From Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius: Definitions (Part 1)

Translated by Jean-Pierre Mahe and presented in The Way of Hermes.


1. God: an intelligible world; world: a sensible God; man: a destructible world; God: an immovable world; heaven: a movable world; man: a reasonable world. Then there are three worlds. Now the immovable world is God, and the reasonable world is man: for both of these units are one: God and man after the species.

2. Consequently there are three worlds on the whole: two units make up the sensible and one is the intelligible; one is after the species, and the third one is after its fullness. All of the multiple belongs to the three worlds; two of them are visible: namely the sensible and man, that destructible world; and the intelligible is this God: he is not visible, but evident within the visible things.

3. Just as soul keeps up the figure while being within the body, which cannot possibly be constituted without a soul, likewise all of the visible cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible.

4. Now man is a small world because of soul and breath, and a perfect world whose magnitude does not exceed the sensible god, i.e. the world. The world is intelligible and God is Nous; he is the truly uncreated, the intelligible; by essence, the uncreated and the ineffable, the intelligible good. In a word, God is the intelligible world, the immovable Monad, the invisible world, the intelligible, invisible and ineffable good.

5. God is eternal and uncreated; man is mortal although he is ever-living.


1. Nous is the invisible good, soul is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body. A body is made out of the four qualities, as a well-tempered composition of warm, cold, dry and wet: of warm of fire, of cold of air, of dry of earth, of wet of water. Breath is the body of the soul or the column of the soul.

2. Heaven is an eternal body, an immutable body, unalterable and mixed up out of soul and Nous. Air is the separation of heaven from the earth or the conjunction of heaven with earth. What is air? They call “air” the interval between heaven and earth, by which they are not separated from each other, since heavens and earth are united by the air.

3. Earth is the support of the world, the basis of the elements, the nurse of the living beings, the receptacle of the dead, for it comes last after fire and water, since it became what it is after fire and water. What is the power of the world? To keep up forever the immortal beings, such as they came into being, and to always change the mortal.

4. Water is a fecund essence, the support of the earth, as a nutritive essence.

5. Fire is a sterile essence, the duration of the immortal bodies and the destruction of the mortal: an infertile substance, in as much it belongs to the destructive fire which makes things disappear; and the perpetuation of the immortal beings, since what cannot be destroyed by fire is immortal and indestructible, but the mortal can be destroyed by fire.

6. Light is a good, a clear vision, which makes appear all of the visible things. The essence of fire is burning. However, fire is one thing and light is another one. For what fire has reached shall be destroyed, but light appears just as it is by itself. Every move of soul is perceived by Nous, since it is some kind of energy, breath performs it.


1. Nothing is uninhabited by God, for where heaven is, God is too, and where the world is, heaven is too. I think that God is in heaven, and heaven in the world.

2. Many places are uninhabited by humans, for where the world is, the earth is too, but man is not on every earth. The sea is large as well as the earth, but heaven by itself is as much as both the sea and the earth. [And he wanted to say that, by its magnitude, heaven is as much as both the earth and the sea, so large as the two of them may be, since by taking everything into itself, it encompassed it and it contains it enclosed within itself.]

3. Heaven is larger than everything, and the sun than earth and sea, for it extends beyond both of them. However the earth is larger than the sea, because the sea comes from it. And in heaven are all the beings, for it contains the superior ones and it also contains the inferior, enclosing them from every side.

4. God is the good which is previous to all the intelligible beings; God is the father of the intelligible; heaven is the maker of the body. The magnitude of the light of the sun is earth and sea; the magnitude of heaven is the world; the magnitude of the world is God.


1. The living beings in heaven are constituted of fire and air, and those which are on earth of the four elements. Man is a reasonable living being, for he has Nous; but all of the other living beings which are endowed with voice have breath and soul, since all that decreases and increases is a living being.

2. And among the living beings, some are immortal and animated, some have Nous, soul and spirit, some have only spirit, some have soul and spirit, and others only life. For life can acquire consistency without spirit, Nous, soul and immortality, but all of the others without life cannot possibly exist.


1. Reasonable speech is the servant of Nous. For what Nous wants, speech in turn interprets. Nous sees everything, and eyes all corporeal things. And yet Nous does not become an observer for the eyes, but the eyes for Nous.

2. To Nous nothing is incomprehensible, to speech nothing ineffable: when you keep silent, you understand; when you talk, you just talk. Since Nous conceives speech in silence, only that speech which comes from silence and Nous is salvation. But that speech which comes from speech is only perdition; for by his body man is mortal, but by speech he is immortal.

3. Who does not understand speech has no Nous, who talks without Nous says nothing: since he understands nothing, he has no Nous and he talks, for his talk is a crowd and a crowd has neither Nous nor reasonable speech. Speech endowed with Nous is a gift of God; speech without Nous is a finding of man. Only man has Nous and speech.


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