On the Third Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: Translation

It was back in middle school that I was first able to take foreign language classes.  I spent a semester learning French, but that never really hooked me; I switched to Japanese for the next semester, but unfortunately the teacher had to leave back to Japan, so in a scramble to keep us busy, my school brought in a Latin teacher to finish off the year in that subject instead.  I enjoyed both Japanese and Latin immensely, but I wouldn’t have the chance to take Japanese classes again until high school some years later.  Instead, I decided to stick with Latin, despite my mother’s confusion and mockery (“You’ll never use Latin, it’s a worthless thing to study!”).  I kept taking Latin through high school, including the AP level courses (taken as an independent study since I couldn’t otherwise fit the class into my schedule).  I didn’t take Latin in college, though I wish I had, had my schedule allowed for it; I switched back to Japanese for a few years until I had to give that up, too, due to my need to focus on my degree for computer science and software engineering.  But I never lost my love for Latin, or for ancient languages or linguistics generally.

Despite my mother’s claim that Latin would never be helpful for me, I’ve proved her wrong over the years, as it’s helped me immensely with my occult and spiritual research, given the abundance of stuff that’s still in Latin and hasn’t been formally translated yet, and given the fact that translators sometimes make interesting choices in their translation that don’t always bear out from the original text.  It’s also given me ample background in linguistic analysis, which helps in learning and understanding the syntax, grammar, and structure of other languages, even if those languages have a radically different structure than Latin does.  For instance, I’ve made plenty of references to Greek and a few references to Coptic on my blog before, and even though I’ve never studied those languages nor claim any formal competency in them, given a good dictionary and a good set of grammar tables and guides, I can get by enough to construct a few statements, even though I couldn’t write a full Greek phrase yet to save my life.  But, lately, I’ve been picking up ancient Greek more and more, which helps me just as much and for the same reasons as Latin.

Not that long ago, I mentioned how beautiful and meaningful I find Book III of the Corpus Hermeticum (CH III), entitled Ἐρμοῦ Ἰερός Λόγος, or “[the] Sacred Discourse of Hermēs” (though I prefer to translate Λόγος here as “Sermon”).  It’s a short text but a complete one, and one I’d recommend to those interested in traditional Hermetic texts to read first, as it kinda-sorta serves the same role in my mind as the Heart Sutra does for Mahayana Buddhism: a short synopsis that contains the biggest points of practice and purpose of the tradition.  This, like the rest of the Corpus Hermeticum, is written in Greek, specifically a kind of Koiné Greek that was spoken and written as a lingua franca across the Mediterranean during the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire.  This is the Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament, of the Middle and New Platonists, and of the Greek Magical Papyri themselves.  While my formal exposure to learning and translating classical Greek is limited, it’s probably time to change that, because I want to dig in more to the Hermetic canon generally and CH III specifically and really get at the meat and bones of it for meditation and contemplation, and doing that requires actually looking at the original Greek and…well, in order to get a better grasp of the texts, translate them (or at least CH III) myself.

Admittedly, I could probably have started learning how to translate Greek with an easier text.  Many scholars who’ve already translated CH III have noted that the text is corrupt in many ways, suffering from both lacunae and poorly-written Greek, indicating that perhaps the original author of CH III was not so competent in the language as we’d like.  Scott himself declares that CH III is “so corrupt as to be almost wholly meaningless” in its original state, and presents his own take on the text only after having “altered it with a free hand”.  Dodd commends Scott on his restoration of the text “extensively on an ingenious theory of the mutilation of the archetype”, but does not believe that “such drastic treatment is really necessary” and that, at times, Scott’s “reconstruction…departs too far from the [original] to carry conviction”.  Although a Hermetic text, it bears strong influence from the style and wording of the Septuagint with other Judaicizing elements, but it also shows a strong Stoic and Egyptian presence.  Even with all these influences, and perhaps because of them, the overall message of CH III falls neatly in line with other Hermetic texts, although presented from a different perspective.

Perhaps as a result of the corruption and confusion in CH III, different translators have rendered this book in different ways, sometimes drastically so.  To offer a comparison, here’s a list of some translators of the text (whether of CH III specifically or the Corpus Hermeticum generally), where I provide links to online references or to sources of the published translations themselves:

With that, let’s take a look at my translation of CH III, made possible through the generous help of the Perseus-Tufts online dictionary and whatever charts of declension and conjugation I could find on Wiktionary.  This text is broken down into four sections, for which I’ve provided my own translation based on the Greek given by Nock and Festugière.  Each section also includes my own notes explaining or justifying some of the choices I’ve made in the course of the translation; I did my best to stick to the text itself in the way it was given without emending the text as far as is possible, though such a literal approach could not always be done—and I’m in good company, it’d seem, based on previous translators’ notes.  Be gentle with me and forgiving with criticism of my shoddy work, dear reader; I’m still an unlearned amateur at Greek, after all.

1. Statements on God

[The] glory of all things is the God,
[who is both] [the] Divine and divine Nature.

[The] beginning of that which exists is the God,
[who is thus of] Mind, Nature, and Matter,
being Wisdom for [the] making known of the All.

[The] beginning is [that which is] the Divine,
[which is] Nature, Working, Necessity, End, and Renewal.

  • “[The] glory”: δόξα.  The author of CH III uses the article a lot less than I’d expect, so I make it explicit when he doesn’t by adding in “[the]” elsewhere in this translation when English would expect it to be used.  This use of the article may have some semantic meaning of importance, but I’m not sure.
  • “of all things”: πάντων, which might also be rendered as “of the All”, but we encounter πάντων in CH III several other times in a less grand sense; more on this shortly with ἁπάντων.
  • “[who is both]”: reading an implied copula together with the καὶ…καὶ formula that indicates “both…and”.  Interpreting καὶ θεῖον καὶ φύσις θεία as an explanation of what ὁ θεός is makes sense, as δόξα is in the singular; this word can also be interpreted as a plural, but specifically a plural feminine noun, and neither θεός nor θεῖον would agree with that.  So it is (the) God who is the glory of the All, and (the) God is both the Divine and the Nature, which is itself Divine.  This latter point, that Nature is also Divine as God is Divine, is one that’s hammered in both at the end of this section as well as at the end of CH III.
  • “[The] beginning”: ἀρχή, which some translate as “principle” or “origin” instead.  For thematic reasons to link this first section with the last one, I prefer “beginning” here.
  • “that which exists”: τῶν ὄντων, which could also be more interpreted as “all that is”.
  • “[who is thus of] Mind, Nature, and Matter”: ditto regarding the καὶ…καὶ formula.  This is given in the text as καὶ νοῦ καὶ φύσεως καὶ ὕλης, which would suggest that God is Mind and Nature and Matter, but Dodd agrees with Scott here in that this phrase should be in the genitive, καὶ νοῦς καὶ φύσις καὶ ὕλη, such that this would read “God is the beginning of that which exists, both of Mind and of Nature and of Matter”, and honestly, I’m inclined to agree with them.  The original phrase is grammatically correct, but Scott’s and Dodd’s translation using a genitive emendation makes more sense to me Hermetically.
  • “being Wisdom”: there’s no copula or identifier connecting ὁ θεός with σοφία here, so one could assume “[who is]” is implied by parallelism.  However, the final word of this statement ἁπάντων “of all” (more on that in a bit), is followed by ὤν, and while ἁπάντων ὤν could be translated “of all things”, but ὤν can also be a participle referring to God, which would render this phrase as “[God who is] being…Wisdom”, which makes grammatical sense even if it’s an awkward construction.  Whether we say “God is the being who is Wisdom for making known of all things” or “God is who is Wisdom for making known of all things”, the translation seems equivalent either way.
  • “making known”: δεῖξιν, generally “mode of proof” or “exhibition”, in the accusative in a way indicating teaching, revealing, or displaying something for a purpose.  I originally used “showing forth” here, which is more literal but less stylistically fitting for the rest of the text.
  • “of the All”: ἁπάντων here as opposed to πάντων above.  Given the rarity of ἁπάντων in CH III and how it intensifies πάντων, I’m rendering it here in a more dignified sense.
  • “[which is]”: ditto from above with “[who is both]” and “[who is thus of]”.
  • “End”: τέλος, though I like “Purpose” here as well.
  • It may be better to interpret the initial line of each of these statements as “of all things [which exist]” and “of [all] which exists” and “[of all which exists]”, maintaining parallelism between these three statements in this first section, interpreting partial presences of τῶν πάντων ὄντων to maintain thematic and stylistic continuity, though this is reading more into the original text than strictly necessary.  However, the last statement here lacks both πάντων as well as τῶν ὄντων, which may be meaningful on its own.

2. Account of Cosmogony

Lo: in [the] Abyss there was boundless darkness and water,
and delicate, intelligent Spirit,
existing by divine Power in Chaos.
Then, under [the] sand, out of [the] moist essence,
holy Light arose and [the] elements solidified,
so that all [the] gods might parcel out seed-bearing Nature.

While all was indefinite and unformed,
[all] that which was light was separated off to [the] heights
and [all] that which was heavy was grounded upon [the] moist sand,
the whole of them all separated and hung up by Fire to be carried along by Spirit.

And the heavens were seen in seven circles,
[the] gods being seen in the forms of [the] stars with their constellations,
perfectly filled each with their own gods.
The periphery was wrapped all around by Air
and carried along in a circular course by divine Spirit.

  • The first paragraph here is usually marked as the final paragraph of the first section, but it makes more thematic sense to group it in with this second section which otherwise discusses the creation of the cosmos.
  • “Lo”: ἦν, used like “behold”.
  • “delicate”: translating λεπτόν with other similar meanings like “peeled”, “fine”, “thin”, “weak”, “subtle”, or “small” to communicate a sense of fineness but fragility as well.
  • “under [the] sand”: translating ὕφ’ ἄμμῳ which Nock and Festugière obelize out. Some interpret this as marginalia or an external reference to “moist sand” below, especially as it seems absurd for Light to arise from the depths, unless you take into account the Benben myth of Egyptian cosmogony, which then makes total sense here as the birth of Atum from the primordial mound that arose from the boundless waters of chaos.
  • “so that all [the] gods might parcel out seed-bearing Nature”: καὶ θέοι πάντες καταδιερῶσι φύσεως ἐνσπόρου.  Emending καταδιερῶσι to καταδιαιρῶσι, this word seems to be usually translated in the middle voice in the sense of “distribute among themselves”, but the inflection here necessitates that it is in the active voice and subjunctive mood, requiring a different interpretation along the lines of division, separation, or distinguishing.  Nock and Festugière obelize φύσεως ἐνσπόρου, suggesting a potential break in the text and maybe something specific that was parceled out between καταδιερῶσι and φύσεως, but φύσεως ἐνσπόρου as a genitive phrase (“of seed-bearing Nature”) is likely a genitive of separation which would work well with καταδιαιρῶσι.  As a whole, this phrase suggests that in order for the gods to take their proper places and to make life, the elements needed to be made first, and that the gods separating out these elements fulfills part of their very purpose.
  • “hung up by Fire”: “hung up” here is ἀνακρεμασθέντων, “up-hanged”, and the initial ἀνα- seems to just be an intensifier, as κρεμασθέντων already indicates a notion of hanging (or, in the passive, being hanged) up.  Although a different word is used, a similar notion is present in the Hymn to the Great Mind from PGM V.459ff, where we see “you who suspended heaven” as πασσαλεύσαντα τόν οὐρανόν, with a specific notion there of “pinning” it up, like nails or pushpins hanging something up on a wall.  (ἀνα-)κρεμασθέντων, on the other hand, especially in the passive, was sometimes used to refer to hanging things up as a votive offering.
  • “carried along”: ὀχεῖσθαι from ὀχέω, literally “hold fast”, but in the middle voice here, more like “to be carried or borne”.  Copenhaver notes that Nock and Festugière use “véhiculé”, echoing both ὀχεῖσθαι here and ὀχούμενον below in this section as well as the word ὀχεία (“covering”, “holder”) or ὄχημα (“chariot”) used to describe the vehicle of the soul in its ascent as described used in other Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts.
  • “perfectly filled”: interpreting διηρθρώθη along the lines of “complete in detail”, as opposed to Copenhaver’s “corresponding to the gods contained in it”.

3.  Account of Zoogony and Anthropogony

Each god sent forth through their own power
that which was assigned to them.
Thus came to be [the] beasts—
[the] four-footed, [the] crawling, [the] water-dwelling, and [the] winged—
and every germinating seed, herb, and fresh shoot of every flower,
[having] the seed of rebirth within themselves.

They then cast the seeds for the generations of humans for [that they might have]:

  1. knowledge of [the] works of [the] Divine, and
  2. testimony of [the] workings of Nature.

And [they likewise made] great numbers of humans [for that they might have]:

  1. management of all things under Heaven, and
  2. recognition of that which is Good

So as to:

  1. grow in growth, and
  2. multiply in multitude.

And, through the course of [the] encycling gods,
[they created] every soul in flesh for [that they might have]:

  1. observance of [the] sign-seeding [acts] of Heaven,
  2. [observance] of [the] course of the heavenly gods,
  3. [observance] of [the] works of the Divine, and
  4. [observance] of [the] working of Nature

for [that they might have]:

  1. examination of that which is Good, and
  2. knowledge of [the] turbulent lots of divine Power

[for the gods made them so as] to:

  1. come to know [the] things of [the] Good and [the] things of [the] insignificant, and
  2. discover [the] arts of everything that is Good.
  • I broke out this section into a series of numbered lists to more clearly refer to particular points later on.  This whole section was basically given as (more or less) one long sentence, but through the miracles of modern punctuation, I’ve broken it out into more easily digestible sections and statements, especially given the exhortations or injunctions regarding the purposes and works of humanity.
  • “Thus”: just καὶ here, but I figured that this specific wording would help clarify it as a link between the previous and coming statements.
  • “the seed of rebirth”: Although this seems to relate most directly and specifically to the generation of vegetative life, I think this is better reflective of both the vegetative and animal life here. I also want it to link to human life below, though it seems difficult to do so, but this is an incredibly corrupt and difficult passage to translate that everyone seems to admit and recognize.
  • “they then cast the seeds for”: ἐσπερμολόγουν, a difficult word that on its own means something like “pick up/out seeds”, which doesn’t make sense here. Sometimes interpreted instead as “emit seeds”, but the inflection here doesn’t make a lot of sense to me any which way.  The ending itself here would make it seem like a kind of present participle, but only in the neuter singular, either nominative or accusative, and which could have it modify σπέρμα several words away for the overall effect of “having the seeding seeds of rebirth within themselves”, but that seems really kludgy.  We could interpret the following τάς as part of this word, making it ἐσπερμολόγουντας, which would make it an active participle in the feminine singular genitive or plural accusative, which doesn’t make it fit any easier within the sentence unless we match it with the feminine singular genitive παλιγγενεσίας “rebirth”, which is separated by only a few words (and maybe a lacuna or two), but τάς here already functions as the article for γενέσεις that follows, and trying to make the two into one word seems to be another kludgy thing that isn’t great.  Nobody seems happy with this word (or with several of the words and phrases that follow in this section). The common approach seems to be that of Dodd, who uses it to refer to the gods in beseeding the generations of humans (ἐσπερμολόγουν τε τάς γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων), perhaps with the original author also making a pun on λόγος, but this is also unlikely as λόγος otherwise appears nowhere in CH III (except the title, but the title may well be a later addition to refer to the text by name). There is the possibility of a connection with σπερμολογία, “babbling” or “gossip”, and σπερμολόγος as “one who picks up and retails scraps of knowledge, as an idle babbler”, which could be seen as both a pun on both λόγος and σπέρμα, as well as a dim echo of the Korē Kosmou where the bodies of humans are made from the leftover dried- but overly-reconstituted soulstuff of God. Although the translation here (with a pun on “cast” as both sowing seeds as well as speaking incantations in the Egyptian mythic sense a la Isis or Thoth) makes it seem that τάς γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων is a dative, it’s still an accusative phrase (“the generations of mankind”), but it’s unclear what else it could be the direct object of besides whatever ἐσπερμολόγουν is supposed to indicate.
  • “for [that they might have]”: reading an implied verb of possession here and below, given the use of εἰς with accusative nouns to suggest that humans are to exist for such a purpose or exist so as to possess such things.
  • “knowledge”: Many translators interpret γνῶσιν here as a verb (“that they might come to know”), but later instances of γνῶσιν in this section seems to function better as a noun (“seeking to know, “investigation”, “knowledge”) in the accusative case.  Reading γνῶσιν here as a noun can also function well, given that μαρτυρίαν (“testimony”, “evidence”) also reads better as a noun given in the accusative than as a subjunctive verb.
  • “testimony of the workings of Nature”: φύσεως ἐνεργοῦσαν μαρτυρίαν, which others translate as “be a working witness of Nature”.  Reading μαρτυρίαν as a noun and not a verb, however, would necessitate something like “have testimony…of Nature”.  ἐνεργοῦσαν seems to agree with μαρτυρίαν as either a plural genitive noun phrase or a singular accusative noun phrase, but “working testimony” doesn’t seem to work so well here.  Rather, I’d read this instead as a chain: that humans are to have testimony/evidence (μαρτυρίαν) of the workings (ἐνεργοῦσαν) of Nature (φύσεως), which then gives a neat parallel to having knowledge (γνῶσιν) of the works (ἔργων) of the Divine (θείων) from the previous statement.  This parallel is repeated further below in this section, though there with a singular noun ἐνεργείας instead of a plural participle ἐνεργοῦσαν.  In this sense, perhaps μαρτυρίαν is meant in the sense that humanity is to behold the workings of Nature by being witness to it, experiencing it, and undergoing it rather than merely observing it from a distance.
  • “great numbers of humans”: πλῆθος ἀνθρώπων, which Copenhaver translates as an injunction “to increase the number of mankind”, but the grammar here doesn’t match up with that. It makes more sense to interpret it in the same sense as τἀς…γενέσεις τῶν ἀνθρώπων above as well as πασᾶν…ψυχήν below.
  • “management”: δεσποτείαν which indicates “the power of a master”, but here I interpret as more a sense of tending or managing, almost in the agricultural sense of husbandry, which ties better into the use of seed-based imagery elsewhere in CH III.
  • “encycling”: ἐγκυκλίων would normally indicate “round” or “circular in shape”, but it can also be interpreted as “revolving/moving in a circle”, with the implied notion of recurrence or repeated things happening.
  • “observance”: κατοπτείαν, in the sense of “spy out”, “explore”, or “observe deeply”, but this is most likely a noun, not a verb, like δεσποτείαν above and γνῶσιν below. It’s possible that this could be a weird verb ending indicating that they are to survey Heaven, etc., but possible verb endings don’t match up with other possible-verbs here.
  • “sign-seeding [acts]”: τερασπορίας, a difficult word apparently otherwise attested, perhaps more literally translated “sowing/seeding of wonders/marvels/portents” (lots of references to seeds in CH III; perhaps the original author was raised as a farmer). In this inflection, it seems to be either in the singular genitive or the plural accusative, but it’s hard to see what this word might relate to. I find it easiest to interpret this as a somewhat out-of-place direct object of κατοπτείαν along with other things in this sentence, and interpreting οὐρανοῦ as the owner of it, the sense being that the actions and events in Heaven are what make portents, which matches up nicely with the astrological notion in the next line.
  • “for [that they might have]”: this set of following injunctions might seem to be part of the same preceding set as before, but to my mind, seeing a pattern of things given in pairs here in this section of CH III, this total list of six injunctions should probably be broken up into two blocks (one of four injunctions and one of two) or three blocks (each of two injunctions), and I went with the former choice.  The first block (or first two blocks) would be regarding the observance of the sign-seeding acts of Heaven and of the course of the heavenly gods, either along with or for the purpose of knowing the works of the Divine and the working of Heaven.  Breaking the last two injunctions out seems appropriate given the εἰς τε before the next two injunctions, suggesting that what goes before is to be established for what comes after, and given that what comes after uses a different structure and verbs/nouns.
  • “examination of that which is Good”: σημεῖα ἀγαθῶν, which doesn’t match the structure of the surrounding text, and which some consider faulty or unintelligible, as σημεῖα is a neuter plural word just meaning “signs”. Going with Dodd’s and Scott’s fix of σημείωσιν, usually “indication” or “notice”, but also “inference from” or “examination of” signs.
  • “[the] turbulent lots of divine Power”: μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, a difficult phrase to interpret that has been variously rendered, a genitive noun phrase with an active present participle in the middle voice for the verb “to move, disturb, roll along” or “to trouble, importune, irk” (with the root word ὄχλος meaning “crowd”, “throng”, “mob”, “trouble”).  Although θείας δυνάμεως comes first and there seems to be something like a break between that and μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, and with both phrases in the genitive, it makes sense to me to think of this θείας δυνάμεως as possessing μοίρης ὀχλουμένης, and interpreting μοίρης ὀχλουμένης as a genitive of charge. This, again, is likely another astrological thing for humans to be aware of, or perhaps an understanding of the acts of Fate and Necessity in general in the cosmos without them necessarily being astrological, something along the line of Copenhaver’s “the whirling changes of fair and foul” (which mixes this injunction with the next, which I prefer to keep separate).
  • “[For the gods made them so as] to”: The last two verbs in this sentence, γνῶναι “to come to know” and εὑρεῖν “to find/discover”, are in the aorist infinitive, unlike κατοπτείαν and γνῶσιν above, which are either verbs in the third person plural aorist subjunctive or nouns in the accusative indicating something for them to have or undergo. To me, this suggests that these last two items in this list are overall goals which are to be arrived at through the previous five. I’ve inserted this phrase to make that point clear.
  • “insignificant”: φαύλων, which can have meanings of “careless”, “cheap”, “slight”, “easy”, “ineffective”. Given the lack of distinction between grander notions of Good and Evil in CH III, although a possibility given its Judaicizing elements, translating the whole phrase here of ἀγαθῶν καὶ φαύλων as such seems out of place, so perhaps “that which is properly useful to know and that which is either improperly useful or properly useless to know” is a better way to interpret this phrase.
  • “arts”: δαιδαλουργίαν, more accurately rendered as “the skillful working” or “the cunning work”.
  • “arts of everything that is Good”: We could retranslate this and the previous statement, using an alternative translation of φαύλων, as “come to know the things of the effective and ineffective, and to discover the arts of all that is effective”. In other words, we’re to learn about the distinction between things that have value and things that do not, and having learned it, explore the uses and works of things that have value.
  • The last two pairs of injunctions have a different focus than the rest: rather than simply observing or witnessing the works of the Divine and of Nature, these last two involve mixtures or choices one is to make.  After all, consider ὀχλουμένης indicating “troublesome” but with an origin in “crowd” or “mob”, and how ἀγαθῶν καὶ φαύλων has a notion of separating out the good from the bad (or, perhaps, the effective from the ineffective).  There’s a sort of mirrored structure here: we have a notion of knowing what is Good and then discerning the mixed states of good and bad as Nature gives it to us, and then we sift through the mixed things that are good and bad, and having sifted we focus on using that which is Good.  After coming to know all the works of the Divine and all the workings of Nature and how they function internally, and being able to distinguish the things that are worthwhile and of value, one then applies that knowledge to actually sort out what’s worthy of attention and valuable in application from what isn’t.  This is what we might otherwise call wisdom, the “showing forth” or “making known” of all things, as mentioned in the first section, and the coming to know these things is the beginning of wisdom, which is mentioned in the fourth section.

4. Account on the Life and End of Humanity

[This is the] beginning of their living and becoming wise,
according to [their] lot from [the] course of [the] cyclic gods.
And [this is the beginning of their] being released,
leaving behind great memorials of [their] works of art upon the Earth,
and every generation of ensouled flesh,
and [every generation] of [the] sowing of fruit,
and [every generation] of every craftwork,
[all] for fame unto the obscurity of [the] ages—
[all] that is diminished will be renewed by Necessity
and by [the] renewal of the gods
and by [the] course of the measured wheel of Nature.

For the Divine is the whole cosmic combination renewed by Nature,
for the Nature is established in the Divine.

  • “[This is the] beginning of their”: ἄρχηται αὐτῶν, which for some is held as doubtful. Dodd has ἀρκεῖ τε αὐτοῖς “it is enough for them”, or alternatively ἀρχή τε αὐτοῖς “for them [this is the] beginning”.
  • “according to [their] lot”: interpreting πρός with μοῖραν as an accusative to indicate an organizing idea on the part of fate.
  • “cyclic gods”: κυκλίων θεῶν, although “circular gods” would be more accurate though perhaps less sensical, but κυκλίων doesn’t agree with anything else here. So, basically emending κυκλίων “circular” to κυκλικῶν “cyclic” instead, although an argument could be made for interpreting the gods as planetary spheres, both in the sense of the shape of the heavens themselves as well as the bodies that traverse them.  Same issue as with ἐγκυκλίων above in the previous section.
  • “leaving behind”: καταλιπόντες as an aorist active participle, combined with εἰς δ᾽ ἔσται in a future sense of purpose e.g. “for them to in the future be leaving behind”.
  • “[every generation]”: inserting this to maintain parallelism with accusative πᾶσαν γένεσιν “every generation” and genitive ἐμψύχου σαρκός “of ensouled flesh” and to clarify what the genitive noun phrases καρποῦ σπορᾶς “sowing of fruit” and πάσης τεχνουργίας “every craftsmanship” refer to as belonging.  I take all this to imply that there are three kinds of generation here that arise and pass away: human/animal life, vegetative life, and technological/artful man-made creation.
  • “[all] for fame”: ἐν ὀνόματι, literally “in name”, though with a common (especially biblical) use of ὄνομα for “fame” or “renown”.
  • “unto the obscurity of the ages”: interpreting ἀμαύρωσιν as an accusative of purpose (ἀμαύρωσις) rather than as a verb (ἀμαυρόω).  As a noun, ἀμαύρωσις is also a nice reference to astrology, being one name for House VIII, a so-called “unseen house” denoting (among other things) death and legacy. Interpreting χρόνων as owning ἀμαύρωσιν makes more sense to me.
  • “[all] for fame unto the obscurity of [the] ages”: interpreting this as belonging specifically to the memorials of the works of humanity but more generally to both such memorials as well as the generations of humanity/fruit/art generally.  Many authors interpret χρόνων as belonging to ἐν ὀνόματι, literally as “in the name of times” or metaphorically “in the fame of ages”, but I give it to ἀμαύρωσιν instead here; Dodd notes that a slight emendation here, adding εἰς so that it reads εἰς χρόνων ἀμαύρωσιν makes it fit a stylistic construction “of which this writer [of CH III] is excessively fond”, though taken in a slightly different sense, and translated as “they will have left great memorials as [a means of perpetuating] their name, pending their obliteration brought about by a lapse of time”.  I moved this whole phrase down after the “every generation” phrase sequence for thematic and stylistic reasons, though it properly follows the “great memorials” phrase.
  • “[all] that is diminished”: interpreting this as belonging specifically to the memorials of the works of humanity but more generally to both such memorials as well as the generations of humanity/fruit/art generally.
  • “renewal of the gods”: ἀνανεώσει θεῶν, which I read as indicating the renewal enacted by the gods upon the world, and not the renewal that the gods undergo themselves.
  • “is established”: καθέστηκεν as a verb with perfect tense, active voice, and indicative mood can still be used in the intransitive state with the sense of “set oneself down”, “settle”, “exist”, “be established”.  There’s some confusion over how to best present this: Dodd has “Nature consists in the Divine”, Scott “Nature has her being in God”, Copenhaver “Nature is established in the Divine”, Salaman “Nature is seated in God”.  I like Dodd’s translation, but this seems a bit further from the text than the rest.

Now, all that done, although I gave my (as far as was possible) exact and literal translation of CH III above, I’d also like to present a slightly more interpreted and stylized translation, as well.  Knowing what I know now about the text and its literal meanings, here’s how I might gently rephrase and tweak it in (somewhat devout) modern prose English, sacrificing accuracy and precision for an easier, more contemplative read.

The Sacred Sermon of Hermēs Trismegistus

1.1
The glory of all that is is God,
who is both the Divine and divine Nature.

1.2
God is the beginning of all that is:
that of Mind, that of Nature, that of Matter.
God is Wisdom for making the All to be known.

1.3
The Divine is the beginning of all that is:
Nature, Working, Necessity, Purpose, Renewal.

2.1
For in the beginning, in the Abyss,
there was boundless darkness and boundless water,
as well as intelligent yet delicate Spirit,
all existing in primordial chaos by divine Power.
But then, out from under the water and sand,
a holy Light arose, and the elements arose with it,
so that all the gods might measure out seed-bearing Nature.

2.2
And while all was yet indefinite and unformed,
the subtle was separated off to the heights
and the base was grounded upon the wet sand.
The whole of the All was separated and suspended by Fire,
carried along by Spirit.

2.3
Then could be seen the heavens in seven circles,
and the gods, too, in their starry forms with their constellations,
each one perfectly realized, all filled with their own gods.
The boundary of the All was encompassed by Air,
carried along in its circular course by divine Spirit.

3.1
Then each god sent forth that which was assigned to them through their own power.
Thus came to be all the animals—walking, crawling, swimming, and flying—
and every sprouting seed, herb, and fresh shoot of every flower,
all having the seed of rebirth within themselves.

3.2
Then the gods cast the seeds for the generations of humanity so that they might
know the works of the Divine and witness the workings of Nature.
In this, the gods made the multitudes of humanity
so that they govern all things under Heaven and recognize that which is Good,
all to grow in growth and multiply in multitude.

3.3
And through all their heavenly courses,
the encycling gods created every human incarnate—every soul in flesh—
so that they might consider in contemplation
the sign-seeding acts of Heaven, the courses of the heavenly gods,
the works of the Divine, and the workings of Nature;
in doing this, the gods made humans—every soul in flesh—so that they might
mark the Good and learn the twisted, twisting happenings of divine Power.
For the gods made humans—every soul in flesh—so as to
know that which is Good and that which is not,
and discover the skillful arts of everything that is Good.

4.1
This is the beginning of the living and becoming wise of humanity,
according to the destiny of each,
each derived from the heavenly courses of the encycling gods.
This is the beginning, too, of their being released,
each leaving behind great memorials of their works upon the Earth.

4.2
Every generation of ensouled flesh,
every generation of sowing fruit,
every generation of every craftwork,
all that is done for the fame of humanity until time itself forgets them—
all that is diminished shall be renewed
by Necessity, by the renewal the gods themselves give,
and by the course of the measured measuring wheel of Nature.

4.3
For the Divine is the whole amalgam of the Cosmos renewed by Nature,
and Nature is found and founded in the Divine.

As you might well note, I made the stylistic choice of taking the same fourfold breakdown of the sections above, and broke each down into three subsections each, for a total of twelve “verses” or statements.  In this, it—if I may make such a claim—looks like it was written as something like the Emerald Tablet, and with that breakdown of twelve verses into four groups of three, the prospects of its use in a zodiacal or yearly devotional cycle could be rather nice.  It’s an innovative idea, at any rate, but certainly not meant to suggest about anything from the text itself or about its author.

With that, I’ll get started on actually taking a deeper look at the text for the sake of exegesis, using my literal translation primarily and backed up by what better translators than me have said.  Stay tuned for that!

3 responses

  1. Pingback: On the Third Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: Contextualization « The Digital Ambler

  2. Pingback: On the Third Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: Interpretation (Part I) « The Digital Ambler

  3. Pingback: On the Third Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: Interpretation (Part II) « The Digital Ambler

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