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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 323


XLV. 1. From [all of] which it seems not unreasonable to conclude that no simple [explanation] by itself gives the right meaning, but that they all collectively do so.

2. For neither drought nor wind nor sea nor darkness is the essential of Typhon, but the whole hurtful and destructive [element] which is in nature.

3. For we must neither place the principles of the whole in soulless bodies, as [do] Democritus and Epicurus, nor yet assume one Reason (Logos) [only] and one Providence that prevails over and masters all things as demiurge [or artificer] of quality-less matter, as [do] the Stoics.

4. For it is impossible either that anything at all of no worth should exist where God is cause of all, or of worth where [He is cause] of nothing.

5. For “reciprocal” [is] cosmos’ “harmony, as that of lyre or bow,” according to Heracleitus, 1 and according to Euripides:

There could not be apart good things and bad,
But there’s a blend of both so as to make things fair. 2

6. Wherefore this exceedingly ancient doctrine also comes down from the theologers and law-givers to poets and philosophers—[a doctrine] that has its origin set down to no man’s name, and yet possessed of credit, strong and not so easy to efface, surviving in many places not in words or voices 3 only, but also in [secret]

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perfectionings and [public] offerings, both non-Greek and Greek [ones]—that neither does the universe mindless and reason-less and guidance-less float in “That which acts of its own will,” nor is there one Reason [only] that rules and guides, as though with rudder as it were and bits obedient to the reins; but that [the universe] is many things and these a blend of evil things and good.

7. Or, rather, seeing that Nature produces nothing, generally speaking, unmixed down here, it is not that from two jars a single mixer, like a tavern-keeper, pouring things out like drinks, mixes them up for us, but that from two opposite principles and two antagonistic powers—the one leading [things] to the right and on the straight [road], the other upsetting and undoing [them]—both life has been made mixed, and cosmos (if not the whole, at anyrate this [cosmos] which surrounds the earth and comes after the Moon) irregular and variable, and susceptible of changes of every kind.

8. For if nothing has been naturally brought into existence without a cause, and Good cannot furnish cause of Bad, the nature of Bad as well as Good must have a genesis and principle peculiar to itself.

XLVI. 1 1. And this is the opinion of most of the most wise.

2. For some think there are two craft-rival Gods, as it were,—one the artificer of good [things], the other of [things] worthless. Others call the better “God” and the other “Daimon,” as Zoroaster the Mage, who, they tell us, lived five thousand years before the Trojan War.

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3. Zoroaster, then, called the one Ōromazēs, and the other Areimanios, and further announced that the one resembled light especially of things sensible, and the other, contrariwise, darkness and ignorance, while that between the two was Mithrēs; wherefore the Persians call Mithrēs the Mediator.

4. He taught them, moreover, to make offerings of gladsome prayers to the one, and to the other of melancholy de-precations.

5. For bruising a certain plant called “moly” 1 in a mortar, they invoke Hades and Darkness; then mixing it with the blood of a wolf whose throat has been cut, they carry it away and cast it into a sunless spot.

6. For they think that both of plants some are of the Good God and others of the Evil Daimon; and of animals, dogs, for instance, and birds 2 and hedgehogs of the Good, and water-rats of the Bad; wherefore they consider fortunate the man who kills the largest number [of the last].

XLVII. 1. Not that they also do not tell many mythic stories about the Gods; such as are, for example, the following:

Ōromazēs, born from the purest light, and Areimanios, of the nether darkness, are at war with one another.

2. And the former made six Gods: the first of good mind, the second of truth, the third of good order, and of the rest, one of wisdom, one of wealth, and the producer of things sweet following things fair; while the latter [made] craft-rivals as it were to those equal in number.

3. Then Ōromazēs having tripled himself, removed himself from the sun so far as the sun is distant from the earth, and adorned the heaven with stars; and he

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established one star above all as warder and look-out, [namely] Sirius.

4. And having made four-and-twenty other gods, he put them into an egg.

Whereupon those that were made from Areimanios, just the same in number, piercing through the egg . . . 1—whence the bad have been mingled with the good.

5. But a time appointed by Fate will come when Areimanios’s letting loose of pestilence and famine must be utterly brought to an end, and made to vanish by these [good gods], and the earth becoming plane and level, there must ensue one mode of life and one way of government for men, all being happy and one-tongued. 2

6. Theopompus, however, says that, according to the Magi, for three thousand years alternately one of the Gods conquers and the other is conquered, and for yet another three thousand years they fight and war, and each undoes the work of the other.

7. But that in the end Hades fails, and men shall be happy, neither requiring food nor casting shadow; 3 while the God who has contrived these things is still and at rest for a time—not otherwise long for a God, but proportionate to a man’s sleeping.

8. The style of myth among the Magi, then, is somewhat after this manner.

p. 327

XLVIII. 1. Moreover, Chaldæans declare that of the planets—which they call birth-presiding gods—two are good workers, two ill-doers, while three are intermediates and common.

2. As for the dogmas of the Greeks, they are, I take it, plain to all, ascribing as they do the good allotment to Olympian Zeus, and that which has to be averted to Hades.

3. Moreover, they have a myth that Harmony is the child of Aphrodite and Ares, the latter of whom is harsh and strife-loving, while the former is gentle and a lover of love-striving.

4. For Heracleitus plainly calls “War”—“father and king and lord of all,” 1 and says that Homer, when he prays “that strife and hatred cease from gods as well,” 2 forgets that he is imprecating the means of birth of all, in that they have their genesis from conflict and antipathy; that:

“Sun will not o’erstep his proper bounds, for if he do, Furies, Eight’s bodyguard, will find him out.” 3

5. The Pythagorics [also], in a list of names, set down the predicates of Good as—One, Finite, Abiding, Straight, Odd, Square, Equal, Right, Light; and of Bad as—Two, Infinite, Moving, Curved, Even, Oblong, Unequal, Left, Dark,—on the ground that these are the underlying principles of genesis.

6. Aristotle [also predicates] the former as Form and the latter as Privation.

7. While Plato, though in many passages disguising himself and hiding his face, calls the former of the opposite principles Same and the latter Other.

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8. But in his Laws, being now older, no longer in riddles and in symbols, but with authentic names, he says 1 cosmos is moved not by one soul, but probably by several, in any case not less than two,—whereof the one is good-doing, the other the opposite to this and maker of things opposite.

9. He leaves out, however, a certain third intermediate nature, neither soul-less nor reason-less nor motion-less of itself, as some think, 2 but depending on both of them, and for ever longing for and desiring and following after the better, as the following [passages] of the argument (logos), 3 combining as it does for the most part the theology of the Egyptians with their philosophy, show.

XLIX. 1. For though the genesis and composition of this cosmos has been blended from opposing, though not equal-strengthed, powers, the lordship is nevertheless that of the Better [one].

2. Still it is impossible the Worse should be entirely destroyed, as it is largely innate in the body and largely in the soul of the universe, and ever in desperate conflict with the Better.

3. In the Soul [of cosmos], then, Mind and Reason (Logos), the guide and lord of all the best in it, is Osiris; and so in earth and air and water and heaven and stars, that which is ordered and appointed and in health, is the efflux of Osiris, reflected in seasons and temperatures and periods.

4. But Typhon is the passionate and titanic and reasonless and impulsive [aspect] of the Soul, while of

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its corporeal [side he is] the death-dealing and pestilent and disturbing, with unseasonable times and intemperate atmospheres and concealments of sun and moon,—as though they were the charges and obliterations of Typhon.

5. And the name is a predicate of Sēth, as they call Typhon; for [Sēth] means “that which oppresses and constrains by force;” 1 it means also, frequently, “turning upside down,” and, again, “overleaping.”

6. Some, moreover, say that one of the companions of Typhon was Bebōn; 2 while Manethōs [says] that Typhon himself was also called Bebōn, and that the name signifies “holding back” or “hindering,” since the power of Typhon stands in the way of things going on their way and moving towards what they have to.

L. 1. Wherefore also of domestic animals they apportion to him the least tractable—the ass; while of wild ones, the most savage—the crocodile and hippopotamus.

2. As to the ass, we have already given some explanation. At Hermes-city, however, as image of Typhon, they show us a hippopotamus on which stands a hawk 3 fighting a snake,—indicating by the hippopotamus Typhon, and by the hawk power and rule, of which Typhon frequently possessing himself by force, ceases not from being himself in and throwing [others] into a state of disorder by means of evil.

3. Wherefore also when they make offerings on the seventh of the month Tybi, 4—which [day] they call

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[paragraph continues] “Arrival of Isis from Phœnicia,” they mould on the cakes a bound hippopotamus. 1

4. And at Apollo-city it is the custom for absolutely everyone to eat a piece of crocodile. And on one [particular] day they hunt down and kill as many [of them] as they possibly can, and throw them down right in front of the temple, saying that Typhon escaped Horus by turning himself into a crocodile,—considering as they do that all animals and plants and experiences that are evil and harmful are Typhon’s works and parts and movements.

LI. 1. Osiris, again, on the other hand, they write with “eye” and “sceptre,” 2 the former of which [they say] shows his providence, and the latter his power; just as Homer, when calling him who is ruler and king of all “Zeus supreme counsellor,” 3 seems by “supreme” to signify his supremacy, and by “counsellor” his good counsel and providence.

2. They frequently write this god with “hawk” 4 as well; for it excels in tension of sight and swiftness of flight, and can naturally support itself on the smallest quantity of food.

3. It is said, moreover, to hover over the bodies of the unburied dead and to cast earth upon them. 5 And when it drops down on the river to drink, it sets its wings upright, and after drinking it lowers them again,—by which it is evident it saves itself and escapes from the crocodile, for if it is caught its wings remain fixed as they were set. 6

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4. And everywhere they exhibit a man-shaped image of Osiris,—ithyphallic, because of his generative and luxuriant [nature].

And they dress his statue in a flame-coloured robe,—since they consider the sun as body of the power of the Good, as it were a visible [sign] of an essence that mind only can conceive.

5. Wherefore also we should pay no attention to those who assign the sphere of the sun to Typhon, 1—to whom nothing light or salutary, neither order nor genesis, nor any motion that has measure and reason, belongs, but [rather] their contraries.

6. And we should not set down drought which destroys many of the animals and plants, as the sun’s work, but [rather as that] of the breaths and waters in earth and air not being seasonably blended when the principle of disorderly and unbounded power makes discord and quenches the exhalations.

LII. 1. And in the sacred hymns to Osiris, they invoke him who is hidden in the Arms of the Sun; 2 and on the thirteenth of the month of Epiphi 3 they keep with feast the Birthday of the Eye of Horus, when moon and sun are in the same straight line; as they think that not only the moon but also the sun is eye and light of Horus.

2. And on the eighth of the waning [half] of Paōphi 4 they keep the Birthday of the Sun’s Staff, after the autumnal equinox,—signifying that he needs an under-prop, as it were, and strengthening, deficient as he is

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in heat and light, declining and moving obliquely from us.

3. Moreover, just after the winter solstice they carry the Cow round the shrine [seven times], and the circuit is called the Seeking for Osiris, as in winter the Goddess longs for the “water” of the Sun.

4. And she goes round this number of times, because he completes his passing from the winter to the summer solstice in the seventh month.

5. Moreover, Horus, son of Osiris, is said to have been the first of all to make offerings to the Sun on the fourth of the waxing moon, as is written in the [books] entitled Birthdays of Horus.

6. Though indeed every day they offer incense to the Sun in three kinds—resin at his rising, myrrh at mid-heaven, and what is called “kuphi” at his setting; the reason for each of which I will explain later on. 1 And with all these they think to make the Sun propitious to them and to do him service.

7. But what need is there to collect many such indications? For there are those who say point-blank that Osiris is Sun and is called Sirius by Greeks—though with Egyptians the addition of the article has caused the name to be mistaken 2—and who declare Isis to be no other than Moon; whence also [they say] that the horned ones of her statues are representations of her crescent, while by the black-robed ones are signified the occultations and overshadowings in which she follows Sun longing after him.

8. Accordingly they invoke Moon for affairs of love; and Eudoxus 3 says that Isis decides love-affairs.

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9. And these [explanations] have in a modified way some share of plausibility; whereas it is not worth while even listening to those who make the Sun Typhon.

10. But let us ourselves again take up the proper reason (logos).


323:1 Mullach, i. 319; Fairbanks (45), p. 37. The whole logos of Heracleitus runs: “They know not how differing agrees with itself,—back-flying (παλίντονος) harmony as though of lyre or bow.” That is, as a stretched string flies back again to its original position.

323:2 Nauck, p. 294.

323:3 That is, presumably, “in logoi and voices from heaven.”

324:1 For a criticism and notes on this chapter and the following, see Cumont (F.), Textes et Monuments Figurés relatifs aux Mystères de Mithra (Bruxelles, 1896), ii. 33-35.

325:1 Thought by some to be the Cappadocian equivalent of the haoma or soma plant.

325:2 That is “cocks.”

326:1 A lacuna occurs here in the text.

326:2 This may refer to the consciousness of the spiritual life.

326:3 There are thus three thousand years in which Ahura Mazda has the upper hand, three thousand in which Ahriman is victorious, three thousand in which the forces are balanced, and in the tenth thousand years comes the Day of Light. Cf. Pistis Sophia, 243: “Jesus answered and said unto Mary: ‘A Day of Light is a thousand years in the world, so that thirty-six myriads of years and a half myriad of years of the world make a single Year of Light.’” The not casting of a shadow was supposed to he a characteristic of souls not attached to body; but it refers here rather to those who are “straight” with the Spiritual Sun.

327:1 Fairbanks, (44) pp. 34, 35.

327:2 Cf. Il., xviii. 107; Fairbanks, (43) pp. 34, 35.

327:3 Fairbanks, (29) pp. 32, 33.

328:1 This is a very brief summary of the argument in Legg., x. 896 ff. (Jowett, v. 282 ff.).

328:2 Cf. xlv. 6.

328:3 This “argument” is Plutarch’s own treatise and not Plato’s dialogue, as King supposes.

329:1 Cf. xli. 2.

329:2 βέβωνα, but perhaps rather βεβῶνα—and so βεβῶς, a play on βεβῶν, “steadying” or “straining.” In Eg. Bebi or Baba; cf. Budge, op. cit., ii. 92.

329:3 Cf. li. 2.

329:4 Copt. Tobi—corr. roughly to January.

330:1 Cf. “bound ass” above, xxx. 3.

330:2 Cf. x. 6.

330:3 Il., viii. 22; xvii. 339.

330:4 Cf. 1. 2. Compare the Eagle of Zeus.

330:5 More of the “Physiologus.”

330:6 “In the crocodile’s gullet,” comments King, “and so prevents him gulping down the bird.” We are, however, inclined to think that Plutarch is a bit of a humourist, and that there is no necessity for commenting seriously on his on dits.

331:1 Cf. xli. 1; also § 9 below.

331:2 That is the Sun’s Rays.

331:3 Copt. Epep—corr. roughly with July.

331:4 Copt. Paopi—corr. roughly with October.

332:1 Cf. lxxix., lxxx.

332:2 That is ὁ σείριος = ὄσιρις—an absurd contention, of course, though flattering to Greek vanity.

332:3 Cf. vi., x., xxx., lxii., lxiv.

Next: The Proper Reason according to Plutarch