Notes On The Fourth Tractate Of The Corpus Hermeticum

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David Myatt

Mage Myatt

 


Notes On The Fourth Tractate Of The Corpus Hermeticum

Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς

 

Chaldron Or Monas

The title given to the fourth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς, requires some consideration if it is to be translated without using English words that have, in the centuries since the text was written, acquired meanings which are not or which may not be relevant to or representative of the metaphysics, and the cosmogony, of such an ancient text; with an injudicious choice of words more often than not resulting in the modern reader projecting certain interpretations upon the text, as might be the case in translating, without some comment, κρατῆρ as ‘basin’, cup, or ‘mixing bowl’, μονάς as ‘monad’, and Τάτ as Thoth.

In respect of κρατῆρ, a more appropriate – and certainly more subtle – translation, given the esoteric nature and antiquity of the text, would be chaldron (an alternative spelling of ‘cauldron’), since basin, cup, and ‘mixing bowl’ are not only too prosaic but also do not conjure the appropriate archetypal imagery: of the primal artisan-creator coagulating and mixing primal substances – qv. tractate III, Ιερός Λόγος – to produce, to bring-into-being by means of Logos, the cosmic order and thence mortal beings.

In respect of μονάς, the transliteration monas would be more appropriate – and certainly more subtle – than ‘monad’ given that the term monad is now so often associated with such weltanschauungen as those termed Pythagorean/neo-Pythagorean and Gnostic, an association which may or may not be relevant here. Furthermore, monas has a long and interesting esoteric usage, including (somewhat recently) by John Dee in his Testamentum Johannis Dee Philosophi summi ad Johannem Gwynn, transmissum 1568 – a text included (on page 334) in Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Containing Severall Poeticall Pieces of our Famous English philosophers, who have written the Hermetique Mysteries in their owne Ancient Language, published in London in 1652 – who wrote “our Monas trewe thus use by natures Law, both binde and lewse”, and who also entitled one of his works Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), in which work he described (in Theorem XVIII) a septenary system somewhat similar to that of the Poemandres tractate [1].

 dee-monas-print

In respect of Τάτ, while there is no disputing that Thoth is meant, what may or may not be implied by the name Thoth is whether or not there is a primarily Egyptian genesis for the metaphysics and the cosmogony of this particular tractate. For what does ‘Egyptian’ mean in the context of the Corpus Hermeticum, written when Egypt was a post-Ptolemaic Roman province where Hellenism still thrived? That is, is the text propounding a metaphysics and a cosmogony primarily redolent of indigenous, pre-Alexandrian, times, with Hermes Trismegistus simply a Hellenic name for the ancient Dynastic deity Thoth, and thus with the Greek Hermes possibly being a son of that ancient Egyptian deity? Or is the text redolent of a classical metaphysics and a cosmogony; or of a Hellenic metaphysics and cosmogony; or of some syncretism of Egyptian (pre-Alexandrian) weltanschauungen with Hellenic mysticism? Or has the author (or authors) of Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς simply used the name of an ancient deity – Thoth – in order to appeal to an audience of Hellenized Egyptians, or Greeks/Romans dwelling in Egypt, or because it seemed to add some esoteric gravitas to the text? Or, as the title might be taken to imply – of Hermes to Thoth – is it a text intended to inform Egyptians (Hellenized or expatriate Greeks/Romans, or otherwise) about Greek/Hellenic metaphysics and cosmogony, with Thoth thus regarded, symbolically, esoterically, or otherwise, as the son of the Greek divinity Hermes?

In this matter, I incline toward the view – based on some forty years of study of the Corpus Hermeticum and similar mystical and esoteric texts, classical, Hellenic, medieval, Arabic and otherwise – that what is imparted in this tractate, as with the Poemandres and Ιερός Λόγος, is primarily a mystical, and – for centuries – aural, Greek tradition, albeit one possibly influenced, over time and in some degree, by the metaphysical speculations of later philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. That is, that in Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς and Ιερός Λόγος and Ποιμάνδρης, we have an intimation of the metaphysics and the cosmogony taught to initiates of that (or those) ancient and aural and paganus Greek mystical tradition(s) mentioned by writers such as Herodotus. And an intimation that is not – a few borrowed illustrative terms notwithstanding – in any significant and metaphysical manner deriving from or influenced by Biblical stories or by early Christian theology or by indigenous Egyptian culture. In the matter of a paganus Greek mystical tradition, the opening of the fourth tractate is, metaphysically, very interesting:

Επειδὴ τὸν πάντα κόσμον ἐποίησεν ὁ δημιουργός οὐ χερσὶν ἀλλὰ λόγῳ ὥστε οὕτως ὑπολάμβανε ὡς τοῦ παρόντος καὶ ἀεὶ ὄντος καὶ πάντα ποιήσαντος καὶ ἑνὸς μόνου τῇ δὲ αὐτοῦ θελήσει δημιουργήσαντος τὰ ὄντα

Because the artisan crafted the complete cosmic order not by hand but through Logos, you should understand that Being as presential, as eternal, as having crafted all being, as One only, who by thelesis formed all that is. [2]

For it is incorrect and misleading to write about those three tractates – and most if not all the other tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum – as being in any way indigenously Egyptian. Rather, their genesis – the tradition they represented – was the Greek culture of post-Alexandrian Egypt, a cultural influence so evident in the numerous papyri found in places such as Oxyrhynchus, containing as such papyri do verses from Homer, Sappho, Menander, Sophocles, and other Greek authors.


David Myatt, January 2015

Notes

[1] qv. David Myatt, Poemandres, A Translation and Commentary. 2014. ISBN 9781495470684

[2] In respect of my translation:

artisan. δημιουργόν. qv. my translation of and commentary on Poemandres 9 [Poemandres, A Translation and Commentary. 2014]. The theme of an artisan-creator, and their artisements, is common to the third tractate (Ιερός Λόγος) as well. That the tractate begins by using the term artisan, rather than theos, is perhaps significant.

that Being. The construction of the Greek here implies the conventional “you should understand him as…” although how such a human-type gender could be adduced from or manifest by how the ‘body’ of the artisan-creator is described in subsequent verses is an interesting and relevant metaphysical question. Can, or should, a ‘body’ that cannot be touched, that cannot be seen, that cannot be measured, that is not separable – οὐδὲ διαστατόν – and thus which is not conventionally ‘human’, be described as male? It is to suggest such a metaphysical question (and the limitations of ordinary language) that I have here, and here only, departed from convention and used ‘that Being’ instead of ‘him’.

There is also an interesting and perhaps relevant mention, in the second tractate of the Corpus, of the one, the being, who – like an artisan – constructs things:  ὁ οὖν θεὸς <τὸ> ἀγαθόν, καὶ τὸ ἀγαθὸν ὁ θεός. ἡ δὲ ἑτέρα προσηγορία ἐστὶν ἡ τοῦ πατρός, πάλιν διὰ τὸ ποιητικὸν πάντων. πατρὸς γὰρ τὸ ποιεῖν. (Thus theos is the noble and the noble is theos, although another title is that of father because the artifex of all being. For it is of a father to construct.)

presential. πάρειμι. Presential – from the classical Latin praesentia – means “having or implying actual presence”, as manifesting (as being presenced) in a locality or with an individual, and is thus more apposite here than the rather bland word ‘present’. Cf. the use of ‘presenced’ in Ιερός Λόγος 2, et sequentia.

One only. ἑνὸς μόνου. A formulaic mystic phrase, implying uniqueness. Cf. ordinary usage in Plato, Crito 47, ἢ ἑνὸς μόνου ἐκείνου […] ἑνὸς μόνου.

thelesis. θέλησις. Given what follows – τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι τὸ σῶμα ἐκείνου, οὐχ ἁπτόν, οὐδὲ ὁρατόν, οὐδὲ μετρητόν, οὐδὲ διαστατόν – a transliteration to suggest something other than a human type ‘will’ or ‘desire’; such as ‘disposition’. That is, Being (whatsoever of whomsoever Being is, in terms of gender and otherwise) is predisposed to craft – to presence – being as beings: as immortals (deities), as mortals (humans) and otherwise, qv. Ιερός Λόγος, Poemandres 8 ff, and Poemandres 31: οὗ ἡ βουλὴ τελεῖται ἀπὸ τῶν ἰδίων δυνάμεων (whose purpose is accomplished by his own arts).

formed. As an artisan forms their artisements, and thus manifests their skill, their artistry, in what they produce. That is, the artisan-creator has formed, crafted, being (all existence) as beings.

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Illustration


The septenary arrangement from the first section of Theorem XVIII of Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, published in Antwerp in 1564.



Article source: David Myatt – Sarigthersa (pdf, External Link)

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Further Reading:

1. Mercvrii Trismegisti Pymander – A Translation and Commentary

2. Ιερός Λόγος: An Esoteric Mythos


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