First some definitions should be cleared, in scholarly usage, the terms "Hermetic" and "Hermetism" are both used to refer to totally different things. One refers to anything seeming esoteric while another uses it to refer to anything having to do with alchemy. Another calls any work even to mention Hermes in passing "Hermetic," while still others use the terms for other purposes. These terms have been used in so many ways that there can not be said to exist any consensus among scholars today about what works can be considered Hermetica.
Modern authors also refer to "Hermetists," meaning those who followed an alleged doctrine set out in Hermetic works, or who practiced Hermetic disciplines. What they practiced is usually called "Hermetism. But most scolars during the last quarter of the 20th century see any school or community of Hermetists as the source of the Greek Hermetica, lets stand a ‘Hermetic tradition’, as imaginary. Instead he argued that attribution to the Hermes was just a feature of a literary genre of the first centuries of the Common Era.
Thus works attributed to Hermes could be grouped with works falsely attributed to other legendary In the previous two parts we have seen one can suppose that the appropriation of Greek science by the Persian rulers can be understood not just as a measure taken to promote learning but also as a political device.
According to this ideology, the Persians were not merely restoring the ancient Persian empire, but they were also taking revenge against Alexander, now self-consciously represented by the Roman emperors themselves who revered Alexander as their forebear and their model. And as far as a Hermes Arabica, we can ays to have come to the conclusion that:
1. There was definitely a Middle Persian Hermetic literature.
2. There is ample testimony for the appearance in the early third century AD of accounts that Iranian sciences were alleged to have been recovered in Egypt and that forged works attributed to Zoroaster, Ostanes, and other Iranian sages entered wide circulation at that time.
3. Hermes is connected with the accounts linking Egypt and Iran through the legend of Ostanes. This legend first appears in the works of Pseudo-Democritus, usually identified today with a poorly known Egyptian figure, Bolos of Mendes (end of 3th century BC).
4. There is also strong evidence for a thriving culture of translation between the Greek language and its eastern neighbors in the first century of Sasanian rule. Beyond the activity of Manichaeans and the interests of Neoplatonists in "eastern philosophy".
In this connection it is worth remembering that the Arabic Hermetica explaining talismans and astral magic are supposed to have been related from ancient Hermetica by Aristotle himself.
The sources of classical Arabic scholars' understanding of paganism, and paganism's rehabilitation under Islam as abianism, can be understood by studying the Iraranian Hermetic tradition. That is those Iranians who made their home in Bagdad, were in some way responsible for creating a Hermetic literature in Arabic, though it is hard to tell whether these texts were original in Arabic or translated from other languages. For example:
Around AD 600, during the lifetime of Mubammad, the Iranians were thought to honor the pagan sages including Hermes Trismegistus. Discourses from the Greek Corpus Hermeticum were cited directly, under the name Poimandres, and indirectly, from a source shared with Malalas. However, there is no definite evidence indicating that Hermes or Hermetic works held a special place in their doctrines.
Aba-Wgar also knew the Iranian astrological tradition represented by the Middle Persian recension of Dorotheus, and stated explicitly by Ibn-Nawbaht, that all science came from Iran, and that Hermes was from Babylon (the capital of Iran) who became king of Egypt.
For the rest of this third part I will proceed by presenting a summary history of Hermetica in the Middle East as far as is known today:
1. It is almost certain that translations of Hermetic works were made in the Sasanian Empire already in the 3d century. Hermes was known in Syriac as a Hellenistic sage and a prophet, and in Mesopotamia he was known as a person of magical power. His name was almost surely known in the 6th century court of Husraw Anfigirwin.
2. The earliest extant reports about Hermes in Arabic appear with the advent of the Abbisids, whose astrologers used them, in continuation with the tradition of Hermetica, in Middle Persian, in the second half of the 8h century. Astrological Hermetica were evidently among the earliest works of learning translated into Arabic.
3. An Arabic philosophical work of Hermes to his son was mentioned by al-Kind-i in the 9h century. At about the same time, a legend of three Hermeses, the first of them antediluvian, was put together by Aba-Wgar on the basis of older legends. The ,Sirr al-oliqa, probably a 9h century work, used Arabic Hermetic sources.
4. Some wise sayings of Hermes were in circulation in Arabic by the 9th century at the latest. In the late 10th century, a large collection of these sayings was available in the 5iwan al-ikma. Though lost, this is the main source for the later collections of the wise sayings of Hermes.
5. By the middle of the 10 th century, numerous other works attributed to Hermes had appeared, known from a large number of citations and from the book lists available to us from that time onward. These have to do primarily with alchemy, astrology, talismans, and the occult properties of natural substances. In general, the theories underlying these works, when they are made explicit, are clearly due to the legacy of Late Antique philosophy.
6. After the 1 e century, Hermes went on to become one of the principal figures of the Arabic occult sciences, cited by numerous authorities of different religious backgrounds, and he figured at the head of Arabic histories of science.
7. Beginning in the late 12th century, Arabic Hermetica began to be translated into Latin. These were among the earliest translations from Arabic to Latin.
8. Arabic manuscripts of works attributed to Hermes continued to be copied at least until the 19 th century.
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