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Storytime: Reading the Corpus Hermeticum, Part I

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In this, the first part of a series reading through the (rest of the) Corpus Hermeticum, we consider C.H. II-V. We have a number of visions of the universe and of god, and a fascinating play between ideas of transcendence and of immanence. We learn that the human being is, once again, in a privileged position vis à vis the creation, but also, in C.H. IV, that only certain humans have access to nous, the lofty form of consciousness (if that is what it is) which gives immortality. We get some Neopythagorean-flavoured arithmology, a taste of an apophatic hymnal, and a number of names applied to the god who transcends all names.

Works Cited in this Episode:


  • Damascius, De principiis 3.3.
  • Zosimus of Panopolis, The Final Accounting (ΤΟ ΠΡΩΤΟΝ ΒΙΒΛΙΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΤΕΛΕΥΤΑΙΑΣ ἈΠΟΧΗΣ ΖΩΣΙΜΟΥ ΘΗΒΑΙΟΥ) 8 is a crucial source for reading both the Poimandres and C.H. IV, The Kratêr; see our in-depth discussion here. The key passage is where Zosimus advises his pupil, Theosebeia: ‘Proceed with these things until you have perfected your soul; then, when you are aware that it has been perfected, spit on the matter of natural things, having taken refuge in Poimenandres and having been immersed in the krater (καὶ καταδραμοῦσα ἐπὶ τὸν Ποιμένανδρα καὶ βαπτισθεῖσα τῷ κρατῆρι), set out to rejoin your race.’


  • A.-J. Festugière. La révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2014.p. 5/II 477: ‘… son charactère le plus saillant, c’est qu’il est aussi divers que possible, et tout d’abord, quant aux titres des opuscules.’
  • On the multiple ‘ones’ in C.H. V, see Nock-Festugière, Corpus Hermeticum vol. I, pp. 62-3, n. 4.
  • Jørgen Podemann Sørensen. The Egyptian Background of the hieros logos. In Apocryphon Severine, Festschrift Søren Giversen, pages 215–225. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, 1993, p. 220.

Recommended Reading:

  • Jean-Marie Sevrin. Le dossier baptismal séthien. Études sur la sacramentaire gnostique. Number 2 in BCNH Études. Presses Universitaires Laval, Québec, 1986.