Hermes Trismegistus as a Man

A hundred years before the cult of Hermes Trismegistus appeared in Egypt, an adviser to the Macedonian king Cassander, Euhemerus wrote an influential book called Sacred History (Hiera Anagraphê) in which he argued that the Greek gods were originally kings, heroes, conquerors or benefactors of mankind., who received the status of deities posthumously for their deeds. According to Euhemerus, for example, Zeus was the king of Crete and a great conqueror. Euhemerus was not the first to identify gods with the real heroes of the past; many other authors did it before him, such as Xenophanes, Herodotus, Hecataeus of Abdera, Ephorus and to some extent Plato.

Nevertheless, Euhemer’s influence was the most far-reaching, so that his method of rationalizing myths or “historical interpretation of mythology” is still called Euhemerism after him. Under the influence of euhemerism, the Egyptian and Greek devotees of Hellenistic Egypt answered the question of the origin of Hermes Trismegistus, that he, like Amenhotep or Imhotep, was a historical figure who, having achieved the highest possible knowledge and wisdom during his lifetime on Earth, was declared a deity after his death . Most often, Hermes Trismegistus was identified with Thoth, others considered him the grandson of Hermes, while others classified him as a contemporary of Moses, but no one disputed that he once lived on Earth.

Hecataeus of Abdera (around the 4th century BC) wrote that Hermes was Osiris’ secretary and the inventor of writing, astronomy, music, eurythmy, the lyre and translation. The Greek historian Artapanus (around 200 BC) wrote that Hermes taught the Egyptians seamanship, lifting stones with the help of cranes, philosophy and weapon-making. The Greek geographer Strabo wrote that Hermes taught the Egyptian priests of Thebes philosophy and astronomy and that he gave the Egyptians laws. The Roman poet and astrologer Marcus Manilius declared Hermes to be the founder of the Egyptian religion. There was also a school of thought, whose later representative was Cicero, according to which Thoth and Hermes are not the same person, but two different deities, but who nevertheless belong to the same family tree. According to the classic genealogy from the 3rd or 2nd century BC, Thoth’s family tree begins with Thoth, continues with his son Agathodemon, whose son was called Hermes Trismegistus, and whose son was Tat.

Even early Christian theologians did not doubt the historicity of Hermes or Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes also found a place in the New Testament (Acts 14:20), where the famous apostle Paul is compared to him: “Thus they called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes, because he led the main speech.”

With the victory of Christianity, Hermes was on the one hand condemned, ridiculed, turned into the Devil, while on the other hand he was recognized as a benefactor and as an exemplary example of human values ​​and Christian virtues. The early Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215), for example, had an exceptional opinion of Hermes, comparing the logos of Hermes to the logos of Christ. The theologian Lactantius (250-320) wrote that Hermes Trismegistus was an Egyptian seer and lived not so long after Moses. Saint Augustine (354-430) believed that Hermes Trismegistus lived in “ancient times”, and he blamed him for the magical practice of reviving statues with the help of magical formulas and invocations, so he stated that he received the prophecy from the Devil and not from God.

The late antique Christian writer Sulpicius Severus (ca. 363-ca. 425) reports in one of the oldest Christian hagiographies, how his friend, Saint Martin, was visited by two demons, Jupiter and Mercury, of which the latter was more dangerous. The same author mentioned in his Chronicles that Satan himself likes to take the form of Mercury. Marcianus Capella (Martianus Capella, 5th century) presented a completely different view of Hermes in the work On the Marriage of Mercury and Philology (De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae). According to Capella, Mercury represents eloquence, love, understanding, wisdom and the seven liberal arts. If he is separated from Philology, he is condemned to sterility together with it. In that case, Mercury has nothing more to say, while Philology doesn’t know how to express itself.

Isidore of Seville (560-636) dedicated a significant part to Hermes in the book Etymologiarum sive libri XX, calling him “the first inventor of illusions”, but also the inventor of the flute, lyre and other musical instruments. Numerous devotees, regardless of whether they were representatives of the Christian religion or a polytheistic cult, thanked Hermes Trismegistus for the inspiration and spiritual support provided. Among them was the Greek alchemist Zosimus (III century AD), who introduced elements of Egyptian magic, Greek philosophy, Neoplatonism, Babylonian astrology, pagan mythology and Christian theology into his teaching. Zosimus advocated the idea that alchemy is a spiritual process that involves the purification of the soul and a means by which the soul can more easily ascend according to divine plans.

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