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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Shadow
[T]he books ascribed to Hermes . . . fall into two divisions, the technical and the philosophical, which Fowden treats separately. . . . [His] scholarly survery makes an excellent foundation for further study of points of detail and of paganism in general.
From the Publisher

"[T]he books ascribed to Hermes . . . fall into two divisions, the technical and the philosophical, which Fowden treats separately. . . . [His] scholarly survery makes an excellent foundation for further study of points of detail and of paganism in general."--Shadow
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Abbreviations
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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