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Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 3, by G.R.S. Mead, [1906], at

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(Title from Patrizzi (p. 46b), preceded by: “Of Thrice-greatest Hermes to Tat.”

Text: Stob., Flor., xi. 23, under heading: “Of Hermes from the [Sermons] to Tat”; G, i. 307-311; M. i. 248-251; H. iii. 436-441.

Ménard, Livre IV., No. ix. of “Fragments from the Books of Hermes to his Son Tat,” pp. 251-255.)

1. [Her.] Concerning Truth, O Tat, it is not possible that man should dare to speak, for man’s an animal imperfect, composed out of imperfect members, his tabernacle 1 patched together from many bodies strange [to him].

But what is possible and right, this do I say,—that Truth is [to be found] in the eternal bodies only, [those things] of which the bodies in themselves are true, 2—fire very fire and nothing else, earth very earth and nothing else, air very air and nothing else, and water very water and naught else.

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Our frames, however, are a compound of all these. For they have [in them] fire, and they have also earth, they’ve water, too, and air; but they are neither fire, nor earth, nor water, nor air, 1 nor any [element that’s] true.

And if our composition has not had Truth for its beginning, how can it either see or speak the Truth?

Nay, it can only have a notion of it,—[and that too] if God will.

2. All things, accordingly, that are on earth, O Tat, are not the Truth; they’re copies [only] of the True.

And these are not all things, but few [of them]; the rest consist of falsity and error, Tat, and shows of seeming like unto images.

Whenever the appearance doth receive the influx from above, it turns into a copy of the Truth; without its 2 energizing from above, it is left false.

Just as the portrait also indicates the body in the picture, but in itself is not a body, in spite of the appearance of the thing that’s seen.

’Tis seen as having eyes; but it sees naught, hears naught at all.

The picture, too, has all the other things, but they are false, tricking the sight of the beholders,

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[paragraph continues] —these thinking that they see what’s true, while what they see is really false.

All, then, who do not see what’s false see truth.

If, then, we thus do comprehend, or see, each one of these 1 just as it really is, we really comprehend and see.

But if [we comprehend, or see, things] contrary to that which is, we shall not comprehend, nor shall we know aught true.

3. [Tat.] There is, then, father, Truth e’en on the earth?

[Her.] Not inconsiderably, O son, art thou at fault.

Truth is in no wise, Tat, upon the earth, nor can it be.

But some men can, [I say,] have an idea of it,—should God grant them the power of godly vision. 2

Thus there is nothing true on earth,—[so much] I know and say. All are appearances and shows,—I know and speak true [things]. We ought not, surely, though, to call the knowing and the speaking of true things the Truth?

4. [Tat.] Why, how on earth ought we to know and speak of things being true,—yet nothing’s true on earth?

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[Her.] This [much] is true,—that we do not know aught that’s true down here. 1 How could it be, O son?

For Truth is the most perfect virtue, the very highest Good, by matter undisturbed, uncircumscribed by body,—naked, [and] evident, changeless, august, unalterable Good.

But things down here, O son, thou seest what they are,—not able to receive this Good, corruptible, [and] passible, dissolvable, changeful, and ever altering, being born from one another.

Things, then, that are not true even to their own selves, how can they [possibly] be true?

For all that alters is untrue; it does not stay in what it is, but shows itself to us by changing into one another its appearances.

5. [Tat.] And even man,—is he not true, O father?

[Her.] As man,—he is not true, O son. For that the True is that which has its composition from itself alone, and in itself stays as it is.

But man has been composed of many things, and does not stay in his own self.

He changes and he alters, from age to age, from form to form, and that too, even while he’s still in [one and] the [same] tent. 2

Nay, many fail to recognize their children,

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when a brief space of time comes in between; and so again of children with their parents.

That, then, which changes so that it’s no longer recognized,—can that be true, O Tat?

Is it not, rather, false, coming and going, 1 in the [all] varied shows of its [continual] changes?

But do thou have it in thy mind that a true thing is that which stays and lasts for aye.

But “man” is not for ever; wherefore it 2 is not true. “Man’s” an appearance. And appearance is extreme untruth.

6. [Tat.] But these external bodies, 3 father, too, in that they change, are they not true?

[Her.] All that is subject unto genesis and change, is verily not true; but in as much as they are brought to being by the Forefather 4 [of them all], they have their matter true.

But even they have something false in that they change; for naught that doth not stay with its own self is true.

[Tat.] True, father [mine]! Is one to say, then, that the Sun alone,—in that in greater measure than the rest of them he doth not change but stayeth with himself,—is Truth?

[Her.] [Nay, rather, but] because he, and

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he only, hath entrusted unto him the making of all things in cosmos, 1 ruling all and making all;—to whom I reverence give, and worship pay unto his Truth, and recognise him as the Demiurge after the One and First.

[Tat.] What then, O father, should’st thou say is the first Truth?

[Her.] The One and Only, Tat,—He who is not of matter, or in body, the colourless, the figureless, the changeless [One], He who doth alter not, who ever is.

But the untrue, O son, doth perish. All things, however, on the earth that perish,—the Forethought of the True hath comprehended [them], and doth and will encompass [them].

For birth without corruption 2 cannot be; corruption followeth on every birth, in order that it may be born again.

For that things that are born, must of necessity be born from things that are destroyed 3; and things that have been born, must of necessity be [once again] destroyed, in order that the genesis of things existent may not stop.

First, [then], see that thou recognize him 4 as the Demiurge for birth-and-death 5 of [all] existent things.

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8. Things that are born out of destruction, then, must of necessity be false,—in that they are becoming now these things, now those. For ’tis impossible they should become the same.

But that which is not “same,”—how can it possibly be true?

Such things we should, then, call appearances, [my] son; for instance, if we give the man his proper designation, [we ought to designate him] a man’s 1 appearance;—[and so] the child a child’s appearance, the youth a youth’s appearance, the man a man’s appearance, the old man an appearance of the same.

For man is not a man, nor child a child, nor youth a youth, nor grown up man a grown up man, nor aged man a [single] aged man.

But as they change they are untrue,—both pre-existent things and things existent.

But thus think of them, son,—as even these untruths being energies dependent from above from Truth itself.

And this being so, I say untruth is Truth’s in-working. 2


The excerpt seems complete in itself, but whether it lay before Stobæus as a single sermon or as a part of a sermon it is impossible to say.


17:1 σκῆνος. Cf. Ex. vii. 3 note, and also § 5 below.

17:2 Or real.

18:1 Compare Lact., D. I., ii. 12.

18:2 That is, Truth’s.

19:1 This presumably refers to the simple elements of things in themselves.

19:2 τὴν θεοπτικὴν . . . δύναμιν.

20:1 Taking ἐνθάδε with the preceding clause.

20:2 Cf. § 1 above.

21:1 Lit. becoming.

21:2 Neuter, that is, the series of temporary appearances of the true man.

21:3 The heavenly bodies presumably.

21:4 τοῦ προπάτορος; cf. Ex. i. 3.

22:1 Cf. Ex. vii. 2, and § 7 below.

22:2 Or perishing.

22:3 Or are corrupted, or perish.

22:4 That is, the Sun; cf. § 6 above.

22:5 Lit. genesis.

23:1 Lit. manhood’s.

23:2 Or operation; ἐνέργημα.

Next: Excerpt IV. God, Nature and the Gods