Korē Kosmou

Translated and annotated by M. David Litwa

https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316856567

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Table of Contents

 

1. When she said these things, Isis poured for Horus the first sweet draught of ambrosia which the souls of gods are accustomed to receive.The word ἀπό (“from [the gods]”) is omitted here. Ambrosia was the food (or in this case drink) of the gods. According to legend, Isis resurrected and immortalized Horus by granting him the “drug of immortality” (τὸ τῆς ἀθανασίας φάρμακον). In our passage, however, the deification of Horus by imbibing ambrosia is not in view. Compare CH 1.29, where ambrosial water is parallel to words of wisdom. An epigram attributed to Ptolemy the astronomer reads: “when the revolving spirals of the stars in mind I trace ... I am filled with ambrosia.” Ambrosia here may be a metaphor for “intelligence and pure knowledge” (Plato, Phaedrus 247d). On souls receiving divine food, see further Thomas McAllister Scott, “Egyptian Elements in Hermetic Literature” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard Divinity School, 1987), 119–21. So doing, Isis began her most sacred discourse.

2. Isis: “Since, Horus my child, the many-wreathed heaven lies over every being below and is in no region deprived of the things which the whole world now contains, there was every need that all underlying nature be ordered and brought to fulfillment by the beings above.The heaven is wreathed or crowned with the concentric circles of planets and stars. It is not said how the “beings above” (star gods) are formed, but compare CH 3.2: “While all was unlimited and unformed, light elements were set apart to the heights and the heavy elements were grounded in the moist sand, the whole of them delimited by fire and raised aloft, to be carried by spirit. The heavens appeared in seven circles, the gods became visible in the shapes of the stars and all their constellations.”

Naturally, beings below cannot order those of the higher array. Thus it was necessary that the lesser mysteries give way to the greater.In the Eleusinian mysteries, a person had to be initiated into the Lesser Mysteries before initiation into the Greater. Here the “greater mysteries” probably refer to the orderly courses of the stars (compare §§3, 51 below). The lesser mysteries may refer to the physical laws of the world below the moon. The order of the higher beings is indeed superior to that of those below; it is stable in every way and not subject to mortal thought.On the relation of superior to inferior, Iamblichus observes: “higher beings, serving as models, guide lesser beings, and the superior supplies existence and form to the inferior” (On the Mysteries 1.8). This was a general Platonic principle. Compare [Timaeus Locrus]: “Since the elder is superior to the younger and the ordered is prior to the disordered, the God who is good and who saw matter receiving the idea and being changed in all kinds of ways but in a disordered manner, wanted to put matter in order and to bring it from a condition of indefinite change into a state with a definite pattern of change” (On the Nature of the World and the Soul 7 [94c], trans. Tobin).

3. Then the beings below groaned, seized with panic in the face of the great beauty and eternal stability of higher realities. It was worth investigation and agony to see the beauty of heaven manifesting God (who was yet unknown), as well as the rich sanctity of the night. The night offers a light which – though less than that of the sun – still dazzles. There is also the light of the other mysteries moved in heaven, each in its turn, by the ordered motions and revolutions of time. Through their secret effluences, they jointly order things below and cause them to grow. In this state of affairs, there was unbroken panic and searchings without end.Reading, with the corrector of P, ἄληκτοι (“without end”) instead of ἄλεκτοι (“untold”) in FP.

4. As long as the Architect of all so resolved, ignorance controlled all things. Yet when he decided to unveil his identity, he inspired the (star) gods with the desires of love. He bestowed on their thoughts the manifold sparkle of his heart so that first they might will to seek, then desire to find, and finally be able to succeed.“Sparkle,” representing αὐγήν, is Canter’s correction of αὐτήν in FP.

All-knowing Hermes

5. This, my wondrous child Horus, could not be accomplished by mortal seed – which did not yet exist – but by a soul corresponding to the heavenly mysteries. This was the soul of all-knowing Hermes.Possibly a reference to the elder Hermes, called the “recorder of all deeds” in §32. On Hermes-Thoth as all-knowing, see Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 97–98. He saw everything. When he saw, he understood, and when he understood, he had strength to disclose and to divulge it. What he understood, he inscribed; and when he inscribed it, he hid it, keeping most of it in unbroken silence rather than declaring it so that every future generation born into the world might seek it.According to (Pseudo?) Manetho (reported by George Syncellus, Chronological Excerpts 72 = TH 10b), the first Hermes, or Thoth, wrote inscriptions in hieroglyphics later translated and set in books. On the dynamics of passing on Hermetic lore, see Van Bladel, Arabic Hermes, 134–35, 137; Bull, “Tradition of Hermes,” 21–28. 6. This done, he ascended to the stars to accompany the gods who were his kin.“Accompany” (δορυφορεῖν) has the additional sense of “escort,” or “attend as a bodyguard.” Hermes’s divine family may refer to star gods or planets.

His son Tat, however, was his successor. He was both Hermes’s son and the possessor of his teachings. Not long afterwards, there was Asclepius Imhotep by the counsels of Ptah or Hephaestus – and as many others who, by the will of Providence Queen of all, would investigate precisely the deposit of heavenly teaching.Ptah (Πτανὸς) is Reitzenstein’s correction for σπανὸς in FP. See further Festugière, “Le Style de la ‘Korē Kosmou,’” Vivre et Penser 2 (1942): 15–57 at 53–57. On Ptah as universal creator, see “The Theology of Memphis,” ANET3, 4–6. According to Manetho, Ptah was the first king (frag. 3, Waddell). Iamblichus spoke of Ptah as the creative Consciousness (or demiurgic mind) (On the Mysteries 8.3). The Greeks identified Imhotep (Imouthes), a (later deified) doctor and architect in the time of Pharaoh Djoser (ruled 2687–2668 ) with Asclepius. In the New Kingdom (about 1550–1077 ), Imhotep was venerated as the patron of scribes, and in the Turin Papyri as the son of Ptah, chief god of Memphis (see further Manetho frags. 11–12, Waddell; Hornung, Secret Lore, 48–51; Dietrich Wildung, Imhotep und Amenhotep. Gottwerdung im alten Ägypten [Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1977], 88–109; Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3.104–7; David Klotz, Caesar in the City of Amun: Egyptian Temple Construction and Theology in Roman Thebes [Turnhout: Brepols, 2012)], 119–21). An aretalogy survives to Asclepius-Imhotep (see E. J. and L. Edelstein, Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, 2 vols. [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1945], 1, §331). See further Copenhaver, 124–25. Hermetic lore is passed on through succession, an idea common at this time (compare apostolic and rabbinic succession in early Christianity and Judaism, respectively). The learning of Tat and Asclepius is representative of CH, but it does not represent the fullness of Hermetic wisdom.

7. Now indeed Hermes defended himself to the ambient since he had not entrusted the complete teaching to his son because of his young age.The “ambient” (translating ὁ περιέχων here and below) is taken to refer to the atmosphere or surrounding sky, as in astrology. At the rising of the sun, Hermes scanned the regions of the dawn with his all-seeing eyes, and perceived something indistinct. As he looked on, accurate realization slowly dawned upon him. He was to deposit the sacred symbols of the cosmic elements near the hidden objects of Osiris, and then, after praying the following words, return to heaven.In terms of chronology, Osiris’s arrival is still in the future (§66). Presumably, all-knowing Hermes knows ahead of time the location of his hidden objects, probably a reference to his true mummified remains (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 18 [358a–b], Iamblichus, On the Mysteries 6.5) possibly to be located in Abydos (PGM 4.106–8). Isis and Osiris will discover Hermes’s books in §66. Compare the “archives of Hermes” in PGM 24a.1. See further Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 98–100.

8. It is unfitting for me to leave this report incomplete, my child. I must tell what Hermes said when he deposited the books. He proclaimed the following:

O sacred books prepared by my imperishable hands! I anoint you with the unguent of incorruption and clasp you tight. Remain undecayed for all eternity and incorruptible throughout time, unseen and undiscovered to all who travel the fields of earth until Heaven in his old age fathers formations worthy of you, which the Craftsman called souls.For the apocalyptic motif of hiding imperishable books or tablets (later rediscovered), compare TH 10b, Josephus, Antiquities 1.71; Philo of Byblos in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 1.9.26; Apocalypse of Paul (NHC V,2) 2–3; Disc. 8–9 (NHC VI,6) 62.1–27. See further Dylan M. Burns, Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 55–57.

When he spoke over the books, praying for his own works, he entered the sacred precinct of his own spheres.Hermes ascends to heaven, apparently to the sphere of Mercury (see §29 below). For Hermes as Mercury, compare the Hermetic Disc. 8–9 (NHC VI,6) 62.16–20. Hermes’s ascent apparently repeats and expands the one mentioned in §6.

The First Creation Story

9. The intervening time of inactivity was long <and> hidden. Nature, my child, was barren until those the King, the God of all, already ordered to whirl round heaven came to him and announced the inactivity of reality.The creation story picks up where it left off in §4 where God inspires the star gods to seek him. On the title “the king, the God of all,” see Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 58–62. On creation in SH 23, see Mahé, “La création,” 43–46. They said that it is necessary to arrange the universe, and that this was no one else’s task but his. ‘We entreat you,’ they said, ‘to take thought for the beings that exist now and what they have need of in the future.’

10. At these words, God smiled and said, ‘Let Nature exist!’For God creating by word alone, compare FH 32a, 33; the Memphite Theology: “the Ennead (of Ptah) . . . is the teeth and lips in his mouth, which pronounced the name of everything, from which Shu (Air) and Tefnut (Moisture) came forth, and which was the fashioner of the Ennead (or nine primeval gods)” (ANET3, 5); Genesis 1:3: “And God said, Let there be . . .”. For God creating by laughter, see PGM 13.161–95, 472–531. See further Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion, trans. Ann E. Keep (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), 163–66. From his voice a wondrous female being came forth, a sight which stunned the deities who beheld her.Compare Sirach 24:3 (Wisdom comes from the mouth of the Most High). The forefather God honored her with the name ‘Nature’ and bade her be productive.The title “Forefather” is also used in SH 2A.13 (see note there); SH 2B.3; and §55 below.

11. Meanwhile, fixing his eyes on the ambient, he uttered, ‘Let heaven, air, and aether be filled to the full!’ God spoke and it came to be.Compare Genesis 1:20: “God spoke ... and so it was”; 1:22, 28 (animals fill seas and earth); [Longinus], On the Sublime 9.9 (the Jewish account of creation). 12. Nature spoke within herself and knew that she must not disobey the command of her father. 13. Coupling with Labor, she produced a lovely daughter whom she called ‘Invention.’ God granted her existence. After granting this gift, he divided the beings that already existed, filled them with mysteries, and granted Invention leadership over each of them.

The Birth of Souls

14. No longer did God will the upper world to be inert. He decided to fill it with living breaths so that its parts would not remain immobile and inactive. So, to this end, he began his work of art, using sacred substances for the generation of his distinctive work. He took a sufficient amount of breath from himself and, by an act of intellect, mixed it with fire.According to Diodorus, Egyptians call breath or spirit “Zeus,” the high God, since he is the cause of life for all beings (Library of History 1.12.2). The high God in CH 1.12 gives birth to Humanity (Ἄνθρωπος) directly. According to Numenius, the Primal God is “the seed of all soul who sows it in all things that partake of himself” (frag. 13, des Places, from Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 11.18.13–14). He blended this with other materials in an unknown way.Here reading ἀγνώστως with FP. No one knows the precise recipe for making souls. He unified each of these materials with each other via secret formulas. Meanwhile he vigorously stirred the whole blend until a very subtle material in the mixture began to sparkle.More literally: “until a certain material in the mixture laughed.” Compare the smile of God in §10 above. The author of Ref. says that Plato imagined the soul “in a mixing bowl with a gleaming body” (Ref. 1.19.10). The mixing bowl image recurs in CH 4.4; FH 22 (Ephrem); TH 29h (Michael Psellus). It became purer and clearer than the materials from which it derived. It was transparent in itself, and the Artificer alone beheld it.Compare Plato, Timaeus 41a–44d. Festugière compared God’s activity here (SH 23.14) to the making of philosophical mercury – the material of all metals and the stuff of life (Mystique, 233–40).

15. This material, since it was made from fire, did not melt when burned; and since it was perfected from warm breath, did not grow cold. Rather, it was unique and akin to the compound of the blend, one of a kind and peculiar in its composition. God called the compound ‘animatrix’ by virtue of its auspicious name and because its activity resembled its name.Animatrix (ψύχωσις) is the stuff of souls. Its activity is to give the souls life, since “soul” in Greek (ψυχή) also means “life.”

From the condensed froth, he generated souls ten thousand strong, orderly and measuredly shaping the efflorescence from his contribution to the blend deliberately, skillfully, and with fitting design. 16. Consequently, individual souls did not differ from each other any <more than> was necessary.

The efflorescence that distilled like vapor by divine activity was not homogenous. Rather, the first layer of the efflorescence was superior, denser, and in every way purer than the second. The second was as inferior to the first as much as it was superior to the third. Consequently there were completely crafted sixty different grades of soul.Compare SH 25.11 (sixty air strata) and the sixty treasuries of the First Book of Jeu 38, 40 (Schmidt and MacDermot). See further Erin Evans, The Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia as Handbooks to Eternity: Exploring the Gnostic Mysteries of the Ineffable (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 16–17, 21–23, 27.

Still, the Craftsman legislated that all souls be eternal, since they were from the same substance which he alone knew how to perfect. He appointed for them districts and chambers in the heights of nature above, so that they could revolve the cosmic axis in due order and efficiency to their father’s delight.The cosmic axis is the pole running through the center of the universe, which can be turned like a rotor. Plato depicts the cosmic axis as the spindle of Necessity in Republic 10.616c–17b.

17. This done, the Father stood on the gilded pedestal of the aether and summoned the now existing natures. ‘O souls consisting of my breath and the product of my care!’ he said. ‘Lovely children whom I, with my own hands, have brought to birth and now consecrate for my universe – hear my words as though they were laws and touch no place except the one assigned to you by my judgment. To those of you who remain in place, heaven will likewise remain, along with your assigned constellation and thrones full of excellence.Compare 1 Enoch 108:12: “I will seat each one (the souls of the pious) on the throne of his honor.” See further Gallusz Laszlo, The Throne Motif in the Book of Revelation (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). Yet if you revolt against my decrees, I swear by my sacred breath in you, by the blend from which I fathered you, and by my soul-creating hands, that for you I will quickly forge a chain with chastisements.’

18. When God who is also my lord finished his speech, he mixed in the remaining elements akin to each other, namely water and earth. He likewise pronounced sacred words over this new blend. These words were powerful, yet not like the first. Then he vigorously stirred it and inspired it with life. When froth of the right color and consistency gathered on the surface as before, he took a portion and from it formed the human-shaped signs of the zodiac.Possibly the Greek simply means that God fashioned the animals that were similar to human form (τὰ ἀνθρωποειδῆ τῶν ζῷων), but §20 below suggests an astral interpretation. The human signs of the zodiac are Virgo, Sagittarius, Aquarius and Gemini. The zodiac signs have a less pure substance than the souls, composed of divine breath and fire plus water and earth – the same substances of which human bodies consist. Thus the zodiac only has an influence on the human body. The human soul is higher and essentially independent of the zodiac (and thus Fate). The zodiac serves as the connecting link between higher and lower reality.

19. The remainder of the mixture he gave to the souls, now called sacred divinities, who had already advanced into the regions of the gods and into places near the stars. God addressed them: ‘O children and offspring of my own nature, do the work of molding! Take the remainder of what my art has made and let each soul form something like its own nature. I will present for you these models.’For creation by modeling, compare the work of the Craftsman in Plato, Timaeus 29a. ibid., 41b–c, the Craftsman entrusts the star gods with the creation of mortal lifeforms (compare Philo, On the Creation 72–75). Here the role of the star gods is assumed by the souls.

20. He took a portion of the blend and with skill and beauty ordered the zodiacal heaven in tune with the movements of the souls.Made of the same (soul) substance, even if with different ingredients, the souls and the zodiac are attuned. To the human-shaped signs of the zodiac, he fitted the animal signs in order. On these signs, God bestowed powers to do all things. He also gave them the all-creating breath that produces all future general events for all time.General astrology covers worldwide events like earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and war. The place of the event is in part determined by the parts of the zodiac which stand over certain regions of the earth (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos 2.7).

21. God withdrew with the promise to yoke his invisible breath to the souls’ visible creations.The souls create animals, though the earth remains uncreated. For God’s withdrawal, compare SH 5.1 (the supreme God ceased to create). He also promised to give to each of their creations a mode of being that can reproduce itself so that they would in turn produce other beings like themselves. As a result, the souls would have no need to make anything <beyond> what they first produced.”

The Creation of Animals

22. Horus: “What then, mother, did the souls create?”

Isis replied: “They received, Horus my child, what had been blended of the material. They first thoughtfully considered the blended mixture of the father, paid it reverence, then investigated the sources of its composition. This was not easy for them to discover. On account of this deed, and because they pried into the matter, they feared that they might succumb to the father’s wrath; and so they turned to perform his commands.

23. Then the souls skillfully crafted the race of birds from the upper layer of the material, made of exceedingly subtle froth. As the process continued, the blend became semi-congealed and then took on a fully solid consistency. From this consistency, they formed the race of four-footed creatures – hardly a nimble breed. Then they formed the race of fish, which needed a foreign moisture in which to swim. From the cold residue and dregs, the souls devised the nature of reptiles.In Plato’s Timaeus (91d–92b), the creation of animals occurs considerably later from the degraded souls of humans. Compare SH 26.19–22 (the elemental composition of various animals).

Audacity and Punishment

24. As they worked, my child, already the souls armed themselves for overly inquisitive daring.Plotinus (204–70 ) attributed the fall of souls to “daring” (τόλμα, Enneads 5.1.1.4), the same word that is used here. They performed acts beyond what was commanded, quitting their ranks and stations so that no one stayed put in one place any longer. Ever agitated, they considered ever remaining in a single station equivalent to death.The wording is reminiscent of a saying of Heraclitus: “for them to stay put is a toilsome burden, but to change brings rest” (reported in Iamblichus, On the Soul, 27, Dillon and Finamore). The fall of souls is because of their curiosity and disobedience. Contrast the view of Origen, who depicted souls as cooling in their love for God, resulting in the loss of their fiery nature and their fall into bodies On First Principles 2.8.3).

25. ‘And so,’ Hermes said – saying what I say to you, my child – ‘what they performed did not escape the attention of the Lord and God of the universe. He investigated what chastisement and chain they would miserably endure. Thus the Commander and Master of all decided to craft the physical formations of human beings and by this means forever punish the race of souls.

26. Then he summoned me,’ Hermes said, ‘and spoke: “O soul of my soul and sacred consciousness of my consciousness, 27. how long is this hated nature of lower beings to be viewed? How long are the beings now born to remain inactive and without praise?In Egyptian theology, Thoth is the “heart of Re,” the heart being the seat of understanding (Boylan, Thoth, 114, 180). In the Strasbourg Cosmogony, “ancestral Hermes” is apparently the consciousness of the high God (Νόος ἐστὶν ἐμός, Piccardi, La ‘Cosmogonia di Strasburgo,’ 67, 89–91). Compare Macrobius: “the physical scientists say that Dionysus is ‘the mind of Zeus,’ claiming that the sun is the mind of the cosmic order” (Saturnalia 1.18.15). Hermes is the sun (Saturnalia 1.19.8–9), parallel to the Sun or image of God in SH 2A.14. See further Peter Kingsley, “Poimandres: The Etymology of the Name and the Origins of the Hermetica,” in van den Broek, ed., From Poimandres, 41–76. The inactivity of beings (evidently not a reference to souls) is strange, though the language is similar to SH 23.9 and 50. Come, gather all the gods in heaven this instant.”’ So God spoke, my child, as Hermes reports.In this tractate, the gods of heaven (or star gods) appear to be the only gods alongside the Craftsman. Compare the first-century Alexandrian philosopher Chaeremon (frag. 5, van der Horst).

All the gods came as ordered. God addressed them, ‘Cast your eyes on the earth and everything on the ground.’Technically the earth is not created (or congealed) until §51. They saw and swiftly conceived what their Commander willed. As he spoke about creating humanity, they commonly perceived his intent for each god to provide, as each was capable, something to those who would be born.For each of the gods bestowing a gift upon humanity, compare the story of Pandora in Hesiod, Works and Days 69–82.

The Gifts of the Planets

28. The Sun spoke: ‘I will shine all the more.’Compare CH 16.5: “he [the Sun] gives freely of his ungrudging light. For it is the sun whence good energies reach.”

Moon promised to light up her course in Sun’s wake. She added that she had already engendered Fear, Silence, Sleep, and Memory that would be useful to human beings.Reading, with Holzhausen (CH Deutsch, 2.429, n.290), ἄν ὠφελῆ. FP reads ἀνωφελῆ, or “useless.”

Saturn announced that he was already the father of Justice and Necessity.

Jupiter spoke: ‘So that the future race might not totally devote themselves to war, I have already fathered for their benefit Fortune, Hope and Peace.’

Mars said that he was already the father of Struggle, Wrath, and Strife.

Venus asserted without hesitation: ‘To them, Master, I will yoke Desire, Pleasure, and Laughter so that the souls akin to me, who suffer the most horrid condemnation, might not be punished beyond measure.’

God was greatly pleased, my child, when Venus said this.The gifts of the planets are both good and evil, unlike the solely negative influences in CH 1.25. Compare SH 29 below, with notes.

29. ‘And I will make human nature,’ Mercury said, ‘and entrust to them Wisdom, Moderation, Persuasion, and Truth.“Mercury” is used instead of Hermes to highlight his planetary nature. In the Greek he is simply Ἑρμῆς (Hermes). Excluded here is the redundant ἔφη (“he said”). I will not cease to join with Invention.For Invention daughter of Nature, see §13. Possibly a sexual sense of joining (συνών) is meant here. Moreover, I will forever benefit the mortal life of future humans born under my zodiacal signs.Hermes refers to Virgo and Gemini, two human-shaped signs of the zodiac. The signs that the father and Craftsman entrusted to me are wise and intelligent. I will benefit the race all the more when the movement of the stars that overlie them are in harmony with the natural energy of each individual.’

God, the Master of the world, rejoiced when he heard this speech and ordered that the tribe of humans be made.

The Creation of Human Bodies

30. ‘Now,’ said Hermes, ‘I was looking for the material necessary to use in this case, and I entreated the sole Ruler for help.On the title “sole Ruler,” see Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 68–71. He ordered the souls to relinquish the remainder of the soul mixture. When I receive it, I found it completely dried up. Then I used much more water than was necessary for the mixture to refresh the composition of the material. As a result, what I formed was entirely dissolvable, weak, and powerless. This was so that the human race, in addition to being intelligent, might not enjoy the fullness of power.Hermes takes the role of the star gods in Plato, Timaeus 42e–43a. In SH 23, the mixture from which human bodies are made is looser (thus weaker) than the bodies of animals. I shaped it, and it began to be beautiful. Upon inspection, I was pleased with my work and called down the sole Ruler to examine it. He saw it and rejoiced.Compare the Memphite Theology: “Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things” (ANET3, 5); Genesis 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Then he commanded that the souls be embodied.Striking here is that the human body and soul, though different compounds and mixtures, are made from the same original substance. Humans are not made from clay, as in Genesis 2:7 and in the myth of Prometheus (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 1.7.1).

The Souls’ Lament

31. When the souls learned of their condemnation, they were at first plunged into gloom. 32. I indeed marveled at their speeches.’

Isis: Pay attention, my son Horus, for you listen to a hidden teaching, which my ancestor Kamephis chanced to hear from Hermes the recorder of all deeds.Kamephis (Egyptian Km-atef) is variously spelled in Greek sources. According to Plutarch, “Kneph” was honored in Egyptian Thebes (Luxor) as an “unborn and immortal” god (Isis and Osiris 21 [Moralia 359d]). The Hellenistic Oracle of the Potter identifies “Knephis” with Agathos Daimon (a serpent deity of Alexandria) (translation in Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 21–22; compare CH 10.23). Philo of Byblos claimed that the Phoenicians identify the Egyptian “Kneph” with Agathos Daimon. He is the first and most divine being, in snake form with the head of a hawk. When he opens his eyes, he fills the universe with light. He is depicted as stretched across the middle of a circle, which represents the world or primordial ocean (Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel 1.10.48–49). PGM 2.141–44 similarly refers to Kmeph as “the brilliant Sun who shines through the whole inhabited world, who rides upon the ocean.” Porphyry called “Kneph” the Craftsman who appears in human form holding a scepter and a belt (or possibly the ankh sign of life) (in Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel 3.11.45). Iamblichus (assuming Gale’s correction of ἠμήφ to Κμήφ) named Kmeph “leader of the celestial gods . . . an intellect thinking himself” (On the Mysteries 8.3). Compare Damascius, Problems and Solutions Concerning First Principles 125.4. For further sources and discussion, see NF 3.clxiii–clxvi; Griffiths, Iside, 374; Heinz J. Thissen, “ΚΜΗΦ – Ein Verkannter Gott,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 112 (1996): 153–60; Klotz, Caesar, 133–42. <I in turn> received the tradition from Kamephis, ancestor of all, when he honored me with the perfect black (land).Egypt is the black land (Chemia, compare םח in Hebrew). Plutarch explained that Egypt “has the blackest of soils.” Thus the Egyptians call it “by the same name as the black portion of the eye [or pupil], Chemia, and compare it to a heart” (Isis and Osiris 33 [Mor. 364c]). Vergil (Georgics 4.291) knew that the Nile fertilizes Egypt with its “black sands.” In a prayer to Isis from PGM 7.492–93, we read: “I call on you, Lady Isis, whom Agathos Daimon permitted to rule in the entire black [land].” Isis also wore a black garment (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 52 [Moralia 372d]); Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.3, Ref. 5.7.23; and is called “wearer of the black stole” in hymns (e.g., Orphic Hymns 42.9). The idea that the “perfect black” refers to Egypt does not exclude the idea that it refers to alchemy as well. See further Griffiths, Iside, 425–26; David Bain, “Μελανῖτις Γῆ: An Unnoticed Greek Name for Egypt: New Evidence for the Origins and Etymology of Alchemy?” in David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, eds., The World of Ancient Magic: Papers from the First International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997 (Bergen: John Grieg AS, 1999), 205–26. Now you hear it from me.

33. When, you wondrous and glorious child, the souls were about to be shut up in bodies, some of them simply lamented their imprisonment. They growled like wild animals born free but about to be cruelly enslaved and already pulled from their accustomed and beloved haunts. Other souls fought and were in open revolt. They would not act in accord with those who took hold of them. If they escaped, they would surely have delivered their attackers to death. Other souls hissed like ancient asps.

34. Another soul piercingly shrieked and wept for a long time before speaking, often turning above and below what served as its eyes.The soul is not yet embodied so it does not have physical eyes. Compare the “superior eye of the soul” (ψυχῆς ὄμμα φέριστον) in Chaldean Oracles frag. 213 (Majercik); and the “incorporeal eye” in FH 25. ‘O heaven,’ it said, ‘source of our generation, you aether and air – hands of the sole-ruling God – sacred breath, you brilliant stars, the eyes of God, and you tireless light of Sun and Moon, reared with us from our birth – from all of you we are dragged and suffer agonies!Compare Pseudo-Plato, Axiochus 366a: “the soul in pain yearns for its native heavenly aither”; Euripides, Electra 59: “I send shrieks to my father in the vast aether!” (γόους τ' ἀφίημ' αἰθέρ' ἐς μέγαν πατρί). We suffer all the more, since we who are from vast and luminous realms, from the sacred spreading aether, from the riches of heaven’s pole and – still more – from the blessed commonwealth of the gods, will be shut up in dishonorable and lowly tents!On tent imagery for the body, see SH 2A.1 with note 2 there.

35. What did we wretched souls do that was so improper? What was worthy of these punishments? How many failures await our miserable selves? What acts will we perform because of our wicked hopes so as to furnish the necessities to a waterlogged body so quickly dissolved?

36. The eyes of souls who have ceased to belong to God can see little. Ceaselessly will we groan, since our watery pupils can only see an infinitesimally small part of heaven, our ancestor – and there will be a time when we will not see it at all!The soul is the pupil designed to see God. But the watery pupil can only behold a narrow band of fiery heaven. Placed immediately after this sentence is a gloss: “From this comes Orpheus’s saying ‘We see by means of light; with our eyes we see nothing’” (Bernabé OF 161). Compare Bernabé OF 377, lines 15–17: “in all mortals there are mortal pupils in their eyes, small . . . and weak to see the One ruling through the universe.” As wretches we have been condemned. Direct sight has not been given to us, because sight apart from light has not been granted. These (physical) eyes are not eyes, but hollow spaces. When we hear our brother spirits blowing in the air, we will endure it with pain, since we will not breathe along with them.The correlation between breath, wind, and soul was well known in antiquity. “In the so-called Orphic epics . . . the soul comes in from the respiration of the universe, brought by the winds” (Aristotle, On the Soul 1.5, 410b27–31 = Orphic frag. 421, Bernabé). The natural philosopher Anaximenes stated that the soul is air, “for it holds us together” (in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 14.14.3). In the second century , the astrologer Vettius Valens quoted “the most divine Orpheus” as saying that “drawing the air we pluck a divine soul” and “the soul in humans is rooted from the aether” (Anthology 8.1.12–14 = Bernabé OF 422 and 436). See further Carlos Megino, “Presence in Stoicism of an Orphic Doctrine of the Soul quoted by Aristotle (De Anima 410b 27 = OF 421),” in Tracing Orpheus: Studies of Orphic Fragments in Honour of Alberto Bernabé, ed. Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011), 139–46. Our home, instead of the aerial world, will be the tiny hovel of a human heart.Intentional alliteration between “hovel” (οἶκος) and “heart” (ὄγκος), also played upon by Philo, Allegorical Interpretation 2.77. A closer parallel is idem, The Worse is Wont to Attack the Better 90: “How then is it likely that human consciousness, as small as it is, and locked up in the tiny lumps (βραχέσιν ὄγκοις) of the (cranial) membrane or the heart, has room for so great a magnitude of heaven and the cosmos if it is not an inseparable fragment of that divine and blessed soul?” See further Marc Philonenko, “La plainte des âmes dans la Koré Kosmou,” Proceedings of the International colloquium on Gnosticism, Stockholm, August 20–25, 1973 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1977), 153–56 at 155. 37. Grieving will only end when we are released from such (shells) into which we have come.Compare Empedocles (DK 31 B119 = Inwood 114) cited by Ref. 5.7.30: “from what magnificent honor and what great beatitude [souls have fallen]!” Master, father, maker, if you so quickly neglect your works, set limits to our suffering! Count us worthy of a response, even if brief, while we still have power to see across this vast and brilliant universe!’

The Fate of Souls

38. The souls, Horus my son, succeeded in their petition. The sole Ruler came, sat on the throne of truth, and answered their supplications.Inserted into FP here is the subtitle λόγοι τοῦ θεοῦ (“God’s Decrees”). ‘O souls, Eros and Necessity will be your masters, for they, after me, are the masters and chief directors of all.Eros rules the soul, Necessity the body. They are the gifts of Venus and Saturn, respectively (§28). For the bestowal of Necessity, compare FH 34. Note also Macrobius: “The Egyptians . . . say that four gods attend a human being as it is born: Deity, Chance, Eros, and Necessity ... Eros is signified by a kiss, Necessity by a knot” (Saturnalia 1.19.17). As for you souls who serve my ageless royal scepter, know that as long as you do not err, you will dwell in heavenly realms. Yet if blame attaches to one of you, you will dwell condemned in mortal guts as your allotted realm. 39. Those of you whose blame is not severe will break free of the baleful bond of flesh and once again, without groans, greet your own heaven. Yet if you are workers of greater sins, you will not advance from the molded body when your due service is paid. You will not dwell in heaven, nor even in human bodies. You will complete the rest of your lives wandering in the bodies of non-reasoning beasts.’Tertullian mentioned Albinus (a mid second-century Platonist) as making the Egyptian Hermes the source and origin of the doctrine of transmigration (On the Soul 28.1 = FH 1c). According to Diodorus, Pythagoras learned the doctrine of transmigration from the Egyptians (Library of History 1.98.2). Compare Ascl. 12: “a vile migration unworthy of a holy soul puts them in other bodies.” Contrast CH 10.20: “Do you, too, believe what they all think, my son, that the soul which has left the body becomes an animal? This is a great error.” The basis for bestial reincarnation appears to be Plato: if a soul continues to live wickedly, it will be born “into some wild animal that resembled its wicked character” (Timaeus 42b, summarized in Alcinous, Handbook of Platonism 16.2 and adapted by [Timaeus Locrus], On the Nature of the World and the Soul 86 [104e]). Origen observed that, “It is a mark of extreme negligence and sloth for any soul to descend and to lose its own nature so completely as to be bound, in consequence of its vices, to the gross body of one of the irrational animals” (On First Principles 1.4.1). See further Osborne, Dumb Beasts, 43–62.

40. This was his decree, Horus my son. He bestowed breaths on all the souls.The souls are already composed of divine breath (πνεῦμα, §14). The breaths received here likely serve as coverings or “membranes” for the souls that will adapt them to bodily life. Compare CH 10.17: “the soul, which is itself something divine, uses the breath as a sort of armoring-servant.” See further SH 24.10 with note 16. Once again he pronounced: ‘Not at random or by chance have I lawfully determined your transformations. If you practice what is shameful, you will be transformed into something worse. Likewise, if you resolve to do something worthy of your origin, you will rise to a better state. Now I and no other will be your supervisor and overseer.Compare Ascl. 27: “God is everywhere and surveys everything all around”; Strasbourg Cosmogony, recto, lines 6–8 (Piccardi, Cosmogonia, 67): Zeus sits in a place of vantage and watches over the creative work of his son Hermes. Know well, then, that it is due to your former deeds that you endure the punishment of embodiment.

41. The variation in your rebirth, as I said, will consist in the variation of your bodies; and the dissolution of the body will be a benefit and a return to your former blessedness. If you plan to do anything unworthy of me, your mind will be blinded.Compare DH 7.3: “a soul which has no intellect [νοῦς] is blind.” As a result, you will think wrong-headedly, endure your punishment as if it were a boon, and consider promotion a dishonor and an outrage.

42. You souls who are more just and who are able to receive transformation into divinity will enter humans as just kings, genuine philosophers, founders of cities, lawgivers, true seers, genuine root-cutters, most excellent prophets of the gods, experienced musicians, intelligent astronomers, wise augurs, accurate sacrificers, and whatever other noble vocations there are of which you are worthy.These are chiefly Egyptian priestly professions (Bull, “Tradition of Hermes,” 173–76), but the idea of reincarnation into people of high status has a Greek pedigree. Compare Empedocles frag. 136 (Inwood = DK 31 B146): “And finally they [embodied daimones] become prophets and singers and doctors / and leaders among earth-dwelling people; / and from these states they sprout up as gods, first in honors.” On this passage, see Günther Zuntz, Persephone: Three Essays on Religion and Thought in Magna Graecia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 232–34; Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 344–45. Note also the ranked professions in Plato, Phaedrus 248d–e: “the soul that has seen the most [of the divine world] will be planted into a man who will become a lover of wisdom or of beauty, or who will be cultivated in the arts and prone to erotic love. The second sort of soul will be put into someone who will be a lawful king or warlike commander; the third, a statesman, a manager of a household, or a financier; the fourth will be a trainer who loves exercise or a doctor who cures the body; the fifth will lead the life of a prophet or priest of the mysteries. To the sixth the life of a poet or some other representational artist is properly assigned.”

If you enter into birds, you will become eagles.On reincarnation into animals, see Plato, Timaeus 42b–c; 90e–92c; Plotinus, Enneads 3.4.2. See further Osborne, Dumb Beasts, 43–62. The reason is that eagles neither screech at their brother birds nor feast upon them, nor does it let its animal neighbors attack another weaker animal. The eagle, truly just in nature, will pursue (the attacker).Compare Porphyry: “the falcon . . . pities humans, laments over a corpse, and scatters earth on its eyes” (On Abstinence 4.9.7).

If you enter into four-footed animals, you will become lions. The lion is powerful and endowed with a virtually unsleeping nature, it exercises an immortal nature in a corruptible body – for lions neither grow weary nor sleep.For reincarnation into a lion, compare Empedocles DK 31 B127 (Inwood 135): “Among beasts they [will be] mountain-lying lions sleeping on the ground.” The tradition that the lion does not sleep may go back to Manetho (οὐδέποτε καθεύδει ὁ λέων, frag. 88 Waddell). Compare Aelian: “Even when asleep, the lion moves his tail, showing, as you might expect, that he is not altogether quiescent, and that, although sleep has enveloped and enfolded him, it has not subdued him as it does all other animals. The Egyptians, they say, claim to have observed in him something of this kind, asserting that the lion is superior to sleep and forever awake” (Characteristics of Animals 5.39); Plutarch: the lion sleeps only for a moment with eyes that gleam (Table Talk 4.5.2 [Moralia 670c]); Macrobius: “The lion is also seen to have wide-open, fiery eyes, as the sun looks upon the earth with its open, fiery eye in one long, untiring gaze” (Saturnalia 1.21.17). In Plato’s Myth of Er, the soul of Ajax chooses to be a lion and that of Agamemnon chooses to be an eagle (Republic 10.620a–c).

If you enter into reptiles, you will become snakes. This animal is powerful because it is long-lived. It is also harmless and in some ways friendly to humans. It will be tamed and non-venomous.Aelian: “They say that the asp to which the Egyptians have given the name Thermuthis is sacred, and the people of the country worship it, and bind it, as though it was a royal headdress, about the statues of Isis. They deny that it was born to destroy or injure human beings . . . And the Egyptians assert that the Thermuthis alone among asps is immortal” (Characteristics of Animals 10.31). Compare Pliny, Natural History 29.67. The snake will become young when old, just like the nature of gods.Compare Aristotle, History of Animals 7.17, 600b15–17 (casting off “old age”); Philo of Byblos in Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel 1.10.47: the snake is the “most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin . . . to grow young again.”

If you enter a swimming creature, you will become dolphins, for they take pity on those thrown into the sea, and convey them while still breathing to land.Compare the story of Arion variously reported in Herodotus, Histories 1.23; Dio Chrysostom, Orations 37.2–4; Plutarch, Cleverness of Animals 36 (Moralia 984a–985c). The fish that Empedocles becomes in DK 31 B117 (Inwood 111) is probably the dolphin (Zuntz, Persephone, 199). They will never touch those who have perished at sea, though marine animals are the most voracious.’On the voraciousness of marine animals, compare Aristotle, History of Animals 7.2, 591b29–30. Oppian likewise presented the eagle, lion, dolphin, and snake as the lords of their respective domains (Halieutica 2.539–42).

When God spoke these things, he morphed into incorruptible Consciousness.The high God is Consciousness (νοῦς) in CH 1.6, 12; 13.9; In CH 2.14, however, he is the cause of Consciousness.

The Speech of Blame

43. After these things happened, my son Horus, a most powerful spirit rose from the earth, incomprehensible in its bodily extent and in the power of its thinking. Its body was of human form, handsome and dignified, though extremely savage and full of terror.The spirit here is personified Blame, the fault-finding god. Blame also played a role in the lost Homeric epic Cypria. He advised Zeus to beget a beautiful daughter so that many men would die fighting over her at Troy (West, Greek Epic Fragments, frag. 1). Compare Hesiod, Theogony 214, where Night independently gives birth to Blame. Lucian depicted Blame as faulting Hephaestus for not making human words and thoughts more transparent (Hermotimus 20, compare Babrius, Fable §59). See further Jacques Schwartz, “La Korē Kosmou et Lucien de Samosate (a propos de Momus et de la creation de l’homme),” Le Monde Grec: pensée, littérature, histoire, documents. Hommages à Claire Préaux, ed. J. Bingen (Brussels: University of Brussels, 1975), 223–33. Lucian’s Blame is a comic figure. In the Korē Kosmou, Horus weeps rather than laughs (§47). This spirit, though it knew of what it asked and beheld the souls swiftly entering molded bodies, still inquired: 44. ‘Hermes, scribe of the gods, what are these called?’

Hermes answered, ‘Human beings.’

Blame: ‘You speak, O Hermes, of a daring work, this making of humanity.An ironic comment, since it was daring that caused human souls to fall. This species is curious of eye and loquacious of tongue; it will hear what is none of its business, will be greedy to sniff and destined to mishandle all that can be touched. Have you, its father, determined to leave this species carefree, a species that will behold with brazen face the beautiful mysteries of nature? Do you wish that this species be without sorrow, a species that will launch its designs to the ends of the earth?

45. Human beings will dig up the roots of plants and test the properties of their sap. They will investigate the nature of stones, dissect animals down the middle – not only unreasoning animals, but even themselves – in their desire to discover how they are formed. They will stretch out audacious hands as far as the sea, chopping down naturally growing forests to ferry themselves to the lands beyond. They will investigate what objects exist deep within temple shrines. They will hunt as far as heaven, wanting to observe the movement established there.“Heaven” (οὐρανοῦ) is Canter’s correction for οὖν in FP. Originally the souls, who turned heaven’s axle, were the cause of this motion (§16 above).

I mention only their moderate endeavors! Nothing will remain any more except the remotest regions of earth. Yet the blackest nights of these places, too, they will explore in their lust.Here reading τουτῶν with F. In ancient topography, the earth was divided into five zones, with the two extreme southern and northern zones plunged in night and “perpetual mist” (Pliny, Natural History 2.172). 46. They will have no hindrance, but initiated into the richness of a life without grief, and not pricked by the painful goads of fear, they will luxuriously enjoy a carefree existence. Will they not arm themselves as far as heaven with overcurious audacity? Will they not stretch their carefree souls to the stars?For polemics against human technology and audacity, compare Sophocles: “Many things are formidable, and none more formidable than man! He crosses the gray sea beneath the winter wind, passing beneath the surges that surround him; and he wears away the highest of the gods, Earth . . . Skillful beyond hope is the contrivance of his art, and he advances sometimes to evil, at other times to good” (Antigone 332–75); Horace: “All to no avail did God deliberately separate countries by the divisive ocean if, in spite of that, impious boats go skipping over the seas that were meant to remain inviolate. The human species, audacious enough to endure anything, plunges into forbidden sacrilege . . . In our folly we aspire to the sky itself” (Odes 1.3.21–40); Philo: “Love of learning is by nature curious and inquisitive, not hesitating to bend its steps in all directions, prying into everything, reluctant to leave anything that exists unexplored, whether material or immaterial. It has an extraordinary appetite for all that there is to be seen and heard, and, not content with what it finds in its own country, it is bent on seeking what is in foreign parts” (Migration of Abraham 216; compare Philo, Every Good Man is Free 65–66, a polemic against mining and sea-diving); 1 Enoch 8 (fallen angels teach humans the arts of mining and root-cutting). In other Hermetic tractates, humankind’s bold explorations are cause for celebration, as in CH 10.25: “the human rises up to heaven and takes its measure and knows what is in its heights and its depths, and he understands all else exactly.”

Teach them, then, to have a passion for their projects so that they fear the bleakness of failure, so that they are tamed by biting grief when they fail to obtain their hopes. Let the niggling curiosity of their souls be cut down by lusts, fears, waves of grief, and deceitful hopes. Let continual love affairs take vengeance upon their souls, along with varied hopes, and desires sometimes fulfilled, sometimes shattered so that the sweet bait of success becomes a striving for more perfect evils. Let them be weighted down with fevers, so that they, when they lose heart, chastise their desire.’Compare Aeschylus: “Zeus . . . has established as a fixed law that ‘wisdom comes by suffering.’ But even as trouble, bringing memory of pain, drips over the mind in sleep, so wisdom comes to men, whether they want it or not” (Agamemnon 177–80).

47. Isis: Are you sad, Horus my son, as your mother interprets these things for you? Do you not wonder or stand dumbfounded when you see pitiful humanity weighed down? Hear now what is more terrible!Compare Ascl. 25, where Hermes asks, “Asclepius, why do you weep? There are matters much worse.”

48. Hermes took pleasure in the speech of Blame – for he spoke what suited him. He performed exactly what Blame had advised, remarking, ‘Very well, Blame, the all-encompassing nature of divine breath will no longer be clearly visible.Hermes appears to refer to aether, substrate of the stars. The invisibility of the true heaven was already mentioned (§36). Here I accept Scott’s emendation οὐκέτ’ ἀργή for ἐναργῆ in FP (Hermetica, 3.542). After all, the Master of all has declared that I be steward and foreseer. The sharp-sighted goddess Nemesis will be appointed as overseer of the universe.Adrasteia or Nemesis is the inescapable goddess of vengeance who punishes arrogant and unbridled speech and behavior. As for me, I will devise a secret mechanism maintaining unerring and inviolable scrutiny. To it all things on earth will necessarily be enslaved from birth to their final decay. This mechanism maintains the fixity of what must be completed. All other things on earth will obey it.Adrasteia or Nemesis is the inescapable goddess of vengeance who punishes arrogant and unbridled speech and behavior.

I, Hermes, spoke these things to Blame and immediately the mechanism was set in motion.Hermes the Word has the power of creating by word alone. Compare FH 32a, 33 (from Cyril). 49. When this occurred, and the souls were embodied, I won praise for what was accomplished.’“Embodied” (ἐνεσωματίσθησαν) is Canter’s emendation; P reads ἐνεσηματίσθησαν (“entombed”). Perhaps P’s reading should be retained, since the putatively Orphic saying “the body is a tomb” (σῶμα σῆμα) was well known (Philolaus DK 44 B14; Plato, Cratylus 400c; Gorgias 493a; Phaedrus 250c). See further Pierre Courcelle, “Le corps-tombeau,” Revue des études anciennes 78 (1966): 101–22.

A Second Creation Story

50. Again the sole Ruler convened a plenary assembly of the gods. The gods arrived and again God addressed them: ‘Ye elite deities, endowed with an imperishable nature, allotted to ever administer this vast universe, for you all (elements) will never tire exchanging themselves for themselves.Plato, likely dependent upon Empedocles, asserted that the elements can change into each other (Timaeus 53e, 54b). How long will we be lords of this government that none recognize? How long will these sights be unseen by sun and moon? Let each one of us be productive in ourselves. By our power let us wipe away this still inert structure. Let chaos be considered a tall tale to those who will later be born.With the creation of Nature and Invention in §§10–11, one would think that chaos had already gone. Yet here the chaos seems to refer to chaos on earth, a region not explicitly said to be ordered. Take hold of great deeds! I myself shall make a beginning.’

He spoke and immediately there came to be an ordered division in the still dark amalgam. 51. Then heaven appeared, ordered and adorned with all its mysteries. The earth was still quivering as it was congealed by the shining sun.Bousset compared the evident separation of heaven and earth with the separation of Geb (Earth) and Nut (Heaven) by Shu (Air) in Egyptian mythology (PW 11.2, col. 1389, under the word “Korē Kosmou”). This episode prepares for the souls’ exile on earth (even though previous episodes assume the existence of earth). Earth is apparently separated from the lower heaven (or atmosphere), since the cosmic heavens (the circles of planets and stars) have already been established. Compare FH 31; Diodorus, Library of History 1.7.1–7 (who also mentions the sun’s rays compacting the earth). It appeared fully adorned with all its blessings. For even what mortals consider foul is good in God’s sight because it is made to serve God’s laws. God rejoiced to see his works already set in motion.Compare Plato, Timaeus 37c: “Now when the engendering Father observed the ornament of the eternal gods set in motion and alive, he was pleased.”

52. Having filled his hands – which stretched as wide as the ambient – with the products of Nature, he strongly squeezed the contents in his hands and said, ‘Receive, O sacred land, receive, you who are extraordinarily honored to be the mother of all!For Nature, see §§10–13 above. From now on, consider that you lack nothing!’ God spoke, opened his hands – the kind of hands fit for a deity – and released all things into the structure of reality.

Primitive Barbarism

53. At first, ignorance was everywhere.In §4 above, ignorance (or lack of knowledge) controlled the cosmos. Here human ignorance is in view. Souls had only recently been shut up in bodies. They, not tolerating their dishonor, vied with the gods in heaven. They strongly maintained and laid claim to their noble birth, asserting that they also were offspring of the same Craftsman. They were in open revolt. Using the weaker people who remained as tools, they made them attack, oppose, and battle one another. In this way, power mastered weakness. The strong burned and butchered the powerless. They butchered the living all around temples, and threw their dead bodies into the inner shrines.Reading κατὰ τῶν ἀδύτων with the MSS. Technically these shrines ought only to exist after the advent of Osiris and Isis (§ 65). Yet they have a proleptic existence already in §7. The bestial life of primitive humanity was a common theme in poetry and history. See, for instance, Diodorus, Library of History 1.90: “When people, they say, first ceased living a bestial life and gathered into groups, at the outset they cannibalized and battled against each other, the stronger ever dominating the weaker”; Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 9.16 (citing an Orphic poem): “When mortals took a flesh-eating life from one another / And the stronger tore up the weaker”; 54 (citing Critias, contemporary of Plato): “There was a time when the life of humans was without order, / Beastlike and subject to force, / When neither the good had any reward / Nor did the bad receive any punishment.” Compare the apocalyptic scenario in Ascl. 25 (baleful angels will drive humans “to every outrageous crime – war, looting, trickery”).

The Plea of the Elements

54. This violence went on until the Elements, deeply disturbed, saw fit to entreat the sole-ruling God concerning humans’ savage way of life. When much evil had already been done, the Elements approached God their maker, addressing him with speeches of blame.Empedocles viewed the elements as divine (DK 31 B6 = frag. 17, Inwood). Note in this regard Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, 301, n.37. Compare the intercession of the four great angels in 1 Enoch 9. See further Wilhelm Bousset, “Zur Dämonologie der späteren Antike,” Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 18 (1915): 134–72 at 167–68.

55. Fire had the right to speak first. ‘Master and Craftsman of this new world,’ he said. ‘Name hidden among gods, sacrosanct among all humans to the present day.Compare the “secret name” of God in 1 Enoch 69:14. How long, O Divinity, will you be resolved to let the

life of mortals be godless? 56. Rouse yourself, offer an oracle to the world, and initiate the savagery of life into the rites of peace. Grant laws to human life, grant oracles at night. Fill all with good hopes! Let humans fear vengeance from the gods and let no one persist in stubbornness. If they pay back due wages for sins, the rest will keep themselves from injustice. They will fear oaths and not a single person will any more ponder sacrilege.

Let them learn, when benefited, to give thanks so that fire, rejoicing in libations, can perform its service – so that I can send fragrant mists to you from altar hearths. Up to the present moment I am defiled, master, and am forced by the godless daring of human creatures to melt fleshly bodies.“Defiled” (μιαίνομαι) is Canter’s correction for μαίνομαι (“I am out of my mind”) in FP. Fire refers to his role in cremation. They do not allow my nature to remain as it is, and indecently debase what is incorruptible!’

57. Then air spoke up: ‘I too am polluted, master. From the smoke of dead bodies I am diseased and no longer wholesome. I behold from above what is unlawful to see.’Compare Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 8.17.1: “By the outpouring of much blood, the pure air will be defiled by impure exhalation and the sickened air will cause diseases among those who breathe it.”

58. Water had authority to speak next, my magnanimous child. It declared: ‘Father and wondrous maker of all, self-born Divinity and maker of nature who is ever-productive by your power – order now at last, O Divinity, that my ever-flowing streams be pure. For shame! Rivers and seas wash the hands of murderers or receive the bodies of those murdered!’

59. Earth was standing by, deeply sullen. I will set forth the <substance> of her speech, my great and glorious child. She began as follows: ‘King, presider, and master of the heavenly rings, leader and father of us elements who stand before you! From us elements all things commence to grow and diminish, and into us again when a creature ceases, it must find its end.

O God who are greatly honored, an irrational and godless chorus of inhuman creatures has risen up against me! I make space to hold the nature of all beings – for it is I, as you ordered, who bear all things and receive the bodies of those slain. 60. Now I am dishonored! Your earthly world is full of all things, but has no god. Humans act lawlessly with respect to everything, since what they should fear they do not. Into the ridges of my back they drill with every wicked device. I am entirely drenched and corrupted with the pus of corpses!

61. Henceforth, lord, and because I am forced to make a place for the unworthy, in addition to all I bear – I want to make room for a god. Grant to the earth, if not yourself – for I could not endure you – then some part of your sacred effluence.CH 2.14 (all beings are incapable of containing the nature of the Good). Wisdom is God’s effluence in Wisdom 7:25. Transform the earth by making her more honored than the other elements. To her alone of your creations is it right to speak boldly, since she provides all things.’Compare the apocryphal Apocalypse of Paul : “Sometimes the waters have also protested against the children of humanity, saying: O Lord God Almighty, the children of humanity have all defiled your holy name . . . Often also the earth cried out unto the Lord against the children of humanity, saying: O Lord God Almighty, I suffer hurt more than all your creation, bearing the fornications, adulteries, murders, thefts, perjuries, sorceries, and witchcrafts of human beings, and all the evils that they do, so that the father rises up against son, and the son against father, the stranger against the stranger, every one to defile his neighbor’s wife . . . Therefore I suffer hurt more than the whole creation, and I would not yield my wealth and fruits to the children of men.”

62. So spoke the elements. Then God filled the universe with his sacred voice: ‘Go forth, sacred and worthy children of a great Father, and do not attempt to rebel in any way, nor leave my world bereft of your services. Among you already is another effluence of my nature who will be the holy overseer of deeds, an unbribable judge of the living, a lord not only frightening, but the punisher of those under the earth.Although originally the judge may have referred solely to Osiris, in context Isis is also in view. Compare Isidorus: “You [Isis] ... look down on the manifold / deeds of impious men and observe those of the pious” (Hymn 3.26–27 [Vanderlip, Four Greek Hymns, 4–6]); Andros aretalogy lines 42–43: “I [Isis] make threats even as far as the graves of bellowing Hades” (Totti, Ausgewählte, 6). To each human being through the generations a fitting reward will follow.’Holzhausen (followed here) modifies δ’ into τ’ to preserve the οὐ μόνον – ἀλλὰ καί construction. For Osiris as judge of the dead, see Spell 125 in the Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead), in William Kelly Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry, 3rd edn. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 267–77. See further John Gwyn Griffiths, The Divine Verdict: A Study of Divine Judgment in the Ancient Religions, Studies in the History of Religions 52 (Leiden: Brill, 1991), 201–36.

63. At the master’s bidding, the elements ceased their entreaty, and grew silent. Each element ruled and was master over its own sphere of authority.”

Isis and Osiris

64. After this, Horus asked: “Mother, how then did earth obtain the effluence of God?”

Isis replied: “I refrain from speaking about his birth, since it is not lawful to recite the source of your sowing, Horus of immense strength.For the story of Horus’s birth, see Coffin Text 148 printed in Simpson, Literature, 263–65. I refrain for fear that in the future the birth of immortal gods becomes known among human beings. I will say only this: the sole-ruling God, the world-maker and Craftsman of all things, bestowed for a short time your supremely great father Osiris and the supremely great goddess Isis as helpers in a world in need of all things.

65. They filled life with the goods of life.

They put a stop to the savagery of mutual killing.Compare: “I [Isis] put a stop to murders” (Cyme aretalogy, line 26 in Žabkar, Hymns, 141).

They consecrated precincts and sacrifices for the ancestral gods.Compare: “I [Isis] established sacred precincts of the gods” (Cyme aretalogy line 24 in Žabkar, Hymns, 141, 152). On the founding of precincts (or temples), see Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 104–6. On the establishment of sacrifice, see van den Kerchove, Voie, 224–32.

They bestowed laws, food, and protection on mortals.For the benefactions of Isis and Osiris, see Diodorus, Library of History 1.14.1–4; 1.27.4; Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 13 (Moralia 356a–b). Compare “I [Isis] gave laws to humankind . . . I am the one who discovered grain” (Cyme aretalogy, lines 4 and 7 in Žabkar, Hymns, 140); Porphyry: “It is Isis who nourishes and raises up the fruits of the earth, and Osiris represents among the Egyptians the fertilizing power” (in Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel 3.11.50); Isidorus: “You [Isis] revealed customs for the existence of justice . . . and you discovered the flourishing growth of all grains” (Hymn 1.6, 8 in Vanderlip, Four Greek Hymns, 18; compare 2.3 in ibid. 35).

66. ‘They will come to know and discern the secrets of my writings,’ says Hermes, ‘even if they withhold some of them.Compare §8; Andros aretalogy: “From the tablets of sagacious Hermes I learned secret symbols” (line 10 in Totti, Ausgewählte, 5). Yet those that extend benefits to mortals, they will inscribe on steles and obelisks.’

67. They first revealed law courts and filled all things with good order and justice.Compare the Andros aretalogy: “I [Isis] am giver of sacred laws for articulate peoples . . . I am the one who offers strong provision for the administering of justice” (lines 20, 35 in Totti, Ausgewählte, 6); “I am called lawgiver” (Cyme hymn, line 52 in Žabkar, Hymns, 141). Further Egyptian parallels in Scott, “Egyptian Elements,” 110–19.

They were the founders of covenants and loyalty and introduced the great god Oath into human life.For Oath son of Strife, see Hesiod, Theogony 231; see also Works and Days 219, 804; Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1767 (Oath, associated with Zeus, is all-seeing). In the Cyme aretalogy, Isis says: “I made nothing more frightening than an oath” (line 33 in Žabkar, Hymns, 141).

They taught people how to enwrap (bodies), as one ought, for those who ceased to live.περιστέλλειν has a more general sense of “bury,” but in an Egyptian context, mummification seems to be in view. On Egyptian burial customs, see Diodorus, Library of History 1.91–94.

After they investigated the cruel fact of death, they learned that the spirit was fond of returning from outside into human formations. If the spirit is ever absent, it produces a swoon from which there is no recovery.In rare cases, such as that of Hermotimus of Clazomenae, a soul could leave the body and return to it (Pliny Natural History 7.174; Lucian, Fly 7). If the bodily formation is ever lacking, the soul who cannot retake it loses heart. After they learned from Hermes that the ambient was full of divinities, they inscribed it on hidden steles.In the Pythagorean Notebooks (second to first century ), there is reference to all the souls of the dead filling the air as heroes and divinities (= daimones) (Diogenes, Lives of Philosophers 8.32). Compare CH 9.3: “no part of the cosmos is without a daimon that steals into the mind to sow the seed of its own energy”; CH 16.10: “around the sun are many troops of daimones looking like battalions in changing array.”

68. They (Isis and Osiris) alone, after learning from Hermes the secrets of divine legislation, became initiators and legislators of the arts, sciences, and all occupations.

They learned from Hermes how lower things were arranged by the creator to correspond with things above, and they set up on earth the sacred procedures vertically aligned with the mysteries in heaven.Compare SH 20.7: “Nature adapts the temperament of the body to the conjunction of stars and unites the motley blend of the body to the temperament of the stars with the result that they have a mutual influence on each other”; Philo: “in accordance with a certain natural sympathy the things of the earth depend on the things of heaven” (On the Creation 117).

They, recognizing the corruption of bodies, ingeniously devised a perfect remedy in (the persons of) all of their prophets.The “prophet” may correspond to the hem netcher (servant of God) priest who cared for the materials used in the daily offering for the gods. Here he combines ritual, medical, and philosophical knowledge. Porphyry, dependent on Chaeremon, says that in Egypt of old, “true philosophy was practiced by prophets” (On Abstinence 4.8.5); compare Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.15.71.3 (the Egyptian prophets excelled in philosophy). Iamblichus calls Bitys a “prophet,” that is an interpreter of sacred lore (On the Mysteries 8.4). Clement of Alexandria described an Egyptian prophet who was “prime minister of the sanctuary” and in control of revenue (Stromata 6.4.37.1). The prophet Pachrates of Heliopolis showed the emperor Hadrian all “the truth of his magic” (PGM 4.2443–2455). The speaker in CH 17 is called a “prophet”; see the note of Copenhaver, 208–9. See further Sauneron, Priests, 5–109, Jacco Dieleman, Priests, Tongues, and Rites: The London-Leiden Magical Manuscripts and Translation in Egyptian Ritual (100–300 CE) (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 185–284; Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 16–38. Their purpose was that no future prophet who raised his hands to the gods would ever be ignorant of what exists, that philosophy and magic would nourish the soul, and that medicine would preserve the body when sick.Narratively speaking, it is odd that Isis refers to herself in the third person. One suspects here that the author of this text has integrated a preexisting hymn of praise to Isis and Osiris which referred to these deities in the third person. See further NF 3.cxlvii–cxlix. Isis was known for discovering health-giving drugs and being versed in the science of healing (Diodorus, Library of History 1.25.2). For Egyptian magic and medicine, see Teeter, Religion, 171–77.

69. All these things, my child, Osiris and I performed. When we saw the world completely full, we were from that time recalled by the dwellers of heaven. Yet it was not possible to ascend without first invoking the sole ruler, so that the ambient be full of this knowledge and so that we obtain a welcome ascent.The activity of Isis and Osiris is parallel to that of Hermes in §§5–8: inscribing knowledge, passing it on, ascending after prayer. The ascent of Isis and Osiris also foreshadows the ascent of righteous souls. God, after all, rejoices in hymns.”Compare Ascl. 9: “Rightly the supreme divinity sent the chorus of Muses down to meet humankind lest the earthly world lack sweet melody”; instead, with songs set to music, humans praised and glorified him who alone is all and is Father of all, and thus, owing to their praise of heaven, earth has not been devoid of the charms of harmony.” For hymns that serve as the culmination of Hermetic treatises, compare CH 1.31; Ascl. 41.

70. “Mother,” said Horus, “grant knowledge of this hymn to me also, so that I not be unlearned.”Compare CH 13.15–20: “‘Father, I would like to hear the praise in the hymn which you said I should hear from the powers once I had entered the Ogdoad.’ . . . ‘Be still, my child; now hear a well-tuned hymn of praise, the hymn of rebirth. To divulge it was no easy choice for me except that I do it for you, at the end of everything.’” Isis replied: “Listen closely, my child! . . .”