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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


XXXVI. 1. And they call not only the Nile, but also without distinction all that is moist, “Osiris’ efflux”; and the water-vase always heads the processions of the priests in honour of the God.

2. And with “rush” 3 they write “king” and the “southern climate” of the cosmos; and “rush” is interpreted as “watering” and “conception” of all things, and is supposed to resemble in its nature the generative member.

3. And when they keep the feast Pamylia, which is phallic, as has been said, 4 they bring out and carry round an image having a phallus three times the size of it.

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4. For God is source, and every source by the power of generation makes manifold that which comes from it. And “many times” we are accustomed to call “thrice,” as, for instance, “thrice-blessed,” and “three times as many, endless, bonds” 1—unless, indeed, “three fold” was used in its authentic meaning by those of old; for the Moist Nature, as being source and genesis of all, moved from the beginning the first three bodies—earth, air, and fire.

5. For the logos that is superadded to the myth—how that Typhon cast the chief part of Osiris into the river, and Isis could not find it, but after dedicating an object answering to it, and having made it ready, she commanded them to keep the Phallephoria in its honour—comes to this: namely, an instruction that the generative and spermatic [powers] of the God had moisture as their first matter, and by means of moisture were immingled with those things which have been produced to share in genesis.

6. But there is another logos of the Egyptians—that Apophis, as brother of the Sun, made war on Zeus, and that when Osiris fought on his [Zeus’] side and helped him to conquer his foe, Zeus adopted him as his son and called him Dionysus.

7. Moreover, the mythical nature of this logos goes to show that it connects with the truth about nature. For Egyptians call [Cosmic] Breath 2 Zeus—to which Dry and Fiery is hostile; this [latter] is not the Sun, but it has a certain kinship with him. And Moisture, by quenching the excess of Dryness, increases and strengthens the exhalations by which the Breath nourishes itself and waxes strong.

XXXVII. 1. Moreover, both Greeks consecrate the

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ivy to Dionysus and [also] among Egyptians it is said to be called chen-osiris—the name meaning, they say, “Osiris-plant.”

2. Further, Ariston, who wrote Colonies of the Athenians, came across some Letter or other of Alexarchus’s, 1 in which it is related that Dionysus, as son of Osiris and Isis, is not called Osiris but Arsaphēs by the Egyptians—([this is] in Ariston’s first book)—the name signifying “manliness.”

3. Hermæus also supports this in the first book of his Concerning the Egyptians, for he says that “Osiris” is, when translated, “Strong.” 2

4. I disregard Mnaseas, 3 who associated Dionysus and Osiris and Sarapis with Epaphos; 4 I also disregard Anticleides, 5 who says that Isis, as daughter of Prometheus, 6 lived with Dionysus; for the peculiarities which have been stated about the festivals and offerings carry a conviction with them that is clearer than the witnesses [I have produced].

XXXVIII. 1. And of the stars they consider Sirius to be Isis’s 7—as being a water-bringer. And they honour the Lion, and ornament the doors of the temples with gaping lions’ mouths; since Nilus overflows:

When first the Sun doth with the Lion join. 8

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2. And as they hold the Nile to be “Osiris’s efflux,” so too they think earth Isis’s body—not all [of it], but what the Nile covers, sowing [her] with seed and mingling with her; and from this intercourse they give birth to Horus.

3. And Horus is the season (ὥρα) and [fair] blend of air that keeps and nourishes all in the atmosphere—who, they say, was nursed by Lēto in the marshes round Butō; for the watery and soaked-through earth especially nourishes the exhalations that quench and abate dryness and drought.

4. And they call the extremities of the land, both on the borders and where touching the sea, Nephthys; for which cause they give Nephthys the name of “End,” 1 and say she lives with Typhon.

5. And when the Nile exceeds its boundaries and overflows more than usual, and [so] consorts with the extreme districts, they call it the union of Osiris with Nephthys—proof of which is given by the ‘springing up of plants, and especially of the honey-clover, 2 for it was by its falling [from Osiris] and being left behind that Typhon was made aware of the wrong done to his bed. Hence it is that Isis conceived Horus in lawful wedlock, but Nephthys Anubis clandestinely.

6. In the Successions of the Kings, 3 however, they record that when Nephthys was married to Typhon, she was at first barren; and if they mean this to apply not to a woman but to their Goddess, they enigmatically refer to the utterly unproductive nature of the land owing to sterility.

XXXIX. 1. The conspiracy and despotism of Typhon, moreover, was the power of drought getting the mastery over and dispersing the moisture which both generates the Nile and increases it.

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2. While his helper, the Æthiopian queen, 1 riddles southerly winds from Æthiopia. For when these prevail over the Annuals 2 (which drive the clouds towards Æthiopia), and prevent the rains which swell the Nile from bursting,—Typhon takes possession and scorches; and thus entirely mastering the Nile he forces him out into the sea, contracted into himself through weakness and flowing empty and low.

3. For the fabled shutting-up of Osiris into the coffin is, perhaps, nothing but a riddle of the occultation and disappearance of water. Wherefore they say that Osiris disappeared in the month of Athyr, 3—when, the Annuals ceasing entirely, the Nile sinks, and the land is denuded, and, night lengthening, darkness increases, and the power of the light wanes and is mastered, and the priests perform both other melancholy rites, and, covering a cow made entirely of gold 4 with a black coat of fine linen as a mask of mourning for the Goddess—for they look on the “cow” as an image of Isis and as the earth—they exhibit it for four days from the seventeenth consecutively.

4. For the things mourned for are four: first, the Nile failing and sinking; second, the northern winds being completely extinguished by the southern gaining the mastery; third, the day becoming less than the night; and, finally, the denudation of the earth, together with the stripping of the trees which shed their leaves at that time.

5. And on the nineteenth, at night they go down to the sea; and the keepers and priests carry out the

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sacred chest, having within it a small golden vessel, into which they take and pour fresh water; and shouts are raised by the assistants as though Osiris were found.

6. Afterwards they knead productive soil with the water, and mixing with it sweet spices and fragrant incense, they mould it into a little moon-shaped image of very costly stuffs. And they dress it up and deck it out,—showing that they consider these Gods the essence of earth and water.

XL 1. And when again Isis recovers Osiris and makes Horus grow, strengthened with exhalations and moist clouds,—Typhon is indeed mastered, but not destroyed.

2. For the Mistress and Goddess of the earth did not allow the nature which is the opposite of moisture to be destroyed entirely, but she slackened and weakened it, wishing that the blend should continue; for it was not possible the cosmos should be perfect, had the fiery [principle] ceased and disappeared.

3. And if these things are not said contrary to probability, it is probable also that one need not reject that logos also,—how that Typhon of old got possession of the share of Osiris; for Egypt was [once] sea. 1

4. For which cause many [spots] in its mines and mountains are found even to this day to contain shells; and all springs and all wells—and there are great numbers of them—have brackish and bitter water, as though it were the stale residue of the old-time sea collecting together into them.

5. But Horus in time got the better of Typhon,—that, is, a good season of rains setting in, the Nile driving out the sea made the plain reappear by filling it up again with its deposits,—a fact, indeed, to which our

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senses bear witness; for we see even now that as the river brings down fresh mud, and advances the land little by little, the deep water gradually diminishes, and the sea recedes through its bottom being heightened by the deposits.

6. Moreover, [we see] Pharos, which Homer 1 knew as a day’s sail distant from Egypt, now part [and parcel] of it; not that the [island] itself has sailed to land, 2 or extended itself shorewards, but because the intervening sea has been forced back by the river’s reshaping of and adding to the mainland.

7. These [explanations], moreover, resemble the theological dogmas laid down by the Stoics,—for they also say that the generative and nutritive Breath [or Spirit] is Dionysus; the percussive and separative, Heracles; the receptive, Ammon [Zeus]; that which extends through earth and fruits, Demeter and Korē; and that [which extends] through sea, Poseidon. 3


312:3 θρύον—confounded by King (in loc.) with θρῖον, “fig leaf” (perhaps connected with τρὶς, from the three lobes of the leaf); the “rush” is presumably the papyrus.

312:4 Cf. xii.

313:1 Bernardakis gives the references as Il., vi. 154 and viii. 340, but I am unable to verify them.

313:2 Or “Spirit” (πνεῦμα).

314:1 Ariston and Alexarchus and Hermæus (cf. xlii. 7) seem to be otherwise unknown to fame.

314:2 ὄμβριμος = ὄβριμος—strong, virile, manly. Cf. the Eleusinian sacred name Brimos for Iacchos.

314:3 Flourished latter half of 3rd century B.C.

314:4 Son of Zeus and Io, born in the Nile, after the long wanderings of his mother. He is fabled by the Greeks to have been subsequently King of Egypt and to have built Memphis. Herodotus (ii. 153; iii. 27, 28) says that Epaphos = Apis.

314:5 A Greek writer subsequent to the time of Alexander the Great.

314:6 Cf. iii. 1.

314:7 But cf. lxi. 5.

314:8 Aratus, Phœnom., 351.

315:1 Cf. xii. 6.

315:2 Cf. xiv. 6.

315:3 Cf. xi. 4.

316:1 Asō; cf. xiii. 3.

316:2 The “Etesian” winds, which, in Egypt blew from the N.W. during the whole summer.

316:3 Copt. Hathor—corr. roughly with November.

316:4 Cf. “the golden calf” incident of the Exodus story.

317:1 Another proof of the common persuasion that there had been a Flood in Egypt.

318:1 Il., iv. 355.

318:2 A play on the “day’s sail” (δρόμον) and ἀνα-δραμοῦσαν.

318:3 It is, of course, a very poor interpretation of the myth to talk only about floods and desert, sea and rain, etc. These are all facts illustrating the underlying truth, but they are not the real meaning.

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