The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science

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This is the first major study devoted to the early Arabic reception and adaption of the figure of Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary Egyptian sage to whom were ascribed numerous works on astrology, alchemy, talismans, medicine, and philosophy. Before the more famous Renaissance European reception of the ancient Greek Hermetica, the Arabic tradition about Hermes and the works under his name had been developing and flourishing for seven hundred years. The legendary Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus was renowned in Roman antiquity as an ancient sage whose teachings were represented in books of philosophy and occult science. The works in his name, written in Greek by Egyptians living under Roman rule, subsequently circulated in many languages and regions of the Roman and Sasanian Persian empires. After the rise of Arabic as a prestigious language of scholarship in the eighth century, accounts of Hermes identity and Hermetic texts were translated into Arabic along with the hundreds of other works translated from Greek, Middle Persian, and other literary languages of antiquity. Hermetica were in fact among the earliest translations into Arabic, appearing already in the eighth century. This book explains the origins of the Arabic myth of Hermes Trismegistus, its sources, the reasons for its peculiar character, and its varied significance for the traditions of Hermetica in Asia and northern Africa as well as Europe. It shows who pre-modern Arabic scholars thought Hermes was and how they came to that view.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"I suggest that his work has the great potential to become a classical reference book for both late antiquity and the study of Hermetism. --Journal of Semitic Studies

"Kevin van Bladel addresses a significant gap in our knowledge. The author should be commended for such a competent artisanship.... The author has done a great service to the profession by clearing the field for himself and for other scholars so that they can build on a solid groundwork."--Hayrettin Yucesoy, Journal of World History

"A veritable treasure trove of information, well-indexed and with an extensive bibliography. It should thus be indispensable on the shelves of anyone interested in Hermes Trismegistus, Late Antiquity, Sasanian Iran, and early Arabic translations and intellectual life. No small feat!"--Christian H. Bull, Numen

"A wonderfully solid historical masterpiece that greatly contributes to our understanding of certain strands of intellectual transmission in the late antique Near East, as well as disabuses us of many a myth about the presence of Hermes and hermeticism in classical Islamic learned culture." --The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

"Kevin van Bladel has produced an admirable study of the Arabic Hermetic tradition, fleshing out in considerable detail the evolution of Hermes' image, his identification with Qur'anic prophet Idris as well as the forces driving this transformation, and his connections, real, imagined, and still controversial, with the Harranians, the last organized group of astrolators to continue functioning within Islamic civilization.... This brief recap does not do justice to the many separate and meticulous investigations that van Bladel has carried out and pieced together in order to provide this account.... this is a very good book, all the more impressive as it is the product of a young scholar."-- Y. Tzvi Langermann, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195376135
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/18/2009
  • Series: Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,388,377
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin van Bladel is Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Southern California.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 - Background
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Hermes in Sasanian Iran
Chapter 3 - Hermes and the ??bians of ?arr?n
Appendix to Chapter 3. The ?arr?nians and India
Part 2 - History of the Arabic Hermes
Chapter 4 - The Three Hermeses
Chapter 5 - Hermes the Prophet
Chapter 6 - Conclusion: The Making of the Arabic Hermes
Part I: Background
1. Introduction
2. Hermes in Sasanian Iran
3. Hermes and the Sabians of Harran
Appendis to Chapter 3: The Harranians and India
Part II: History of the Arabic Hermes
4. The Three Hermeses
5. Hermes the Prophet
6. Conclusion: The Making of the Arabic Hermes

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