Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hermippus Redivivus by J.H. Cohausen (1749) - Hermetic Philosophy & Zoroaster

Hermippus Redivivus: or, The Sage's Triumph Over Old Age and the Grave
by Joannes Henricus Cohausen (1749).

Pages 198 onwards:
"This story appeared to me what I think it muse appear to every one, equally singular and strange, and the more so, as it was told me by a Mohammedan, who I have all the reason in the world to believe never set one foot in France. As to the rest, I report this matter purely as an historian, and I have even passed by abundance of circumstances more remarkable than any I have related; the truth of which however, he affirmed. I shall content myself therefore, with saying, that we are apt to entertain too mean notions of the learning of the Mohammedans, for certainly this man was a person in all respects of extensive knowledge, and a superior genius (Voyage du Lucas, tom. I. p. 79 — 90).

"The surprise expressed by our author at the knowledge of these people in the hermetic science, appears to be ill founded; for there is no doubt, that it is as well, and as generally understood throughout the East, as it is here. Indeed, why should it not, since it is on all hands allowed, that the sages of Europe received it from the Arabs (our note: from the references below the writer probably means Persian), who are supposed to have had that, as they are said to have obtained all their other learning from the Greeks. It is commonly believed, that Geber*, who in the title of his works is called an Arabian king, was the first of their writers, and he is said to have lived about the beginning of the eighth century."

[Our note:* Geber is a latinized version of the name Jabir, and may refer to Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721 - c. 815 CE), a native of Yus, Khorasan, Iran and a later resident of Kufa, Iraq. (Gabr, is also the name given to Zoroastrians by Muslims.) He was an alchemist and natural philosopher. Some of the followers of his work were Ismailis. Because much of his work was written in code that could only be understood by the initiated alchemists, the term gibberish is thought to refer to his work. In the Book of Stones (cf. Philosopher's Stone) he states, "The purpose is to baffle and lead into error everyone except those whom God loves and provides for." Deeply religious, Jabir emphasizes that alchemy is possible only by subjugating oneself completely to the Allah's will and becoming an instrument of Allah on Earth, since the manipulation of reality is possible only for Allah. His Book of Stones prescribes long and elaborate sequences of specific prayers that must be performed without error alone in the desert before one can even consider alchemical experimentation. Alchemy had a long relationship with Shi'ite mysticism; according to the first Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, "alchemy is the sister of prophecy". Sassanian medical schools apparently played a role in promoting so-called 'alchemy', actually chemistry, in Iran. Reference is made in his works to ancient Persians such as Jamasp and Ostanes/(H)ushtsna (and his dialogue with Aristotle) as well as Mani. We have noted elsewhere on our website, that some of the Zoroastrian refugees to India from Khorasan were chemists (so-called alchemists) The prefix 'al' in alchemy is a reference to the Arabic quest of turning silver to gold using a Philosopher's Stone. However, except for one obsure reference, Jabir/Geber was a chemist and there is no evidence of Zoroastrian chemists being alchemists, even though they are so named by Western authors.

Note continued: Hermes Trismegistus, meaning "thrice-great Hermes" is the mythic representation of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god, Thoth, is/are the guardians of alchemy and astrology, and also the guides for souls in the after-life. However, according to Wikipedia, many Christian writers, including Lactantius, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity. They believed in a prisca theologia, the doctrine that a single, true theology exists, which threads through all religions, and which was given by God to man in antiquity and passed through a series of prophets, which included Zoroaster and Plato. In order to demonstrate the verity of the prisca theologia Christians appropriated the Hermetic teachings for their own purposes. By this account Hermes Trismegistus was either, according to the fathers of the Christian church, a contemporary of Moses or the third in a line of men named Hermes, i.e. Enoch, Noah and the Egyptian priest king who is known to us as Hermes Trismegistus, or "thrice great" on account of being the greatest priest, philosopher and king. Hence the appellation "Trismegistus" meaning "Thrice Great" is derived from statements in the The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, that he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. The three parts of the wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and theurgy (ritual magic). The pymander (a chapter in the Corpus Hermeticum), from which Marsilio Ficino formed his opinion, states that "they called him Trismegistus because he was the greatest philosopher, greatest priest and greatest king". The word hermetic (not to be confused with hermitic) is derived from Hermes.

The original Hermes may have referred to Zoroaster or the arch magus Ostanes. There is a book called the Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster occasionally attributed to Hermes and it is often difficult to separate references to the three. Also see Thrice-Greatest Hermes by Mead.]

"But I have met with another account of this, which is, that Geber was a native of the province of Khorasan, and that instead of receiving his knowledge in this science from the Greeks, he had it from the ancient Persees, whose priests and learned men, derived it from the writings of their law-giver Zerdusht, who was the Zoroaster of the Greeks, and was the father and founder of the Magi, those ancient sages, who are allowed by all the writers of antiquity, to have been thoroughly versed in all the occult sciences. I mention this, because it seems to give an easier and better account, than any we have yet received of the means by which the hermetic science became diffused all over the East, where, without doubt, there have been, and are many professors of it, even in the remotest parts of the Indies, as well as amongst the Tartars, (no unletter'd nation) subjects to the grand Lama, who, by the way, pretends to be immortal*.

[Footnote: *"This notion of our author, shews plainly, that he had made the history of philosophy very much his study, since notwithstanding the novelty of his opinion in this respect, it has very much the appearance of truth. The very learned Herbeht, to whom we are so much indebted for his oriental library, tells us, that Geber, who is stiled Giabar by all the Eastern nations, was thought to be a native of Haran, from whence himself, or his son, was surnamed al Harrani; that his father's name was Senan, and that he was supposed to receive his knowledge from the Zabians (Our note: the author may mean Sabians, a people of Sassanian southern Mesopotamia with stated origins in Parthia, i.e. Khorasan and followers of Mani. Also see Elcesaites), who were a sect so early as in the time of Abraham. But if we reflect upon the time in which he flourished, and the authorities there are to prove him a native of Khorasan, we shall see good reason to prefer our author's sentiment, or rather, we shall discern its consistency with the former opinion; for in the East, many conceived Zerdusht and Abraham to be the same person; but this is certainly an error, arising from hence, that Zerdusht, in his own books, professes to teach the religion of Abraham; so that upon the whole, Giabar having his philosophy from the disciples of Zerdusht, may probably make honourable mention of Abraham in some of those many treatises of his that are common in the East, though not known to us, and from thence the opinion might arise of his being the countryman of Abraham and of the sect of the Zabians, whom almost all the Eastern writers confound with the Magi.]

"In China again, the hermetic science has flourished many ages, and if we will believe the Jesuit Martinis was known and practised two thousand years before the Christian era. However, allowing this to be a mistake, and that the Jesuits have either been imposed upon themselves, or willing to impose upon others in reporting such a story as this, yet there are two things absolutely certain: the first, that they are great pretenders to this science in all parts of China; the second, that they had these notions long before they had any correspondence with the Europeans. Now, I think it is very hard to conceive, that they should derive this sort of knowledge from the Arabians, or from the Greeks,but that, upon the dispersion of the Persees.

[Footnote: *"It is a little surprising at first fight, to find men of great learning, make use of the same argument to prove sentiments directly opposite to each other. A very learned writer in France, infers from the prevalence of chemistry in China, that the inhabitants of that empire must have received most of their learning later than is generally imagined, because we know of no books of chemistry in Europe earlier than the third century. Our author, on the contrary, thinks the prevalence of chemistry among the Chinese, is a proof of the antiquity of their knowledge, and from thence attempts to account for it. As to the matter of fact, they agree, and indeed, there is nothing more indisputable than that the hermetic philosophy prevails more in China, and in the Indies, than even in Germany itself, where a man is hardly thought learned who has not a tincture of this science.]

"This is a matter which I think has not been hitherto considered, or explained, and therefore, I have taken the liberty to commit these remarks to writing, in hopes of giving those who are better acquainted with this subject than I pretend to be, an opportunity of setting the grounds of them in a clearer light, either by refuting what I have advanced, and shewing how this kind of learning came otherwise into China, or by pursuing this enquiry, and supporting it by better authorities than I have met with, tho' some I could mention, if I did not apprehend it would lead me too far out of my way.

"But however, I shall very readily allow, that whatever knowledge the lurks at present have of the hermetic science, they must have had it, as they had all the rest of their learning, from the Arabs; and indeed it is very certain that as the former translated into their own language, the best authors they could meet with in the libraries of all the countries which they had conquered, so the Turks, since they began to affect learning, more especially since the reign of Mahomet II, have translated the best books out of the Arabick, upon this, as well as all other sciences into Turkish, and amongst them not a few relating to this science. Yet it ought to be known, that though the hermetic philosophy was in great credit among the Arabians, as well as very much improved by them; this did not hinder some of the most learned men amongst them, from treating all notions Of of that kind both with resentment and contempt; It was the Advice of Abou Jouseph upon his death bed to his children, apply yourselves to every kind "of learning to which you have an inclination, for your time cannot be better employed, since every sort of science is in some part of life, or other of use, except these three: Astrology, Alchemy, and Controversy. Astrology serves only to increase the miseries of life by adding innumerable false fears to that multitude of apprehensions, which are but too well grounded, in the sense, that reason affords of the vicissitudes of fortune. Alchemy leads to beggary by promising riches, we flatter ourselves that we are going to a palace, and in reality, we are in the high way to an hospital. Industry is the philosopher's stone, provided it be accompanied with the fear of God. Controversy is the warfare of idle men, we doubt and dispute till we believe nothing, and by a foolish eagerness to search out the sublimest truths of religion, we lose religion itself, and travel all our lives without ever coming to our journey's end. Beware then of these false sciences my children, and study what else you will." It is a custom of the grand signiors never to build a mosque, or erect a tomb, without adding a college in the same place, in which a certain number of dervishes, or monks are maintained, and these frequently study the most curious parts of learning, and the occult sciences more especially, so that our author had no ground for his surprise, that these sciences should be understood amongst the Mohammedans, but he might very well be amazed at their having any knowledge of the progress of those sciences in Europe, or of the names of their professors, since this was of all others the thing, he had the least reason to expect; for in no sort of learning are the Turks so ignorant, as in that which concerns the history of the western nations; the reason of which is, that their knowledge like that of the Arabians, is entirely the fruit of their conquests, and consequently, the limits are the same. But with respect to speculative science, the principles of which they have in their own language; their ecclesiasticks, and more especially their dervishes, carry it to a great height, and there are amongst them as great metaphysicians, as any of the disciples of Malbranche, Leibnitz, or Wollf, whatever vulgar notions may teach to the contrary."

See Google Books for the complete text

The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science by Kevin Thomas Van Bladel

No comments:

Post a Comment