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Princeton University Press
The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind

The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind

by Garth FowdenGarth Fowden


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Sage, scientist, and sorcerer, Hermes Trismegistus was the culture-hero of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. A human (according to some) who had lived about the time of Moses, but now indisputably a god, he was credited with the authorship of numerous books on magic and the supernatural, alchemy, astrology, theology, and philosophy. Until the early seventeenth century, few doubted the attribution. Even when unmasked, Hermes remained a byword for the arcane. Historians of ancient philosophy have puzzled much over the origins of his mystical teachings; but this is the first investigation of the Hermetic milieu by a social historian.

Starting from the complex fusions and tensions that molded Graeco-Egyptian culture, and in particular Hermetism, during the centuries after Alexander, Garth Fowden goes on to argue that the technical and philosophical Hermetica, apparently so different, might be seen as aspects of a single "way of Hermes." This assumption that philosophy and religion, even cult, bring one eventually to the same goal was typically late antique, and guaranteed the Hermetica a far-flung readership, even among Christians. The focus and conclusion of this study is an assault on the problem of the social milieu of Hermetism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691024981
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 06/21/1993
Series: Mythos: The Princeton/Bollingen Series in World Mythology , #59
Edition description: With a New preface by the author
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 593,365
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Garth Fowden is a research fellow at the Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity of the National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens, and the author of Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity.

Table of Contents


Preface to the 1993 edition

Preface (1986)

Introduction: The texts 1

Pt. I Modes of Cultural Interaction

1 The durability of Egypt 13

The gods of Egypt 14

Hermes Trismegistus 22

The Hermetica 31

2 Translation and interpretation 45

Aretalogies of Isis and Asclepius 45

Manetho and Chaeremon 52

Books of Thoth and technical Hermetica 57

Instructions and philosophical Hermetica 68

Pt. II The Way of Hermes

3 Magister omnium physicorum 75

Sympatheia 75

Magic 79

Occult properties and alchemy 87

Astrology 91

4 Religio mentis 95

The philosophical paideia 97

Gnosis 104

5 Towards a via universalis 116

Technique and philosophy: interactions 116

Zosimus of Panopolis 120

Pre-Iamblichan theurgy 126

Iamblichus of Apamea 131

6 Hermetism and theurgy 142

The role and understanding of ritual 142

Bitys 150

Pt. III The Milieu of Hermetism

7 Hermetism in Egypt 155

The evidence of the Hermetica 156

First-century Alexandria - and beyond 161

Temples and priests 166

Upper Egypt 168

Late antique Alexandria 177

The milieu of Hermetism: a socio-intellectual description 186

8 Aegypti sacra deportata 196

Conclusion 213

Appendix: Earliest testimonies to the name 'Hermes Trismegistus' 216

Bibliography 218

Index 237

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