THE FIRST INSIGHT INTO THE VISIONARY SOURCE OF HERMETISM

HERMES TRISMEGISTOS (HERMES TRISMEGISTUS/ MERCURIUS TRISMEGISTUS).

Poimandres. Asklepiou Oroi pros Ammona Basliea (Greek). Poemander, seu de potestate ac sapientia diuina.Aesculapii Definitiones as Ammonem regem.

Paris, G. Morel for A. Turnebus, 1554.

4to. Contemporary full vellum with contemporary handwritten title to spine. Inner hinge opening at cords. Some leaves with a bit of light browning. A stamp as well as handwritten owner's inscription to title-page, dated 1606. Pencil-annotations to pasted-down front free end-paper and owner's signature dated 1937 to front free end-paper. A very nice copy, completely unrestored.Woodcut printer's device, (8), 103; (1), 126 pp. + final blank.


The rare editio princeps of the Hermetic corpus, being the seminal first and chief work of the "Corpus Hermeticum", the "Poemander", which became one of the most important texts of the Renaissance (in which Hermes was considered a contemporary of Moses and the founder of theology), as well as the editio princeps of the "Definitiones" of Asklepios.

The two works in the present publication have for centuries been synonymous with the "Corpus Hermeticum". The "Poemander" is assumed to be the first text of the corpus to have been written. It has always been considered the central work of the corpus and was thus unsurprisingly the first to be published in the original Greek.

Appearing in the original Greek in 1554, it had an enormous influence upon Renaissance thought, both philosophical and scientific. It competed in influence with Neoplatonism and as the latter, it also came to be considered a form of Platonism, being quickly adopted into the corpus of classical texts formative for modern thought. In fact, for a long period, the "Poemander" outshone even the texts of Plato and were considered on par with them in importance.

"There was no thinker in the sixteenth century who did not use, besides the traditional texts of Aristotle, Cicero, and Boethius, the newly acquired writings of Plato and the Neoplatonists,... and Hermes Trismegistus." (Kristeller, p. 31). Perhaps even more so than the philosophers and the scientists, the Corpus Hermeticum influenced the alchemists. One will not find a 16th or 17th century work of alchemy, which does not reference Hermes Trismesgistus, who was the originator of Renaissance alchemy.

The present editio princeps appeared, as it is here, together with the Latin translation by Ficino, although that is not present in all copies. "In 1462 Ficino had already received his first Plato manuscript from Cosimo when his new patron interrupted him with something he found more momentous. Cosimo had obtained a fourteenth-century Greek text of the first fourteen discourses of the "Corpus Hermeticum", an eclectic and incoherent collection of pious philosophy actually written in the early centuries of the Christian era but believed by Cosimo, Ficino, and their contemporaries to be the work of Hermes Trismegistus, a Greek version of the Egyptian god Thoth, whom they dated just after the time of Moses. More important, they made Hermes the author of a pagan tradition of divine knowledge, an ancient theology which paralleled and confirmed the revealed truth of scripture and whose Egyptian provenance reinforced the tales of Plato's travels in Egypt. Ficino went quickly to work on this treasury of primeval wisdom, soon producing a Latin version..." (Copenhaver& Schmitt, p. 146).

Ficino wrote in his preface to the work: "At the time when Moses was born flourished Atlas the astrologer, brother of the natural philosopher Prometheus and meternal grandfather of the elder Mercurius, whose grandson was Mercurius Trismegistus... They called him Trismegistus or thrice-greatest because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king... Among philosophers he first turned from physical and mathematical topics to contemplation of things divine, and he was the first to discuss with great wisdom the majesty of God, the order of demons and the transformations of souls... In this way, from a wondrous line of six theologians emerged a single sytem of ancient theology, harmonious in every part, which traced its origins to Mercurius and reached absolute perfection with the divine Plato...."

This preface provides us with a pretty clear idea of the impact that the Corpus Hermeticum came to have upon the Renaissance and explains to us how this alleged Egyptian author for a time came to rival even the great Plato. It wasn't until the 17th century that Hermetism really lost its grip on the thinkers of the modern era. After Isaac Casaubon showed in 1614 that the Hermetic writings were of the post-Christian era, its influence declined rapidly and continued only among the Rosicrucians and other secret societies and occult groups.

With Casaubon an era of thought had suddenly ended, bearing witness to both the extended influence of the "Poemander" and to the emergence of a new period in the history of thought. Casaubon, of course, used the editio princeps of the Corpus Hermeticum [the present work] in his investigation.

"The actual copy of the "Hermetica" which Casaubon used when making his devastating exposure is in the British Museum, with his signature on the title page and many manuscript notes by him in the margins. It is a copy of the Greek text published at Paris by Turnebus in 1554, together with Ficino's Latin translation and Lazzarelli's translation of the "Definitiones" (both also present in our copy). Holding this little book in one's hand one realizes, with a certain awe, that it represents the death of the Hermes Trismegistus of the Renaissance, the imaginary Egyptian priest who as the leader of the "prisci theology" had exerted such a tremendous influence for so long." (Yates, p. 401).

Hermetism did indeed influence a wide spectrum of modern thinkers, and its influence can be traced in the works of writers, alchemists, philosophers, and scientists, from those of Shakespeare to those of Newton.

Duveen: p. 290; Adams H:346; Brunet III:1646 ("Première edition du texte grec de Poemander. On doit y trouver 4 ff. prelimin., 103 pp. pour le texte, et 126 pp. pour la version lat. De Marsile Ficin, laquelle n'est pas dans tous les exemplaires.").

See also:
Kristeller, Renaissance Thought and its Sources.
Copenhaver & Schmitt: Renaissance Philosophy.
Dictionary of Scientific Biography VI, pp. 305-6.
Yates: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.

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