David Myatt

David Myatt

A Review of Myatt’s The Divine Pymander

In July of this year (2013) David Myatt issued the first pre-publication draft of his complete translation of and commentary on the Pymander section of the Corpus Hermeticum – ‘The Divine Pymander’ {1}. The work, translated from the ancient Greek, is also available as a book – ISBN 978-1495470684.

The Divine Pymander is one of the standard Hermetic and Gnostic texts, outlining as it does Hermetic philosophy, and, in Mead’s 1906 translation, has been used by the Theosophical Society and occult groups such as The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, who weaved part of it into an occult ritual. The text was also used, again in translation, by the British occultist Aleister Crowley, as part of a conjuration involving ‘the holy guardian angel’.

Myatt’s translation differs in almost every respect from the other translations available, the most scholarly of which is probably that of Copenhaver published in 1992 {2}. One of the obvious differences is Myatt’s use, in his translation, of particular transliterations, especially his use of ‘theos’ instead of ‘god’, logos instead of ‘Word’, and ‘physis’ instead of ‘nature’, the later of which is an important principle in Myatt’s own and somewhat gnostic philosophy of pathei-mathos. Another difference is his translation of certain Greek terms, translations which he himself in his Introduction describes as idiosyncratic, although I would go so far as to say they are iconoclastic. For instance, he translates ‘agios’ not as the conventional ‘holy’ but as ‘numinous’, explaining his reasons in a long note in his commentary, writing that,

“Correctly understood, numinous is the unity beyond our perception of its two apparent aspects; aspects expressed by the Greek usage of ἅγιος which could be understood in a good (light) way as ‘sacred’, revered, of astonishing beauty; and in a bad (dark) way as redolent of the gods/wyrd/the fates/morai in these sense of the retributive or (more often) their balancing power/powers and thus giving rise to mortal ‘awe’ since such a restoration of the natural balance often involved or required the death (and sometimes the ‘sacrifice’) of mortals. It is the numinous – in its apparent duality, and as a manifestation of a restoration of the natural, divine, balance – which is evident in much of Greek tragedy, from the Agamemnon of Aeschylus (and the Orestia in general) to the Antigone and the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles.” David Myatt – Mercvrii Trismegisti Pymander de potestate et sapientia dei: A Translation and Commentary (2013)

Other differences include Myatt’s use of obscure English words, such as artisements – all of which he explains in his commentary – and his coining of unusual and striking terms to translate an important Greek expression, such as ‘quidditas of semblance’ for what is usually translated (both by Mead and Copenhaver) as ‘archetype of form’, with Myatt writing in his commentary that,

“The transliteration ‘archetype’ here is, unfortunately, unsuitable, given what the term archetype now suggests and implies (vide Jungian psychology, for example) beyond what the Greek of the text means. Appropriate words or terms such as ‘primal-pattern’ or ‘protoform’ are awkward, clumsy. Hence quidditas (11th/12th century Latin), from whence came ‘quiddity’, a term originally from medieval scholasticism which was then used to mean the natural (primal) nature or form of some-thing, and thus hints at the original sense of ἀρχέτυπον.”

A Greek Not Christian Text

All these differences give a decidedly different tone to the work. So much so that Myatt’s translation comes across as a decidedly Greek, almost pagan, work about metaphysics in contrast to the other available translations which make it appear to be if not some sort of early Christian text then a text heavily influenced by and expressing Christian ideas. Part of this is down to what many will undoubtedly see as Myatt’s controversial choice of English words, a choice which he often explains in his commentary as avoiding imposing “after nearly two thousand years of scriptural exegesis and preaching, various religious preconceptions on the text”.

Two sets of quotations from four different translations should illustrate this. The first set is from the very end of the text.

The 17th century Everard translation:

Holy is God the Father of All Things.
Holy is God Whose Will is Performed and Accomplished by His Own Powers.
Holy is God, that Determineth to be Known, and is Known of His Own, or Those that are His.
Holy art Thou, that by Thy Word hast established all Things.

The 1906 Mead translation:

Holy are you, O God, the universals’ Father.
Holy are you, O God, whose Will perfects itself by means of its own Powers.
Holy are you, O God, who willeth to be known and art known by your own.
Holy are you,who did you by Word make to consist the things that are.

The 1992 Copenhaver translation:

Holy is god, the father of all.
Holy is god, whose counsel is done by his own powers.
Holy is god, whom wishes to be known and is known by his own people.
Holy are you, who by the word have constituted all things that are.

The 2013 Myatt translation:

Agios o Theos, father of all beings.
Agios o Theos, whose purpose is accomplished by his own arts.
Agios o Theos, whose disposition is to be recognized and who is recognized by his own.
Agios es, you who by logos form all being.

It should be explained that Myatt in his commentary writes,

“I have given, as an intimation, a transliteration of the first part, as these are doxologies, similar to the Kyrie eleison [Κύριε ἐλέησον], and much (if not all) of their numinous/sacred/mystical/esoteric quality and meaning are lost when they are translated into plain – or into archaic, KJV type – English. Although they are best read/recited in the original Greek, the Latin preserves much of the numinosity of these and other such doxologies [….] ἅγιος ὁ approximates to ‘Numinous is’ [theos].”

Myatt then proceeds to give the Latin translation of the Greek.

The second set of quotations are from the middle of the text.

The 17th century Everard translation:

“Hear now the rest of that speech, thou so much desirest to hear. When that Period was fulfilled, the bond of all things was loosed and untied by the Will of God; for all living Creatures being Hermaphroditical, or Male and Female, were loosed and untied together with Man; and so the Males were apart by themselves and the Females likewise. And straightway God said to the Holy Word,. Increase in Increasing, and Multiply in Multitude all you my Creatures and Workmanships. And let Him that is endued with Mind, know Himself to be Immortal; and that the cause of Death is the Love of the Body”

The 1906 Mead translation:

“Now listen to the rest of the discourse which you dost long to hear. The period being ended, the bond that bound them all was loosened by God’s Will. For all the animals being male-female, at the same time with Man were loosed apart; some became partly male, some in like fashion [partly] female. And straightway God spake by His Holy Word: Increase ye in increasing, and multiply in multitude, ye creatures and creations all; and man that hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself is deathless, and that the cause of death is love.”

The 1992 Copenhaver translation:

“Hear the rest, the word you yearn to hear. When the cycle was completed, the bond among all things was sundered by the counsel of god. All livings things, which had been androgyne, were sundered into two parts – humans along with them – and part of them became male, part likewise female. But god immediately spoke a holy speech: ‘Increase in increasing and multiply in multitude, all you creatures and craftworks, and let him (who) is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death.”

The 2013 Myatt translation:

“Now listen to the rest of the explanation you asked to hear. When the cycle was fulfilled, the connexions between all things were, by the deliberations of theos, unfastened. Living beings – all male-and-female then – were, including humans, rent asunder thus bringing into being portions that were masculous with the others muliebral. Directly, then, theos spoke a numinous logos: propagate by propagation and spawn by spawning, all you creations and artisements, and let the perceiver have the knowledge of being deathless and of Eros as responsible for death.”

The Septenary System

While Myatt’s commentary is often dense and sometimes obscure, it is notable for two reasons.

First, its scholarly nature, for his quotations, in the commentary and in Greek or Latin and with his own translations, range from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, to Sophocles, to Xenophon, to Cicero and the New Testament, and include what to most people will be obscure works from the ‘fathers of the Christian church’, including Maximus the Confessor, Irenaeus, and Cyril of Alexandria. Occasional gems are to be found, such as Myatt’s translation from the Greek of a passage from the Discourses of Epictetus:

“Neither a tyrannos nor some Lord shall negate my intent; nor some crowd although I be just one; nor someone stronger although I be weaker, since such unhindrance is a gift, to everyone, from theos.”

Second, and of interest to many, the commentary explains much about not only ‘the septenary system’ – the hebdomad – which forms an important part of the hermetic Pymander text, but also about the ‘anados’, the journey through the spheres to the final goal of immortality. There are esoteric gems aplenty here, and it is worth ploughing through the commentary just to find these. For example, in a comment on part 26 of the Pymander text, Myatt writes,

” [It is] easy to understand why some considered there were, or represented their understanding/insight by, ‘nine’ (seven plus two) fundamental cosmic emanations, or by nine realms or spheres [qv. the quote from Cicero in section 17] – the seven of the hebdomad, plus the one of the ‘ogdoadic physis’ mentioned here, plus the one (also mentioned here) of what is beyond even this ‘ogdoadic physis’. However, as this text describes, there are seven realms or spheres – a seven-fold path to immortality, accessible to living mortals – and then two types of existence (not spheres) beyond these, accessible only after the mortals has journeyed along that path and then, having ‘offered up’ certain things along the way (their mortal ethos), ‘handed over their body to its death’. Ontologically, therefore, the seven might somewhat simplistically be described as partaking of what is ‘causal’ (of what is mortal) and the two types of existence beyond the seven as partaking of – as being – ‘acausal’ (of what is immortal). Thus, Pœmandres goes on to say, the former mortal – now immortal – moves on (from this first type of ‘acausal existence’) to become these forces (beyond the ogdoadic physis) to thus finally ‘unite with theos’: αὐτοὶ εἰς δυνάμεις ἑαυ τοὺς παραδιδόασι καὶ δυνάμεις γενόμενοι ἐν θεῷ γίνονται.”

An Iconoclastic Work

Although already known as “a British iconoclast” {3} for his strange and past involvements and peregrinations, as well as known for his idiosyncratic translations of Sappho and Heraclitus, David Myatt’s translation of and commentary on ‘The Divine Pymander’ will undoubtedly confirm that iconoclasm and that idiosyncrasy.

His translation is most decidedly iconoclastic, bringing as it does a new insight into the text, and breathing as it does new life into its hermeticism, thus making it far more accessible to, and understandable, by students of gnosticism, hermeticism, and the occult; and although – given Myatt’s (not always deserved) reputation, and his past involvements and peregrinations – it will undoubtedly be ignored by the academic establishment, its appeal will be to such students and to others interested in the arcane. It also serves to compliment Myatt’s own philosophy of pathei-mathos, elucidating as it does some of the more obscure points of Myatt’s ontological speculations.

R. Parker
July 2013

{1} Myatt’s translation and commentary, in pdf format, is available here – dwmyatt-pymander-hermetica.pdf

{2} Copenhaver, B. Hermetica. Cambridge University Press, 1992. There is a major issue with Copenhaver’s book in that in his notes he gives not the actual Greek text (using the Greek character set) but transliterations (using the Latin character set) which is annoying for those who can read Greek. Myatt in his notes and commentary, and to his credit, eschews this ‘populist’, dumbing-down, approach, and – in accord with hundreds of years of scholarship – provides the Greek text.

{3} Jon B. Perdue: The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism. Potomac Books, 2012. p.70

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