The Hermetica are the philosophical texts attributed to the legendary Hellenistic figure Hermes Trismegistus (a syncretic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth). These texts may vary widely in content and purpose, but are usually subdivided into two main categories: The so-called 'technical' Hermetica: this category contains treatises dealing with astrology, medicine and pharmacology, alchemy, and magic, the oldest of which were written in Greek and may go back as far as to the second or third century BCE. Many of the texts belonging to this category were later translated into Arabic and Latin, often being extensively revised and expanded throughout the centuries. Some of them were also originally written in Arabic, though in many cases their status as an original work or translation remains unclear. These Arabic and Latin Hermetic texts were widely copied throughout the Middle Ages (the most famous example being the Emerald Tablet). The so-called 'philosophical' Hermetica: this category contains religio-philosophical treatises which were mostly written in the second and third centuries CE, though the very earliest of them may go back to the first century CE. They are chiefly focused on the relationship between human beings, the cosmos, and God (thus combining philosophical anthropology, cosmology, and theology), and on moral exhortations calling for a way of life (the so-called 'way of Hermes') leading to spiritual rebirth, and eventually to apotheosis in the form of a heavenly ascent. The treatises in this category were probably all originally written in Greek, even though some of them only survive in Coptic, Armenian, or Latin translations. During the Middle Ages, most of them were only accessible to Byzantine scholars (an important exception being the Asclepius, which mainly survives in an early Latin translation), until a compilation of Greek Hermetic treatises known as the Corpus Hermeticum was translated into Latin by the Renaissance scholars Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447–1500).Though strongly influenced by Greek and Hellenistic philosophy (especially Platonism and Stoicism), and to a lesser extent also by Jewish ideas, many of the early Greek Hermetic treatises do contain distinctly Egyptian elements, most notably in their affinity with the traditional Egyptian wisdom literature. This used to be the subject of much doubt, but it is now generally admitted that the Hermetica as such did in fact originate in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, even if most of the later Hermetic writings (which continued to be composed at least until the twelfth century CE) clearly did not. It may perhaps even be the case that the great bulk of the early Greek Hermetica were written by Hellenizing members of the Egyptian priestly class, whose intellectual activity was centred in the environment of the Egyptian temples.
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part of: Hermetica
language: Ancient Greek
genre: hermeticism


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