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Storytime: Reading Zosimus of Panopolis On the Letter Omega
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Zosimus has a lot of writings which are mainly of interest to historians of science. We won’t be doing Storytime episodes of those. But there are a few treatises – like On the Letter Omega – which bring together the alchemical stuff with an entire worldview – Hermetic? Gnostic Christian? Egyptian? All of the above? – which just blows your mind. You have to read through these with an eye to the details, and that’s what we do in this rather long episode.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Irenæus on the seven vowels: Adv. hær. I.14.7 (in the context of Marcosian belief): ‘And the first heaven indeed pronounces Alpha, the next to this Epsilon, the third Eta, the fourth, which is also in the midst of the seven, utters the sound of Iota, the fifth Omicron, the sixth Upsilon, the seventh, which is also the fourth from the middle, utters the elegant Omega.’ [unattributed trans. online — sorry about that, but you get the idea]. On omega and Kronos/Saturn, see Franz Dornseiff. Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie. Number 7 in Studien zur Geschichte des antiken Weltbildes und der griechischen Wissenschaft. Teubner, Leipzig, 1922, pp. 82-3.
Olympiodorus, Maria, and The Book on Furnaces: Olympiodorus (CAG II.90.19) refers to a καμινογραφία written by Maria.
Porphyry on Nicotheos: Plot. 16: ‘Many Christians of this period—amongst them sectaries who had abandoned the old philosophy, men of the schools of Adelphius and Aquilinus—had possessed themselves of works by Alexander of Libya, by Philocomus, by Demostratus, and by Lydus, and exhibited also Revelations [sc. apokalypseis] bearing the names of Zoroaster, Zostrianus, Nicotheus, Allogenes, Mesus, and others of that order. Thus they fooled many, themselves fooled first; Plato, according to them, had failed to penetrate into the depth of Intellectual Being.’ [MacKenna’s translation].
Βίτυς chez Iamblichus: De myst. VIII.5 and X.7.
The Sibylline Oracles on the four letters of Adam: Orac. Sibyl. III 24-26 = p. 47-48 Geffcken.
The ‘inner man’ in Paul: Rom. 7, 22-23; II Cor. 4, 16; Eph. 3, 16.
In Plato’s Republic: R. 589a.
Olivier Dufault. Was Zosimus of Panopolis Christian? Arys, 20:135–70, 2022; we cite the abstract, p. 135.
Festugière 1967, see below; we cite p. 301.
Fowden 1986, see below; we cite p. 88.
André-Jean Festugière. La révélation d’Hermes Trismegiste. J. Gabalda, Paris, 1944- 1954. 4 vols.
André-Jean Festugière. Hermétisme et mystique paı̈enne. Aubier-Montaigne, Paris, 1967.
Howard M. Jackson. Zosimus of Panopolis on the Letter Omega, volume 14 of Texts and Translations. Society of Biblical Literature, Missoula, MT, 1978.
Michèle Mertens, editor. Zosime de Panopolis: mémoires authentiques. Number IV, 1 in Les Alchemistes Grecs. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 3rd edition, 2019.
Richard Reitzenstein. Poimandres: Studien zur griechisch-ägyptischen und fruhchristlichen Literatur. Teubner, Leipzig, 1904.
March 24, 2023
Thanks for a great ‘Storytime’, Earl – I think the excellent summary of this crazy (in a good way) text that you give at the very end should become the de facto back-cover blurb of any future translations!
Anyway, could you expand on your comment towards the end regarding the adjective ἄμορφος (which Jackson translates as ‘evil’; p.35) used to describe the ἀντίµιµoς δαίµων (Jackson, p.35: ‘Mimic Daimon’) “not being in the manuscript” – is it an emendation?
March 24, 2023
*correction: Jackson translates ἄμορφος as ‘ugly’ not ‘evil’.
March 24, 2023
I’ll have to hit up Mertens on Monday to answer your question, but I recall that a number of alternate readings for άμορφος had been proposed.
I want to check out the translation of uugly’ as well; that might be the simple and elegant way of doing it, and would also back up my suspicion that the daimōn when he appears in his true form will be some kind of monstrosity!
March 25, 2023
“Kai” pronounced KE not KAI.
Alfa and Iota = E
Just thought I would throw that in there in an other wise beautiful podcast.
March 25, 2023
Yep, that sure is true in modern Greek. Of course, we might think it’s different in ancient ….
March 25, 2023
Yes, I noticed how you pronounced most of the diphthongs.
Interesting as it has the potential to change the meaning in a number of texts.
March 27, 2023
The compilers of the Greek Zosimean corpus provide clues, unmentioned in the above discussion, to the understanding the of text. Firstly, the letter omega is used as an alchemical symbol for ‘sulphur’ (those substances which flee the fire, not literal sulphur, hence the tie in to alchemical apparatus). Very importantly, the opening paragraph is not written by Zosimos, but rather the compiler(s) of the text. Of key importance are mentions of Kronos(=Saturn) and of Ocean. There are some great ‘keys’ provided by the compilers of the text that can lead the reader in the correct direction. One such key is a list of planetary associations, and in this case, the entry mentioning Saturn is apropos:
Saturn : Lead; litharge; honey stones; stone of gagates; claudianos and other similar substances.
The planetary associations provide qualitative symbolic analogues.
Another (primary) key is the lexikon of goldmaking, which is not a dictionary, but is also a compendium of qualitative symbolic analogues. There is no mention of Saturn/Kronos in the lexikon, but we do find:
Osiris – Osiris is lead and sulphur.
The compiler of the texts wants the reader to play a Hesseian glass bead game by following symbolic analogues through the planetary relationships and through the lexikon, symbol by symbol.
By playing this game through, references within the ‘Letter Omega’ text to the promethean fire bound to stone, or to the undoing of the red Adam by Eve can become clear as being very relevent to actual alchemical procedure.
Once Bink publishes a translation of ‘The Sulphurs’ much of this will be able to be made clear.