Σάββατο, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016

Hermes and Hermetica Encyclopaedia of Islam III By Kevin van Bladel

Hermes and Hermetica Encyclopaedia of Islam III By Kevin van Bladel

Hermes and Hermetica

The  legendary Hermes,   in Arabic Hirmis (occasionally Hirmīs), called al- Muthallath bi-l-Æikma (“Threefold-in-Wis- dom”)—variations such as al-Muthallath bi-l-Ni{ma (“Threefold-in-Grace”) are also found—was  known among premodern Arabic scholars as an ancient sage and prophet and the author of numerous arcane works, many of which survive in Arabic manuscripts, but most of  which remain unpublished.

Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice Greatest”) was the name given to Thoth, the Egyptian god of scribal learning, by the authors of Greek discourses and treatises composed in Roman Egypt around the first and second centuries C.E. In the discourses, which are frequently in the form of dialogues, Hermes appears as a teacher who leads his disciples to a divine wisdom attained through pure contemplation; in the treatises, he presents techniques for divination and the manipulation  of the occult forces inherent  in nature  (Fowden). Even long after the unknown Egyptian authors of  these Greek works had  disappeared, Christians and  pagans of  late antiquity continued to cite Hermes as an authoritative Egyptian witness in their polemical and theological arguments. Hermes’ treatises and dialogues were cited in or translated into various languages besides Greek, including Coptic, Armenian, Middle Persian, Latin, and Syriac.

Hermes  Trismegistus is most famous today because of the celebrated reception of the Greek Hermetic dialogues in late fifteenth-century Italy and  subsequently across Western Europe. European scholars considered these Greek Hermetica, in Latin translation (first printed 1471) and in Greek editions (from 1554), as representatives of a pristine, divine philosophy from the time of the biblical patriarchs. Authors of various tendencies, some of them critical of Aristotelianism, made use of the Hermetica, or at least the authority of Hermes, in different ways grouped together by modern scholars as “Hermetism” or “Hermeticism.” Euro- pean disenchantment with the Hermetica set in gradually during and following the seventeenth century after philologists dis- covered that these Greek texts were not pristine, but were composed in Roman Egypt (Copenhaver, Natural magic; Ebel-ing, 59–141; Kühlmann; Yates).
In fact, mediaeval Latin translations of Arabic texts both referring to and ascribed to Hermes informed the Renaissance Euro- pean reception of the Greek Hermetica in ways so far only partly explicated (Burnett; Lucentini and Perrone Compagni). Numerous Hermetica had already been known in Arabic for centuries, in continuity with late antique traditions.

The  first appearance  of  Her mes in Arabic coincides with the {Abbāsid ca- liphs’ promotion of the sciences. Iranian astrologers in the service of al-ManÉūr (r.136–58/754–75) and his successors intro- duced Hermes into Arabic letters from astrological Hermetica available to them in Middle Persian. Some of their translations of  Hermetica  from Middle Persian into Arabic are extant, such as QaÓīb al-dhahab (Schoeler, 175–7) and  Asrār  al-nujūm  fī l-kawākib al-bābāniyya (Kunitzsch; this work had previously been translated into Middle Persian from Greek). A member  of  the second generation of these astrologers, Abū Sahl b. Nawbakht (fl. c. 158–93/775–809), composed a history of science in which Hermes was originally from Babylon but settled in Egypt and revealed his knowledge to the Egyptians. Hermes’ astrology, while recognised as Egyptian in derivation, was thus considered to have its origins in the territory of the Persian Empire and to be a part of these astrologers’ proper heritage (al-Nadīm, 299–301).

Soon thereafter  anonymous authors produced  new Arabic works presenting Hermes’ teachings on topics other than astrology. Apparently earliest among these was a group of books in which Aristotle reveals talismanic secrets and magic rituals of Hermes to the conquering Alexander. These books (still unedited), which can be called collectively Talismanic Pseudo- Aristotelian Hermetica  (TPAH), bear strange names apparently  fabricated to seem Greek,  such as al-Is¢amākhīs, al- Ustuwwa¢ās, and  al-Hādī¢ūs. Destined to have a profound influence on the develop- ment of mediaeval learned magic, these texts were already available by the reign of  al-Maxmūn (r. 197–218/813–33),  for they provided material at that time for the author of the Kitāb sirr al-khalīqa,  in which Apollonius of Tyana reveals the teaching inscribed upon Hermes’ Emerald Tablet (Weisser, 1979 and 1980; Rudolph). The brief  and  cryptic text of  the  Emerald Tablet, describing a heavenly ascent and earthly return,  figurative or not, became authoritative for alchemists for centuries thereafter (Ruska).

In the 840s, al-Jā˜iØ (c. 160–255/776–868) alludes (26 §40) to a discussion of whether Hermes  was the prophet  Idrīs mentioned in the Qurxān (19:56–7, 21:85–6). In the second/eighth  century Idrīs had been identified by Muslim scholars with the biblical prophet  Enoch, famous for receiving visions in heaven as described in the  apocryphal Books  of   Enoch.  The identification of Hermes with Idrīs-Enoch made Hermes, like Enoch, a recipient of heavenly visions, and it was thought that his knowledge of the astral sciences came to him during his heavenly ascent.
More Hermetica appeared in Arabic in the third/ninth century through  translations from ancient Greek and other languages. A few examples: Hermes is cited as an  authority  in  mal˜ama-compendia (books of omens and their meanings) that were based on  material translated from Syriac  (Ullmann, Natur-und Geheimwis- senschaften,  290–1; Fahd, 224–6). Hermes’ book of snake venoms and their antidotes has, at least partly, ancient Greek origins (Ullmann, Schlangenbuch). The Kitāb Jiranīs, a translation of the Hermetic Greek Kyranis, is known today from manuscripts also containing the TPAH,  although the text does not refer to Hermes in its Arabic form (Toral-Niehoff ).

The Hermetica in circulation naturally created a demand for information about their author.  The most influential Arabic account of Hermes’ identity comes from the  astrologer Abū Ma{shar al-Balkhī (171–272/787–886), who described three different figures named  Her mes in the chronographic portion of his lost Kitāb al- ulūf. Abū Ma{shar assembled these accounts from older materials at his disposal. His first two Hermeses derive from an unidentified Christian world chronicle dependent on the lost chronicle of the Alexandrian monk Annianus (fl. c. 405 C.E.). The first Hermes of these two, identified as Idrīs, is presented as an antediluvian prophet who inscribed his learning in Egyptian monuments; the second recovered it after the Deluge. The third Hermes of Abū Ma{shar was borrowed from a separate account by al-Kindī (d. c. 256/870),  who, according to his statement preserved by al-Nadīm (d.
380/990)  (385), knew a book of chapters (maqālāt) containing questions and answers between Hermes and his son on theology. The description of this book calls immediately to mind the famous dialogues of the Greek Corpus Hermeticum. Unfortunately, the work that al-Kindī referred to appears to have been lost and has left little trace (van Bladel).

The prophetic character of Hermes was discussed by early Ismā{īlī  missionaries, who esteemed the Sirr al-khalīqa highly and argued for the origin of all true knowledge in revelation, using Hermes as their ex- ample of a prophet of science. By the early fourth/tenth century, through their work and through Abū Ma{shar’s Ulūf, Hermes was reputed among learned men generally as an ancient scholar-prophet. Around that time (c. 300/900) and thereafter, unknown authors  of  Ismā{īlī  tendency began to produce  a large number  of  alchemical pseudepigraphs in which Hermes often appears as an authority (for examples see Kraus). Some of these claim to be works of  Hermes  translated from inscriptions recovered in Egyptian ruins; a few such texts have been published (Vereno).

In  a similar pseudepigraphic milieu, an unknown author adapted the story of Plato’s Phaedo for the Kitāb al-tuffā˜a or Liber de pomo, in which Aristotle, on his deathbed, teaches about Hermes’s revelation, among other things (Khayr Allāh, 107, 220). From this work, philosophers of the late fourth/ tenth  century such as al-{Āmirī  (d. 381/992) and the Ikhwān al-Âafāx became acquainted with Hermes as an ancient sage who ascended to heaven, listened to the angels, and returned  to teach the secrets of nature.

In the fifth/eleventh century, two influential philosophical gnomologia, the Âiwān al-˜ikma, of uncertain authorship and known today only from derivative  works, and the Mukhtār al-˜ikam of  al-Mubashshir b. Fātik (written 440/1048–9), gave Hermes a special place among ancient philosophers. The Âiwān took its account of Hermes from Abū Ma{shar, but al-Mubashshir used a lost source, written in the fourth/tenth century, perhaps by a Âābian scholar in Baghdad, in which the prophetic character of Hermes is emphasised. These two works ensured that Hermes would hold a prominent position in subsequent histories of science written in Arabic and in later gnomologia. The numerous maxims ascribed to Hermes in these two sources were adapted  by their learned compilers from pre-existing gnomologia, some of which were translations from Greek, Middle Persian, and Sanskrit. These two gnomologia definitively established Her mes’ fame in Arabic among scholars generally, outside of the company of astrologers and alchemists.

The philosopher al-Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191) in particular gave Hermes an important place in his intellectual genealogy as a representative of a pristine philosophy antedating Aristotle. Later philosophers, such as Ibn Sab{īn (d. 668/1270), make similar references to Hermes as an esteemed antecedent. The historians of science of the seventh/thirteenth  century, such as Ibn Abī UÉaybi{a  (d. 668/1270)  (1.16–8) and Ibn al-Qif¢ī (d. 646/1248)  (1–7, 346–50), synthesised the accounts of Abū Ma{shar’s three Hermeses and al-Mubashshir’s prophetic Hermes. From then on, Hermes’ legend was relatively common knowledge among scholars (van Bladel).
The Persian philosopher Bābā AfÓal (al- Dīn) Kāshānī (d. early seventh/thirteenth century) is the first to attest, in his surviving correspondence, to the existence of the Arabic work of Hermes best known today, Fī zajr al-nafs, a series of exhortations to the soul to turn from wordly things toward pure  intelligibles (Bardenhewer; Badawī, intro. 48–54, text 51–116; Scott, 4:277–352, gives an English translation of Bardenhewer’s Latin version). Kāshānī (331–85) translated the work into Persian, too. Her mes’ fame also made  its way from Arabic histories into Persian poetry: NiØāmī (d. early Seventh/thirteenth  cent.) and Jāmī (d. 898/1492) included Hermes in their romances of Alexander as one of the philosophers in the company of the legendary Macedonian.

Contrary  to common opinion today, there  is no  known part  of  the  Arabic Hermetica  that clearly originated among Âābian pagans of Æarrān, besides perhaps al-Mubashshir’s account; there is therefore no reason now to consider the Æarrānian Âābians to have been “Hermetists.” Al-though the Æarrānians famously regarded Hermes as their prophet (attested already c. 200/815  by Theodore  Abū Qurra, 211–2)—just as they are reported to have esteemed other pagan  sages—no extant work of  Hermes in Arabic has hitherto been  demonstrated  certainly to come from Æarrānian  pagans. Indeed,  some Hermetica  in Arabic antedate  the third/ ninth-century Æarrānian scholar Thābit b. Qurra  (d. 288/901).
Historians of  Arabic letters have also often uncritically assumed the existence of an Arabic or Islamic Hermeticism as a school of thought or movement. This has relied either on the senses of the word imported from the modern analysis of the Hermetica in the rather different circumstances either of Roman  antiquity or of Renaissance Europe or on the assumption of a consistent outlook by the authors of various Arabic Hermetica. 

There is, in fact, no evidence for a distinct Hermetic school of thought in Arabic or anything that can usefully be called Hermetism in the Arabic context. The  characteristic shared by the dozens of premodern Arabic scholars who discussed Hermes or who dealt with Hermetica was not a putative Hermeticism but merely their common interest in the ancient past and particularly in the study of the works of the ancients in Arabic translation. This interest held across confessional and doctrinal boundaries. Astrologers, alchemists, makers of talismans, and philosophers all had professional reasons for having recourse to the works ascribed to Hermes. It is therefore misleading to speak of Arabic or Islamic Hermeticism. What we have, instead of a pervasive school of thought, are individual Arabic Hermetica, of  diverse contents, produced  in different times and places to address different concerns, in each case building on the lore about Hermes that their individual translators and authors already possessed. The Arabic Hermetica are unified only by the legend of their ancient author.

For more  information  on  the  Arabic Hermetica, see GAS 3:170–1, 4:31–44, 5:189–90, 416, 7:50–8 and Ullmann 1972 (index s.v. Hermes). On the role of Hermes in Arabic, see van Bladel 2009. A comprehensive inven- tory of the extant Arabic Hermetica, which are mostly unpublished, is in preparation.

AfÓal al-Dīn Kāshānī, MuÉannafāt, ed. Mujtabā Mīnuvī and Ya˜yā Mahdavī (Tehran 1987), 331–85; {Abd  al-Ra˜mān  Badawī  (ed.), al-Aflā¢ūniyya al-mu˜datha  {ind  al-{Arab  (Cairo 1955), intro.  48–54,  text 51–116; Otto Bardenhewer, Her metis  Trismegisti  qui apud Arabes fertur De castigatione animae libellum, Bonn 1873; Brian P. Copenhaver (trans.), Hermetica, Cambridge 1992; André-Jean Festugière, La révélation  d’Her mès  Trismégiste,  4 vols., Paris, 1944–54; Ibn Abī UÉaybi{a, {Uyūn al-anbāx fī
¢abaqāt al-a¢ibbāx, ed. August Müller, 2 vols. (Cairo 1882–4), 1:16–18; Ibn al-Qif¢ī, Taxrīkh al-˜ukamāx, ed. Julius Lippert (Leipzig 1903), 1–7, 346–50; al-Jā˜iØ,  Kitāb  al-tarbī{  wa-l- tadwīr,  ed. Charles Pellat, Damascus  1955; Kitāb al-tuffā˜a, ed. Amīn ¶āhir  Khayr Allāh, al-Muqta¢af  55 (1919), 475–84; 56  (1920), 18–22, 105–10, and 217–21; Paul Kunitzsch, Liber de Stellis Beibeniis, in Her metis  Tris- megisti Astrologica et Divinatoria  (Turnhout 2001), 9–81; Jean-Pierre Mahé,  Her mès  en  Haute- Egypte, 2 vols., Quebec 1978–82; al-Nadīm, Kitāb  al-fihrist,  ed. RiÓā Tajaddud  (Tehran 1971), 299–301, 385.1–2; Julius Ruska, Tabula Smaragdina,  Heidelberg 1926; Walter Scott, ed. and  trans., Her metica,  4 vols. (Oxford 1924–36), 4:277–352; Theodore Abū Qurra, Traité de l’existence du créateur et le la vraie religion, ed. Ignace Dick, Jūniyya and Rome 1982; Isabel Toral-Niehoff,  Kitāb  Ǧiranīs,  Munich 2004; Manfred Ullmann, Das Schlangenbuch des Hermes  Trismegistos, Wiesbaden 1994; In- golf Vereno, Studien zum ältesten alchemistischen Schrifttum, Berlin 1992; Ursula Weisser (ed.), Buch  über das  Geheimnis  der Schöpfung  und die Darstellung der Natur,  Aleppo 1979.

Charles Burnett, The Establishment of medi- eval Hermeticism, in The Medieval World, ed. Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson (London and New York 2001), 111–30; Brian P. Co- penhaver,  Natural  magic, Hermetism  and occultism in early modern science, in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (eds.), Reappraisals  of the scientific revolution (Cam- bridge 1990), 261–302; F lorian Ebeling, The secret history of  Hermes  Trismegistus (Ithaca 2007), 59–141; Toufic Fahd,  La divination arabe  (Leiden 1966), 224–6; Garth  Fowden, The Egyptian  Hermes,  Princeton 19932; Paul Kraus, Jābir ibn Æayyān, 2 vols., Cairo 1942–3; Wilhelm Kühlmann,  Der  “Hermetismus” als literarische Formation,  Scientia  Poetica  3 (1999), 145–57; Paolo Lucentini and  Vit- toria Perrone Compagni,  I testi  e  i codici  di Er mete  nel  Medioevo,  Florence 2001; Ulrich Rudolph,  Kalām  im antiken Gewand.  Das theologische Konzept des Kitāb Sirr al-›alīqa, in The Arabist. Budapest Studies in Arabic 13–14 (1995), 123–36; Gregor Schoeler, Arabische Handschriften II, Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, vol. 17, ser. B (Stuttgart 1990), 175–7; Manfred Ullmann, Die Natur-  und Geheimwissenschaften  im Islam (Leiden 1972), 290–1; Kevin van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes, Oxford 2009; Ursula Weisser, Das “Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung” von Pseudo-Apollonius   von Tyana, Berlin and New York 1980; Frances A. Yates, Giordano  Bruno and the Hermetic tradition, Chicago 1964.

Kevin van Bladel
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