Corpus Hermeticum XVII

Category: Neoplatonism > Works of Hermes (“Hermetica”)

1 Introduction

This piece is a fragment, the end of a dialogue between Tat as teacher and a king (probably Ammon) as student. Tat explains to him why cult statues (gr. agálmata) are worshipped although they are corporeal and inanimate, by appealing to the Platonic forms. The forms (and other incorporeals) constitute an intelligible cosmos, which is mirrored in our perceptible (or ‘sensible’) cosmos.

A similar Platonic explanation of statue worship was later developed by the Neoplatonists, although they regarded the statues as tokens of the ineffable gods above the forms. Some alternate views were that statues are purely symbolic (cf. Porphyry, On Cult Statues), or that they are not inanimate, but actually become fully ensouled through consecration. This latter is advocated in the Hermetic dialogue Asclepius.

2 Translation

[…] “But if you consider, o king, there are also incorporeals of bodies.”

“Of what sort?”, said the king.

“Does it not seem to you that the bodies that appear in mirrors are incorporeal?”

“So it does, o Tat; your thinking is divine,” said he king.

“And does it not seem to you that there are also other incorporeals, such as the forms (idéai), which, although they are incorporeals, appear in the body, and not only in that of animate beings but also inanimate ones?”

“You are speaking well, o Tat.”

“In this manner, there are reflections of the incorporeals in bodies, and of bodies in the incorporeals, that is, of the perceptible cosmos in the intelligible cosmos, and of the intelligible in the perceptible. Therefore, worship (lit. ‘prostrate before’) the cult statues, o king, because these too contain forms from the intelligible cosmos.”

Then the king arose and spoke: “It is time, o priest (prophḗtēs), that I attend to my guests; but on the coming day, we shall theologize further.”

3 Greek text (ed. Nock–Festugière)

[…] εἰ δὲ νοεῖς, ἔστιν, ὦ βασιλεῦ, καὶ σωμάτων ἀσώματα.

Ποῖα; ἔφη ὁ βασιλεύς.

Τὰ ἐν τοῖς ἐσόπτροις φαινόμενα σώματα οὐ δοκεῖ σοι ἀσώματα εἶναι;

Οὕτως ἔχει, ὦ Τάτ· θείως νοεῖς, ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν.

Ἔστι δὲ καὶ ἀσώματα ἄλλα, οἷον αἱ ἰδέαι οὐ δοκοῦσιν εἶναί σοι, ἀσώματοι οὖσαι, ἐν σώματι φαινόμεναι, οὐ μόνον τῶν ἐμψύχων ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἀψύχων;

Εὖ λέγεις, ὦ Τάτ.

Οὕτως ἀντανακλάσεις εἰσὶ τῶν ἀσωμάτων πρὸς τὰ σώματα, καὶ τῶν σωμάτων πρὸς τὰ ἀσώματα, τουτέστι τοῦ αἰσθητοῦ πρὸς τὸν νοητὸν κόσμον καὶ τοῦ νοητοῦ πρὸς τὸν αἰσθητόν· διὸ προσκύνει τὰ ἀγάλματα, ὦ βασιλεῦ, ὡς καὶ αὐτὰ ἰδέας ἔχοντα ἀπὸ τοῦ νοητοῦ κόσμου.

ὁ οὖν βασιλεὺς ἐξαναστὰς ἔφη, Ὥρα ἐστίν, ὦ προφῆτα, περὶ τὴν τῶν ξένων ἐπιμέλειαν γενέσθαι· τῇ δὲ ἐπιούσῃ περὶ τῶν ἑξῆς θεολογήσομεν.