Hermes Trismegistus

Hermes Trismegistus (Greek: Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, "thrice-great Hermes"; Latin: Mercurius ter Maximus) is the syncretism of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. In Hellenistic Egypt, the Egyptian god Thoth was given as epithet the Greek name of Hermes. He has also been identified with Enoch. Other similar syncretized gods include Serapis and Hermanubis.

Hermes Trismegistus might also be explained in Euhemerist fashion as a man who was the son of the god, and in the Kabbalistic tradition that was inherited by the Renaissance, it could be imagined that such a personage had been contemporary with Moses, communicating to a line of adepts a parallel wisdom, from Zoroaster to Plato.

Modern scholarship, however, does not find a single and ancient individual behind the name:

"The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum [attributed to Hermes Trismegistus], which are the most important of the Hermetica which have come down to us, are probably to be dated between A.D. 100 and 300. [...] They were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all-wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.


Both Thoth and Hermes were gods of writing and of magic in their respective cultures. Thus, the Greek god of interpretive communication was combined with the Egyptian god of wisdom as a patron of astrology and alchemy. In addition, both gods were psychopomps; guiding souls to the afterlife.

The majority of Greeks, and later Romans, did not accept Hermes Trismegistus in the place of Hermes. The two gods remained distinct from one another. Cicero noted several individuals referred to as "Hermes" (De natura deorum III, Ch. 56):

the fifth, who is worshipped by the people of Pheneus [in Arcadia?], is said to have killed Argus, and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet: he it is whom the Egyptians call Theyn Thoth.

The Hermetic literature added to the Egyptian concerns with conjuring spirits and animating statues that inform the oldest texts, Hellenistic writings of Greco-Babylonian astrology and the newly developed practice of alchemy (Fowden 1993: pp65–68). In a parallel tradition, Hermetic philosophy rationalized and systematized religious cult practices and offered the adept a method of personal ascension from the constraints of physical being, which has led to confusion of Hermeticism with Gnosticism, which was developing contemporaneously

As a divine fountain of writing, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of writings of high standing, reputed to be of immense antiquity. Plato's Timaeus and Critias state that in the temple of Neith at Sais, there were secret halls containing historical records which had been kept for 9,000 years. Clement of Alexandria was under the impression that the Egyptians had forty-two sacred writings by Hermes, encapsulating all the training of Egyptian priests. Siegfried Morenz has suggested (Egyptian Religion) "The reference to Thoth's based on ancient tradition; the figure forty-two probably stems from the number of Egyptian nomes, and thus conveys the notion of completeness." The Neo-Platonic writers took up Clement's "forty-two essential texts".

The so-called "Hermetic literature", the Hermetica, is a category of papyri containing spells and induction procedures. In the dialogue called the Asclepius (after the Greek god of healing) the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems and odors, is described, such that the statue could speak and prophesy. In other papyri, there are other recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be fashioned hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.

Hermetic revival

For the main article, see Hermeticism. For the career of the Corpus Hermeticum, see Hermetica.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus known as Hermetica enjoyed great credit and were popular among alchemists. The "hermetic tradition" therefore refers to alchemy, magic, astrology and related subjects. The texts are usually distinguished in two categories the "philosophical" and "technical" hermetica. The former deals mainly with issues of philosophy, and the latter with magic, potions and alchemy. Among other things there are spells to magically protect objects; hence the origin of the term "Hermetically sealed".

The classical scholar Isaac Casaubon in De Rebus sacris et ecclesiaticis exercitiones XVI (1614) showed, by the character of the Greek, the texts that were traditionally written at the dawn of time, to be more recent: most of the "philosophical" Corpus Hermeticum can be dated to around AD 300. However, flaws in this identification were uncovered by the 17th century scholar Ralph Cudworth, who argued that Casaubon's allegation of forgery could only be applied to three of the seventeen treatises contained within the Corpus Hermeticum. Moreover, Cudworth noted Casaubon's failure to acknowledge the codification of these treatises as a late formulation of a pre-existing (possibly oral) tradition. According to Cudworth, the text must be viewed as a terminus ad quem and not a quo.

Hermes Trismegistus in Islamic tradition

Antoine Faivre, in The Eternal Hermes (1995) has pointed out that Hermes Trismegistus has a place in the Islamic tradition, though the name Hermes does not appear in the Qur'an. Hagiographers and chroniclers of the first centuries of the Islamic Hegira quickly identified Hermes Trismegistus with Idris, the nabi of surahs 19.57; 21.85, whom the Arabs also identify with Enoch (cf. Genesis 5.18-24). Idris/Hermes is called "Thrice-Wise" Hermes Trismegistus because he was threefold: the first of the name, comparable to Thoth, was a "civilizing hero," an initiator into the mysteries of the divine science and wisdom that animate the world; he carved the principles of this sacred science in hieroglyphs. The second Hermes, in Babylon, was the initiator of Pythagoras. The third Hermes was the first teacher of alchemy. "A faceless prophet," writes the Islamicist Pierre Lory, "Hermes possesses no concrete or salient characteristics, differing in this regard from most of the major figures of the Bible and the Quran.

In the Bahá'í writings

Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith, in a Tablet identifies Idris with Hermes. He does not, however, specifically name Idris as the prophet of the Sabians.

New Age revival

Modern occultists continue to suggest that some of these texts may be of Pharaonic origin, and that "the forty two essential texts" that contained the core work of his religious beliefs and his life philosophy remain hidden away in a secret library.

In some of the readings of Edgar Cayce, Hermes or Thoth was an engineer from the submerging Atlantis and he built or designed or directed the construction of the Pyramids of Egypt.

Within the occult tradition, Hermes Trismegistus is credited with several wives, and more than one son who took his name, as well as more than one grandson. This repetition of given name and surname throughout the generations may at least partially account for the legend of his longevity, especially as it is believed that many of his children pursued careers as priests in the religion he started.

Fictional references

  • Tristram Shandy, the famous protagonist of the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, was to be named "Trismegistus" to counter the negative circumstances of his birth. He was instead named "Tristram", meaning "sad", further damaging his future.
  • Charles Baudelaire plays with the idea of 'Hermes Trismegistus' in Au Lecteur, the introduction to his poetry anthology Les Fleurs du mal, by referring to 'Satan Trismégistre' ('thrice-great Satan').
  • The book Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco concerns a universal conspiracy theory which revolves around Hermetic tradition. The main character and narrator of the book is called Casaubon.
  • "Lost Hearts," a short story by M R James, contains a reference to Hermes Trismegistus in its conclusion.
  • The sequence of books by contemporary American author John Crowley known as the Aegypt Quartet is in part a meditation on the influence of Hermetic ideas in the European Renaissance, and more or less indirectly on the lives of characters living in the second half of the twentieth-century. In his author's notes, Crowley acknowledges his debt to Frances Yates, whose pioneering work Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition largely inspired the portions of Crowley's work which deal with the life of Giordano Bruno and the English mage John Dee. The motto of the novels is authentically, if at times ironically, Hermetic in spirit: "There is more than one history of the world."
  • In the book "The Astrological Diary of God" by Bo Fowler The main character thinks he is the reincarnation of Hermes Trigmegistus whom he names "the thrice-great one".
  • In the book "The Savage Guardian" by Mark Miles; the main character refers to Hermes Trigmegistus and quotes "as above - so below".
  • The book series "The Chaos Chronicles" by John C. Wright features Hermes Trismegistus amongst many other Greek deities.
  • In comic books published by DC Comics, the spirit of Hermes Trismegistus was briefly bound to the evil sorcerer Felix Faust and battled the Justice League of America.
  • The final boss of the video game Atelier Iris is named Trismegistus (called Amalgam in the official US release).
  • In the video game Wild Arms, Mother uses an attack called Hermes Trismegistus (improperly romanized as Hermes Toris Megistos).
  • In the video game Persona 3, Junpei Iori's Persona is named Hermes, and has a second form named Trismegistus.
  • In the comic book series "Promethea" by Alan Moore, Hermes Trismegistus appears as a resident of the kabbalistic Sephira Hod, where he explains the importance of language and mathematics in magic as being elements of that sephiroth.
  • In the comic book series "Battle Angel Alita: Last Order" Chapter 71, the capsule containing Alita's brain chip and the Fata Morgana crystal attacks the Tunguska battle robot from Jupiter using Trismegistus class nanomachines, possibly as a reference to the alchemy of corroding the metals of the robots arm.
  • In the anime OVA .hack//Liminality, the final episode is called Trismegistus and features the 3 characters, Mai Minase, Yuki Aihara, and Kyoko Tohno, from the previous episodes as they come together to restore the fallen coma victims from the online video game, The World.
  • In the d20 sourcebook The Slayers Guide to Undead by Gary Gygax and Jon Creffield (Mongoose Publishing) repeated reference is made to a Simon Trismegistus, a necromancer of evil reputation heading a fictional order styling itself the Sons of Dis.
  • The 1974 Jorge Ben album A Tábua de Esmeralda features a song called " Hermes Trismegisto e a sua celesta Tábua de Esmeralda" ("Hermes Trismegistus and his heavenly Emerald Tablet").

See also


*Copenhaver, Brian P. 1995.Hermetica: the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation, with notes and introduction, Cambridge; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1995 ISBN 0-521-42543-3.


  • Ebeling, Florian, The secret history of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from ancient to modern times [Translated from the German by David Lorton] (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2007), ISBN 9780801445460.
  • Festugière, A.-J.,La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste. 2e éd., 3 vol., Paris 1981.
  • Fowden, Garth, 1986. The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Princeton University Press, 1993): deals with Thoth (Hermes) from his most primitive known conception to his later evolution into Hermes Trismegistus, as well as the many books and scripts attributed to him.)
  • Yates, Frances A., Giordano Bruno and the hermetic tradition. University of Chicago Press, 1964. ISBN 0226950077.
  • Merkel, Ingrid and Allen G Debus, 1988. Hermeticism and the Renaissance: intellectual history and the occult in early modern Europe Folger Shakespeare Library ISBN 0-918016-85-1
  • CACIORGNA, Marilena e GUERRINI, Roberto: Il pavimento del duomo di Siena. L'arte della tarsia marmorea dal XIV al XIX secolo fonti e simologia. Siena 2004.
  • CACIORGNA, Marilena: Studi interdisciplinari sul pavimento del duomo di Siena. Atti el convegno internazionale di studi chiesa della SS. Annunziata 27 e 28 settembre 2002. Siena 2005.

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