Manetho are Records of Astrogeological Nile Observations which have been continued to the Present Time—Preface, p. v. (London, 1863). The book deserves careful study, and cannot be hastily set aside with the impatience of prejudice.

112:1 See Pietschmann, op. cit., pp. 31, 32; also Spiegelberg, Recueil des Travaux relatifs à la Philologie et à l’Archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes, xxiii. 199. R. 117, n. 1.

112:2 See the last chapter of the book from which the following passage is quoted. See also Iamblichus, De Mysteriis, cap. ii., who in a very clear statement of the sources of his information, and the method of treating the numerous points raised by Porphyry, says: “And if thou proposest any philosophical problem, we will resolve it for thee according to the ancient monuments of Hermes, on the thorough study of which Plato, and prior to him Pythagoras, founded their philosophy.”

113:1 Who flourished in the early second half of the fourth century A.D.

113:2 The passages and chambers being hewn out of the solid rock.

113:3 Ammiani Marcellini Rerum Gestarum Libri qui supersunt, xxii. xv. 30; ed. V. Gardthausen (Leipzig, 1874), p. 301.

114:1 τῶν ὅλων.

114:2 στήλας.

114:3 ἐπομβρίας, a downpour or flood of rain.

114:4 Josephus, Antt., I. ii.; Cory’s An. Fragg., pp. 171, 172.

115:1 Sanhedrin, 107 B; Sota, 47 A.

115:2 See my Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?—pp. 137 ff. and 147 ff.

115:3 A similarity already pointed out by Plew, Jahrb. f. Phil. (1868), p. 839.

115:4 Drexler in Roscher’s Lex. d. Myth., ii. 388, 408, 445.

116:1 Pietschmann misquotes this line, giving “ter maximus” for “ter unus” (op. cit., p. 36).

117:1 καθάπερ Ἑρμῆς ὁ μέγας καὶ μέγας, line 19; the reading is perfectly clear, and I cannot understand the remark of Chambers (op. cit., Pref. vii.) that Hermes is called “μέγας, μέγας, μέγας” on the Rosetta Stone.

117:2 “Inscription grecque de Rosette,” p. 3, appended to Müller, Frag. Hist. Græc. (Paris, 1841).

117:3 Ibid., p. 20.

117:4 Recueil des Inscriptions grecques et latines de l’Égypte, i. 283 (Paris, 1842).

117:5 See Pietschmann, op. sup. cit., p. 35.

117:6 In Greek not only is the term τρίσμακαρ (thrice-blessed) applied to Hermes in the inscriptions of Pselcis (see Letronne’s Recueil, i. 206 n.), but also in a Magical Prayer (Wessely, 1893—p. 38, 11. 550 ff.; Kenyon, p. 102) he is addressed as τρισμέγας, or “thrice-great” simply.

119:1 Griffiths here refers to Pietschmann as his authority for this statement.

120:1 Cf. Proc. Soc. Bib. Arch. (1899), p. 279.

120:2 Recueil des Travaux relat. à la Phil, et à l’Archéol. égypt. et assyr., xxiii. 196. Cf. R. 54.

123:1 J. C. Orelli, Sanchoniathonis Berytii quæ feruntur Fragmenta (Leipzig, 1826).

123:2 Præparatio Evangelica, I. vi., vii.

123:3 These are collected by Cory in his Ancient Fragments, pp. 3 ff. (London, 1832); and they may also be found in C. Müller, Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum, “Philo Byblius,” iii. pp. 560 ff. (Paris, 1848).

123:4 F. Wagenfeld, Sanchuniathon’s Urgeschichte der Phönizier in einem Auszuge aus der wieder aufgefundenen Handschrift von Philo’ s vollständiger Übersetzung (Hanover, 1836). In the following year Wagenfeld published the Greek text with a Latin translation under the title Sanchoniathonis Historiarum Phœniciæ Libri IX. (Bremse, 1837). For the further consideration of the reliability of Sanchuniathon, see Count (Wolf Wilhelm) Baudissin’s Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, Heft ii., “Über den religionsgeschichtlichen Werth der phönicischen Geschichte Sanchuniathon’s” (Leipzig, 1876).

124:1 Perhaps attempts at transliterating the dialectic variants of Upper and Lower Egypt of the name Teḥuti.

124:2 Wagenfeld’s text, Proœm., p. 2; Euseb., Præp. Ev., I. ix. 29.

125:1 This is the beginning of the out-breathing of the universe or of any system; it is the Great Breath or Spirit moving on the Waters of Chaos, the primal nebula. Erebus was fabled to be a region of nether darkness separating Earth and Hades (not Hell). It was the Dark Side of Heaven.

125:2 Lit., æon.

125:3 That is, Sanchuniathon; so that we may take this passage as a direct quotation, or rather translation.

125:4 Or sources; that is, the primal states of Matter or Chaos.

125:5 Pothos, πόθος; yearning, longing—love for all that lives and breathes. This union was symbolised not only among the Phœnicians but also among most of the other nations by an egg, round which a serpent twines. When the egg and serpent are represented apart they stand for “Chaos” and “Ether,” matter and spirit; but when united they represent the hermaphrodite or male-female first principle of the universe, spirit-matter, called in Greek translation Pothos or Erōs.

125:6 Cf. “The Darkness comprehended it not” of the Proem to the Fourth Gospel.

125:7 Here Philo, the translator, volunteers the information that some call this prime plasm of Chaos, “Slime,” others explain it as “Fermentation,” in a watery sort of medium.

125:8 The primal elements and their subdivisions.

126:1 The same distinction is made in the cosmogonic account in “The Shepherd,” but with more detail.

126:2 Presumably still mingled together, as in the account in “The Shepherd.”

126:3 That is to say, after the land and water were separated.

126:4 ἐγρηγόρησεν. The same expression is used in the Greek translation of The Book of Enoch, in speaking of the Watchers (Egrēgores).

126:5 Op. cit., i. ii., pp. 8 ff.

127:1 Op. cit., viii. p. 26.

127:2 The best source of information is the art. “Megaloi Theoi,” in Reseller’s Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen u. römischen Mythologie, II. ii. (Leipzig, 1894-97).

Next: VI. An Egyptian Prototype of the Main Features of the Pœmandres’ Cosmogony