Hermes Arabicus

Dissertation, Yale University (2004)

The present work investigates the figure of Hermes Trismegistus and the texts attributed to him in Arabic tradition. Collectively these Hermetica are one of the foundations of medieval science and magic. The idea of Hermes Trismegistus arose in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt when the Egyptian god Thoth was identified with Hermes in Greek. Numerous writings on subjects including alchemy, astrology, and philosophy were written and attributed to that name in classical Egypt. However, the relationship between the approximately fifty texts in Arabic attributed to Hermes and the original Greek Hermetica has remained unknown. How did the Egyptian Hermes enter Arabic literature? Are the Arabic Hermetica translations from Greek, or are they later compositions attributed to the same name in knowledge of the Greek tradition? The relationship of these two Hermetic traditions is the central problem under examination. ;After an introduction to previous scholarship on the Arabic Hermetica, the present work investigates the transmission of Greek Hermetica into Arabic first by way of Middle Persian intermediaries, translations made from Greek into Persian in the Sasanian Empire, and then discusses the possible role of so-called Sabians of the Syrian city Harran as mediators of Hermetica into Arabic. The biographical legend of three Hermeses, known from many medieval Arabic sources, is analyzed and its parts are traced to various sources including late antique Christian chronicles, early Muslim tradition, and Iranian national legend. This shows how medieval Arabic scholars came to their notion of Hermes as the prophet of science. The next chapter presents in translation and in the original Arabic all of the wise sayings extant in Arabic collections, showing what kind of teacher Hermes was supposed to be. These sayings also have Greek and Persian antecedents some of which are discovered here. Finally a census of the works attributed to Hermes extant in Arabic opens the way for the future edition of Arabic Hermetica. ;The general conclusion is that Arabic Hermetic literature emerged out of the combination of various traditions including Greek, Persian, and Syriac components and pagan, Muslim, Jewish, Christian contributions
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