The Corpus Hermeticum: An introduction

The Corpus Hermeticum originally arrived to the West from a Macedonian monastery and ended up in Florence in 1460, as a compendium of 17 texts on various subject. Cosimo de Medici had his Plato translator, Marsilio Ficino, render them in Latin immediately and the body of work came to be known as the “Corpus Hermeticum,” named after its alleged progatonist, Hermes Trismegistus. These texts were partially responsible for the rise of the alchemy movements in the 15th and 16th centuries and Rosicrucianism in the 16th and 17th centuries, followed by Freemasonry in the 18th and 19th centuries and then the Theosophy and New Age movements in the 20th century and our own current century.

Ficino believed that Plato had been influenced by Hermes through Pythagoras, and Ficino even believed that these books were of divine origin. Some likewise believed that Moses had been a contemporary of its author and that together, the Hebrew scriptures and the Hermetic writings provided evidence for the truth of a kind of prisca theologia, according to which a kernel of universal truth could be found in all religious teachings, anticipating the perennial tradition teaching found in more recent writings. Although its philosophical genealogy is controversial, some scholars believe the text to be a product of a Greek-Egyptian dialogue. It was common for Greeks to travel to Egypt for education and many Greeks believed their own religious and philosophical traditions to have originated in ancient Egypt. The Greeks associated their own divine messenger Hermes with the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth.

Hermes played several intriguing roles for the Greeks. He was a god of medicine, realm of the dead, and was regarded as a trickster who functioned as a messenger between humans and the gods. Thoth, on the other hand, with whom Hermes eventually became associated, was considered lord of wisdom and was associated with magic, occultism, and regenerative capacity by virtue of his association with the moon. In the text in question Hermes Trismegistus describes humans as possessing an innate divine nature that, provided it is cultivated correctly with the “logos,” could lead the individual to union with God, which the text intriguingly describes as an event of Gnosis.

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