Screenshot 2019-12-15 at 15.14.07.png
Screenshot 2019-11-30 at 12.33.24.png

Hermetica

On the image you see Hermes Trismegistus (the "thrice greatest Hermes") as he was imagined by philosophers and theologians during the Italian Renaissance. The portrait can found on the floor of the cathedral of Siena, and shows the remarkable authority of this figure who was seen as a teacher of supreme wisdom from ancient Egypt. Hermes' fame was based largely on a collection of Greek texts that had reached Italy from Byzantium and were made available in Latin by two Italian humanists: the famous Platonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino (who translated the first fourteen treatises) and the long-forgotten poet Lodovico Lazzarelli (who translated the three final ones and added a brilliant commentary). Like the Greek original of a Latin text known as the Asclepius, the treatises that had been put together in this so-called Corpus Hermeticum were written in Egypt during the first centuries of the Common Era and have been of great interest to scholars since the early 20th century. More Hermetic texts were discovered after World War II, notably a Coptic treatise known as The Eight and the Ninth and a series of Hermetic Definitions transmitted only in Armenian. The history of Hermetic scholarship is fascinating in its own right, as it reflects the development of intellectual fashions from the Renaissance to the present.

The Hermetica are core business for me. My chair is called "History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents," and at my inauguration in 1999 I spoke about "The End of the Hermetic Tradition." In fact I was referring to the end of an extremely influential grand narrative that had been created by the great Warburg historian Frances A. Yates in her famous book Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964) and that has dominated the imagination of scholars ever since. My own studies of Lodovico Lazzarelli (the second translator the Corpus Hermeticum, see above) had convinced me that Yates' understanding of Renaissance Hermeticism was mistaken in its most fundamental assumptions, and I presented the complete argument in the large Introduction to my Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): The Hermetic Writings and Related Documents published in 2005. Some additional material on Lazzarelli's spiritual master Giovanni da Correggio I discussed in an article two years later; and two years after that I added an analysis of Lazzarelli's decisive impact on Cornelius Agrippa. My revision of Frances Yates' narrative also led me to reconsider the contribution of Marsilio Ficino, to whom I devoted several articles focusing on his philosophy of eros, and his analysis of the Platonic frenzies (mania, "divine madness"). A provisional synthesis of what I call "The Real Hermetic Tradition" was published in 2015 and also presented in my second "Infinite Fire" webinar.

Much earlier already, in 2008, I had published an article about the original Hermetica themselves, where I argued that if we wish to understand their basic message, we must recognise that the central role to Hermetic spirituality of visionary revelations (e.g. CH I), experiences of interior rebirth and transformation (CH XIII), and ecstatic ascent to the highest divine realms (The Eight and the Ninth) requires serious attention to the role of alterations of consciousness in the Hermetica. I am now developing that thesis further, in a monograph that will hopefully be published in 2022; and I am preparing a greatly expanded,  partly rewritten and thoroughly revised version of the Lazzarelli book as well. My not-so-modest goal with those two book projects is to present a new and better narrative of "the Hermetic Tradition" to replace the one that was created by Frances Yates over half a century ago, partly.