© 1001 inventions. House of Wisdom Sketch.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an extract from Al Shahrastani’s mastertwork, the ‘Kitab al-Milal wa al-Nihal’ (The Book of Sects and Creeds). From page 153 to 158. A small chapter devoted to Hermes the Great and his ‘Sentences’. It bears clearly the selective and adaptive influence of earlier Islamic scribes and compilers and is presented within the mold of Shahrastani’s own ontological views. The ‘Sentences’ are of an obvious ethical nature (adab, edeb) more than a hermetic world-view closer to what we understand of Hermetism through the treatises composing the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ and the ‘Asclepius’.
It is the first time since the mid-nineteenth century-with William Cureton’s sole edition and English translation-that a fresh English translation comes available again. Our perfectible labor of love from the French edition we presented yesterday.
Sentences of Hermes the Great
Praised are his deeds, approved his words. He is counted among the great prophets. It is said, he is the prophet Idris. He gave their names to the zodiacal signs and to the planets, and allocated them into their respective dwellings (note: astrological domiciliation or houses); he fixed (in the terminology about them) their exaltation, and their fall, their aphelion (French: apogee) and their perihelion (French: perigee), the trigone, sextile and quadrant aspects or configurations; the opposition and conjunction, their retrograde or direct movements; he exposed the equations of the stars and their positioning. But, as for the judgement we attribute to these conjunctions, not everybody accepts them as demonstrated facts. And the Indians and the Arabs use different methods for these judgements. They obtained them, not from the nature of the stars but from their properties and they classify them according to the fixed stars, not after the planets.
It is said that Agathodaimon and Hermes are none other than Seth and Idris (Peace upon them). The philosophers transmitted that Agathodaimon said: “The first principles are five: The Creator, the Intellect, the Soul, place and void; after them come the composite beings”. This was not transmitted by Hermes.
1. Among the sentences (Logoi) there is this one: ‘The very first duty of a man of an excellent nature and of good origin that gives a satisfactory behavior and hope to his fate, is to magnify God and be grateful for the knowledge he has of Him. Then, he is due to obey the Law (namus) and to be conscious of his rank; he is to well advise the prince (sultan) and being devoted to him; his soul should be bustling and open to him perseveringly the gates of happiness; to his intimate entourage he should show affection and devote himself to them with zeal. When he has firmly set these foundations, he should just abstain to be of nuisance to others and be kind by his good character.
’See then, O Sabean assembly, how he magnified the prophetic charisma to the point to conjoin the obedience to the Prophet (he expresses it in speaking of ‘Laws’, namus) to the knowledge of God. On the other hand, he does not speak here of the due veneration to the Spirituals and he does not go on more about this veneration, as if it was part of the obligations.
2. Hermes was asked: ‘What gives people a good opinion of a man?’ and he answered: ’To approach them correctly and to behave well towards them.’
3. ‘When it is not in hope of a benefit or to cast away a wrong, true affection towards others is fostered by goodness and natural disposition.’
4. ‘The best in man is his Intellect. The good action is the worthiest thing that one does not have to repent. Effort is what drives best life’s business. Ignorance is the deepest darkness. Greed is the most destructive thing.’
5. ‘At the heights of virtue are: Truthfulness withstanding anger, generosity in despair, forgiveness in a position of power.’
6. ‘He who does not know the shortcomings of his soul does not respect it’
7. ‘The difference between the reasonable man and the idiot is that speech serves the first one and harms the later.’
8. ‘The reasonable man does not despise three categories of people: The Prince, the wise and the brothers. Because, despising the Prince is to harm one’s own existence; despise the wise is harm one’s own religion; despise one’s own brothers is to harm one’s own dignity.’
9. ‘Despising death is a virtue of the soul.’
10. ‘The accomplished man first is due to seek wisdom and to establish it in his soul, so that he would not be troubled by the sorrows that hit good people; he should not entertain pride for the honors he is rewarded; he should not blame others of what he indulges into also; may wealth and power not change him; may he harmonize his intentions and his speech so that they become identical; And may his conduct be faultless and his religion without contest, his arguments irrefutable.’
11. ‘The most beneficial for men is the contentment with what we have and the satisfaction of God’s will. What is most hurtful to men is violence and anger.’
12. It is reported that Hermes wrote: ‘The root of straying and perdition is for a man to account all what is good upon earth to the gifts and favors of God and to not account what is evil and corrupted at work in the world to the efforts and tricks of the devil. He who invents a lie towards his brother does not escape the consequential punishment: how would someone who grows slander against God (to Whom the Might and the Glory) escape by even making Him the causes of the ailments when he is the source of good?’
13. ‘Good and evil come without fail to those bound to receive them. But, happiness or misfortune to who by whom (good and evil) arrive to who they ought to be received.’
14. ‘Never-ending fraternity that nothing can brake is of two kinds: On side, the love one has for one’s soul as for its Return (to God), and the purification that he applies to it through true knowledge and good deeds; on the other side, one’s affection towards one’s brother in the religion of the God of Truth, because this person walks with us in his body in this world, but in spirit in the Final Life.’
15. ‘Anger is the demon of brutality; greed of misery; both are the origin of every bad action, corrupting each body, perverting each soul.’
16. ‘We can change everything but one’s nature; reform all but one’s faulty character; repel everything but God’s divine decree.’
17. ‘Ignorance and stupidity are to the soul what hunger and thirst are to the body: these are a void in the soul and those a void in the body.’
18. ‘The most praised thing for the inhabitants of Heaven and Earth is a truthful tongue that expresses justice, wisdom and law within the community.’
19. ‘A man with the most inconsistent proof is the man who testifies against himself through the inconsistency of his proof.’
20. ‘He whose religion is peace, mercy, non-violence, his religion is God’s religion (to Whom the Might and the Glory!), and his adversary testifies of the victory of his proof. But he whose religion is destruction and violence, his religion is the devil’s religion, and he himself testifies against himself with the inconsistency of his proof.’
21. ‘Kings bear everything but three things: The denigration of their reign, divulgation of their secrets and the assault against the honor of their wives.’
22. ‘O Man, don’t be like the child who is obedient when hungry, nor like the slave who is sassy when sated, nor like the dumb who becomes tyrannical when he reaches power.’
23. ‘To your enemy alike your friend, give only good advices. The friend will comply as expected while the enemy, as soon as he understands that you advised him truthfully, he will have for you respect and jealousy; and if he is a man of character, he will feel shame and will be eager to get closer to you.’
24. ‘Prodigality in trials is the sign of a generous nature. To be withstanding violence with truth is the sign of a worthy nature. Forgiveness facing anger is the sign of a noble nature.’
25. ‘Anybody who rejoices that people show signs of affection towards him, that they are providing him with assistance and that they talk about him positively, it is expected that he behaves towards them in the same manner.’
26. ‘No one can reach goodness and wisdom, nor save his soul from the vices, if he doesn’t possess three things: A vizier, an ally and a friend. His vizier is his reason, his ally his chastity; his friend is his benevolent action.’
27. ‘Every man is due to redeem a fathom of earth. If he does redeem it, all of his affairs are redeemed. But, if he loses this measure, he loses all, as this measure is his soul.’
28. ‘He whose chastity is not immaculate is not praised for the perfection of his reason (aql); he whose reason hasn’t stabilized is not praised for the perfection of his knowledge (‘ilm).’
29. ‘Three things are the ultimate actions of the wise men: transforming the enemy into a friend, educating the ignorant into becoming a wise man and guiding the libertine into embracing a pious life.’
30. ‘The good man is he whose benevolence is a gift for everybody and who is considering everyone else’s well-being as his own benefit.’
31. ‘Anything that is not the enemy of ignorance cannot be called wise; nor light if it does not suppress darkness; nor perfume if it does not repel stench; nor truth if it does not withstand lies; nor, finally, good if it is not opposed to bad.’