Secretum secretorum - An Overview of Magic in the Greco-Roman World
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Appendix I: Inventory and Chronology of Hermetic Literature

To Thoth, the inventor of writing, the ancient Egyptians attributed all sorts of books, especially magical writings, secret techniques employed in temple workshops, and theological writings recopied or composed by the priests in the "house of life" (pransh; Nag Hammadi codex 6.61.20). Thus the Greek Hermetica that has come down to us can be divided into two categories: works of occult sciences and philosophical works.

  1. Among the works of occult sciences, A.-J. Festugiere (1942-1953, vol 1, pp. 77, 240, 280) distinguishes three kinds: (1) astrology, beginning in the third or second century BCE; (2) alchemy, beginning in the second or first century BCE; and, (3) magic, recorded in papyri of the fourth to seventh centuries CE that reproduce sources obviously much more ancient.

  2. The philosophical works were originally grouped as collections of the discourses of Hermes with his various disciples or of them among themselves. Of this undoubtedly once abundant literature, still preserved are only some fragments and the texts of a few discourses that have come to us through subsequent intermediaries. These may be grouped into chronological order as follows:

    1. Fragmenta Hermetica 1-36 (Nock and Festugiere, 1945-1954, vol. 4): various fragments quoted in Greek, Latin or Syriac by several authors, from Tertullian (second-third century CE) to Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286). To these fragments should be added the papyri Vindobonenses Graecae 29456r and 29828r,as well as an Armenian fragment[144] and several Syriac fragments.[145]

    2. Asclepius 1-41: a Latin adaptation of Logos Teleios, finished probably after 320 and before 410.

    3. Nag Hammadi codex 6 (c. 340-370 CE) containing Coptic translations of three treatises:
      1. Nag Hammadi codex 6.6, preserved without title and currently called The Discourse on the Eight and Ninth;
      2. Nag Hammadi codex 6.7, The Prayer That They Spoke, parallel to Aclepius 41 and to the Papyrus Mimaut of Paris;
      3. Nag Hammadi codex 6.8, without title, a fragment of Logos Teleios parallel to Asclepius 21-29 and to three Greek quotations cited by Lactantius around 320, Cyril of Alexandria around 435, and Joannes Stobaios around 500. The allusions of John Lysdus(sixth century CE) to this same text can hardly be regarded as mere quotations.

    4. Stobaei Hermetica 1-29: fragments or treatises quoted in Greek by Joannes Stobaios in his Florilegium, which he compiled around 500 for the education of his son.

    5. Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius, translated from Greek into Armenian, probably in the second half of the sixth century CE Definitions 10.7 repeats Stobaei Hermetica 19.1; Definitions 11 is an interpolation drawn from Nemesius (c. 390 CE)

    6. Corpus Hermeticum 1-14 and 16-18: a compilation of Hermetic treatises done after Stobaios and before Michael Constantine Psellus (eleventh century CE).

As for dating the various treatises, the Logos Teleios (Asclepius, Nag Hammadi codex 6.7, 6.8) is scarcely older than the thrid century CE Most of the Greek texts seem to have been written in the second century BCE, yet they seem to rest on even older sources. Indeed, it is sometimes a case of works or compilations which we no longer possess, such as the Sayings of Agathodemon, the General Discourses, or the Diexodica. The Papyri Vindobonenses Graecae, copied at the end of the second century CE, informs us that at that a time a collection of the logoi of Hermes to Tat, comprising at least ten treatises, had already been made. Strabo on a visit to Egypt in 24-20 BCE, mentions some Hermetic literature that was not only astrological but philosophical. Finally, since the Corpus Hermeticum 1.31 contains precise allusions to Jewish liturgy, it probably precedes the expulsion of Jews from Egypt after the revolt of 115-117. Yet since Definitions of Hermes Trismegistos for Asclepius 9.4 is the source of Corpus Hermeticum 1.18, it dates at the latest from the first century CE and could well go back even further.[146]

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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest