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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 3

by G.R.S. Mead


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Excerpts by Stobæus

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(Title from Patrizzi (p. 4); preceded by “Of Thrice-greatest Hermes.”

Text: Stobæus, Phys., xxxv. 1, under heading: “Of Hermes—from the [Book] to Tat”; G. pp. 273-278; M. i. 190-194; W. i. 273-278. 1

Ménard, Livre IV., No. i. of “Fragments from the Books of Hermes to his Son Tat,” pp. 225-230.)

1. 2 Her. Both for the sake of love to man, and piety 3 to God, I [now], my son, for the first time take pen in hand. 4

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For there can be no piety more righteous than to know the things that are, and to give thanks for these to Him who made them,—which I will never cease to do.

2. Tat. By doing what, O father, then, if naught be true down here, may one live wisely?

Her. Be pious, 1 son! Who pious is, doth reach the height of [all] philosophy 2; without philosophy the height of piety cannot be scaled.

But he who learns what are existent things, and how they have been ordered, and by whom, and for whose sake,—he will give thanks for all unto the Demiurge, as unto a good sire, a nurse [most] excellent, a steward who doth never break his trust. 3

3. Who giveth thanks, he will be pious; and he who pious is, will [get to] know both where is Truth, and what it is.

And as he learns, he will more and more pious grow.

For never, son, can an embodied soul that has once leaped aloft, so as to get a hold upon the truly Good and True, slip back again into the contrary.

For when the soul [once] knows the Author of its Peace, 4 ’tis filled with wondrous love, 5 and

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with forgetfulness 1 of every ill, and can no more keep from the Good.

4. Let this be, O [my] son, the goal of piety;—to which if thou attain, thou shalt both nobly live, and happily depart from life, for that thy soul no longer will be ignorant of whither it should wing its flight again.

This is the only [Way], my son,—the Path [that leads] to Truth, [the Path] on which our forebears, 2 too, did set their feet, and, setting them, did find the Good. 3

Solemn and smooth this Path, yet difficult to tread for soul while still in body.

5. For first it hath to fight against itself, and make a great dissension, and manage that the victory should rest with the one part [of its own self].

For that there is a contest of the one against the two, 4—the former trying to flee, the latter dragging down.

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And there’s great strife and battle [dire] of these with one another,—the one desiring to escape, the others striving to detain.

6. The victory, moreover, of the one or of the others 1 is not resemblant.

For that the one doth hasten [upwards] to the Good, the others settle [downwards] to the bad.

The one longs to be freed; the others love their slavery.

If [now] the two be vanquished, they remain deprived of their own selves and of their ruler 2; but if the one be worsted, ’tis harried by the two, and driven about, being tortured by the life down here.

This 3 is, [my] son, the one who leadeth thee upon the Thither 4 Path.

Thou must, [my] son, first leave behind thy body, 5 before the end [of it 6 is reached], and come out victor in the life of conflict, and thus as victor wend thy way towards home.

7. And now, [my] son, I will go through the things that are by heads 7; for thou wilt understand the things that will be said, if thou remember what thy ears have heard.

All things that are, are [then] in motion; alone the that which is not, is exempt from it.

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Every body is in a state of change; [but] all bodies are not dissolvable; some bodies [only] are dissolvable.

Not every animal is mortal; not every animal, immortal.

That which can be dissolved, can [also] be destroyed; the permanent [is] the unchangeable; the that which doth not change, [is] the eternal.

What doth become 1 for ever, for ever also is destroyed 2; what once for all becomes, is never more destroyed, nor does it [ever more] become some other thing.

8. First God; second the Cosmos; third [is] man. 3

The Cosmos, for man’s sake; and man, for God’s.

The soul’s irrational part 4 is mortal; its rational part, immortal.

All essence [is] immortal; all essence, free from change.

All that exists 5 [is] twofold; naught of existing things remains.

Not all are moved by soul; the soul moves all that doth exist. 6

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9. All that suffereth [is] sensible; not all that’s sensible, doth suffer.

All that feels pain, doth also have experience of pleasure,—a mortal life 1; not all that doth experience pleasure, feeleth [also] pain,—a life immortal.

Not every body’s subject to disease; all bodies subject to disease are subject [too] to dissolution.

10. The mind’s in God; the reasoning faculty’s 2 in man.

The reason’s in the mind; the mind’s above all suffering.

Nothing in body’s true 3; all in the bodiless is free from what’s untrue.

All that becomes, [is] subject unto change; not all that doth become, need be dissolved.

Naught[’s] good upon the earth; naught[’s] bad in heaven.

11. God[’s] good; [and] man [is] bad. 4

Good [is] free-willed; bad is against the will.

The gods do choose what things are good, as good; . . .

The good law of the mighty [One] 5 is the good law; good law’s the law.

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Time’s for the gods; the law for men. 1

Bad is the stuff that feeds the world; time is the thing that brings man to an end.

12. All in the heaven is free from change; all on the earth is subject unto it.

Naught in the heaven’s a slave; naught on the earth is free.

Nothing can not be known in heaven; naught can be known on earth.

The things on earth do not consort with things in heaven. 2

All things in heaven are free from blame; all on the earth are blameworthy.

The immortal is not mortal; the mortal, not immortal.

That which is sown, is not invariably brought forth; but that which is brought forth, must have invariably been sown.

13. [Now] for a body that can be dissolved, [there are] two “times”:—[the period] from its sowing till its birth, and from its birth until its death; but for an everlasting body, the time from birth alone. 3

Things subject unto dissolution wax and wane.

The matter that’s dissolved, doth undergo two

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contrary transformings:—death and birth; but everlasting [matter], doth change either to its own self, or into things like to itself.

The birth of man [is] the beginning of his dissolution; man’s dissolution the beginning of his birth.

That which departs, 1 [returns; and what returns] departs [again]. 2

14. Of things existent, some are in bodies, some in forms, and some [are] in activities. 3

Body[’s] in forms; and form and energy in body.

The deathless shares not in the mortal [part]; the mortal shares in the immortal.

The mortal body doth not mount 4 into the deathless one; the deathless one descends 5 into the mortal frame.

Activities do not ascend, but they descend.

15. The things on earth bestow no benefit on things in heaven; the things in heaven shower every benefit on things on earth.

Of bodies everlasting heaven is the container; of those corruptible, the earth.

Earth [is] irrational; the heaven [is] rational.

The things in heaven [are] under it; the things on earth above the earth.

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Heaven[’s] the first element; earth[’s] the last element.

Fore-knowledge 1 [is] God’s Order; Necessity[’s] handmaiden to Fore-knowledge.

Fortune[’s] 2 the course of the disorderly,—the image of activity, 3 untrue opinion.

What, [then] is God? The Good that naught can change.

What, man? The bad that can be changed. 4

16. If thou rememberest these heads, 5 thou wilt remember also what I have already set forth for thee with greater wealth of words. For these are summaries 6 of those.

Avoid, however, converse with the many [on these things]; not that I would that thou shouldst keep them selfishly unto thyself, but rather that thou shouldst not seem ridiculous unto the multitude. 7

For that the like’s acceptable unto the like; the unlike’s never friend to the unlike.

Such words as these have very very few to give them ear; nay, probably, they will not even have the few. 8

They have, moreover, some [strange force]

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peculiar unto themselves; for they provoke the evil all the more to bad.

Wherefore thou shouldst protect the many [from themselves], for they ignore the power of what’s been said.

17. Tat. What meanest thou, O father?

Her. This, [my] son! All that in man is animal, is proner unto bad [than unto good]; nay, it doth cohabit with it, because it is in love with it.

Now if this animal should learn that Cosmos is subject to genesis, and all things come and go according to Fore-knowledge 1 and by Necessity, Fate ruling all,—in no long time it would grow worse than it is now, 2 [and] thinking scorn of the whole [universe] as being subject unto genesis, and unto Fate referring [all] the causes of the bad, would never cease from every evil deed.

Wherefore, care should be taken of them, in order that being [left] in ignorance, they may become less bad through fear of the unknown.


Patrizzi thought so highly of this excerpt that he chose it for Book I. of his collection. He, however, erroneously made the persons of the dialogue Asclepius and Tat, instead of Hermes and Tat—an unaccountable

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mistake, in which he has been followed by all the editors of Stobæus except Wachsmuth.

In the introduction the treatise purports to be a letter written to Tat,—a new departure, for it is “for the first time”; on the other hand the form of the treatise is the usual one of oral instruction, of question and answer (§ 2). Nevertheless in § 16 we learn that the definitions given in §§ 7-15 are intended as heads or summaries of previous sermons.

But already in C. H., x. (xi.) 1, we have an abridgment or epitome (or rather a summation) of the General Sermons delivered to Tat, just as we have in C. H., xvi., “the summing up and digest, as it were, of all the rest’’ of the Sermons of Asclepius to the King, under the traditional title, “The Definitions of Asclepius.” The headings in our sermon, then, may probably have been intended for the summary of the teaching of the Expository Sermons to Tat (see in Cyril, Frag. xv.). Some of our definitions, however, are strikingly similar to those in C. H., x. (xi.), but this may be accounted for by supposing that “The Key” itself was one of, or rather the continuation of, the Expository Sermons. 1

The warning to use great discretion in communicating the instruction to the “many,” because of the danger of teaching the Gnosis to the morally unfit, seems to be an appropriate ending to the sermon; we may then be fairly confident that we have in the above a complete tractate of “The [? Expository] Sermons to Tat”; the title, however, is the invention of Patrizzi, and not original.


3:1 G. = Gaisford (T.), Joannis Stobæi Florilegium (Oxford, 1822), 4 vols.; Io. Stob. Ec. Phys. et Ethic. Libri Duo (Oxford, 1850), 2 vols.

M. = Meineke (A.), Joh. Stob. Flor. (Leipzig, 1855, 1856), 3 vols.; Joh. Stob. Ec. Phys. et Ethic. Lib. Duo (Leipzig, 1860), 2 vols.

W. = Wachsmuth (C.), Io. Stob. Anthologii Lib. Duo Priores . . . Ec. Phys. et Ethic. (Berlin, 1884), 2 vols.

H. = Hense (O.), I. Stob. Anth. Lib. Tert. (Berlin, 1894), 1 vol., incomplete.

3:2 I have numbered the paragraphs in all the excerpts for convenience of reference.

3:3 εὐσεβείας,—it might also be rendered by worship.

3:4 τόδε συλλράφω.

4:1 Or give worship unto God,—εὐσέβει.

4:2 In its true sense of wisdom-loving.

4:3 ἐπιτρόπῳ πιστῷ.

4:4 Cf. C. H., xiii. (xiv.) 3, Comment.

4:5 Cf. P. S. A., ix. 1; xii. 3.

5:1 Where λήθη (forgetfulness) is opposed to ἔρως (love),—that is to say, reminiscence, the secret of the μάθησις (mathēsis) of the Pythagoreans, the knowledge of the Author of our being or of our “race” within,—ψυχὴ μαθοῦσα ἑαυτῆς τὸν προπάτορα (cf. Ex. iii. 6).

5:2 Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 5; P. S. A., xi. 4; xxxvii. 3; Lact., D. I., i. 11.

5:3 Cf. C. H., xi. (xii.) 21.

5:4 The “one” is the rational element (τὸ λογικόν) and the “two” are the passional (τὸ θυμικόν) and desiderative (τὸ ἐπιθυμητικόν) elements of the irrational nature (τὸ ἄλογον, or τὸ αἰσθητὸν as below), the “heart” and the “appetite.” Cf. Ex. xvii.; see also “Orphic Psychology” in my Orpheus (London, 1896), pp. 273-275.

6:1 Lit. of the two.

6:2 That is, the one.

6:3 Sc. the one.

6:4 ἐκεῖσε—that is, to the Good and True, or God.

6:5 Cf. Ex. ix. 12.

6:6 Sc. the Path.

6:7 Or summarily; cf. § 16 below.

7:1 Or is born.

7:2 Or dies.

7:3 πρῶτον ὁ θεὸς, δεύτερον ὁ κόσμος, τρίτον ὁ ἄνθρωπος. Cf. P. S. A., x.: “The Lord of the Eternity (Æon) is the first God; second is Cosmos; man’s the third.”

7:4 Lit. sensible part,—τὸ αἰσθητόν.

7:5 πᾶν τὸ ὄν,—as opposed to οὐσία. (essence).

7:6 The meaning of ex-istence, being the coming out of pure being into the state of becoming.

8:1 Or animal; perhaps this and the following interjection are glosses.

8:2 ὁ λογισμός,—perhaps a mistake for λόγος, as Patrizzi has it.

8:3 Or real.

8:4 But see § 15 below; and cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 12.

8:5 The text is faulty; as is also apparently that of the following sentence. None of the conjectures yet put forward are satisfactory.

9:1 Or time is divine, the law is man’s.

9:2 I have not adopted W.’s lengthy emendations.

9:3 This is the idea of sempiternity—of things which have a beginning but no end.

10:1 Or dies.

10:2 There is a lacuna in the text.

10:3 Or energies.

10:4 Lit. go.

10:5 Lit. comes.

11:1 Or Providence. Cf. P. S. A., xxxix. 2; § 17 below; and Ex. xi. 1.

11:2 τύχη.

11:3 Or energy.

11:4 Reading τρεπτὸν for the hopeless ἄτρεπτον of the text. Cf. 11 above.

11:5 Cf. § 7 above.

11:6 περιοχαί.

11:7 Cf. C. H., xiii. (xiv.) 13 and 22.

11:8 Cf. P. S. A., xxii. 1.

12:1 Or Providence; cf. § 15 above.

12:2 Lit. than itself.

13:1 Cf. R. (p. 128), who calls them a “Collection of Sayings of Hermes.”

Next: Excerpt II. Of the Ineffability of God