The Hermetica * Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (isbn 0874779502)

I saw this little book in my favourite local bookstore. It is published by a publisher that I didn’t know, which is usually bad news. When I paged through the book quickly it seemed to me that it contained a descent overview of the Hermetic tradition and some texts, so I decided to buy it.
The first part of the book has an overview of the Hermetic tradition and on most points the version of the writers agrees with what I already read about it. On a few occasions the writers believed the official versions too easily, but on most points their short overview is good enough to use for quick look-ups.
Then Freke and Gandy publish some Hermetic texts. They chose for a quite unusual approach. According to the writers, there are only few Hermetic texts that survived history, being:
– The Stobaeus, a text written by John of Stobae in the fifth century;
– The Asclepius, a dialogue between Hermes and his son;
– The Corpus Hermeticum, books 1 to 18 of which book 15 is missing;
– Fragments from several ancient writings. There is no official number of fragments and they number from edition to edition of publications;
– Hermetic texts from the Nag Hammadi scrolls.

The book that is subject of this review is made into a ‘story’ kind of form with twenty short chapters. Each chapter is about a single subject, preceded by a short explanation. The texts themselves are compilations of parts of the mentioned Hermetic books. The texts therefor deal with one subject, but you don’t know if you are reading something from the Corpus Hermeticum or the Ascepius. The sources of the several chapters are noted in the back, but this is not in reference to the different paragraphs.
Also the translations are ‘unorthodox’. For example translations of the Asclepius are not written in dialog form, but as a monolog of Hermes Trismegistus to us readers. That is because the writers think that is clearer and more easily to understand. This is true, but still I find it quite ‘daring’.

With this information you may think that the book doesn’t have too much value. Well, the translations are really well done. The poetic approach is left in the texts. It is easy to find some authentic versions to several questions without having to cross the entire Corpus Hermeticum and the other texts, so in a way this could be a perfect introduction to Hermeticism. But of course, there is just a small part of the texts that are left in this 150 paged book.

For a proper study I think you will need to get yourself translations of the works themselves.
(27/1/01)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

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