Re: [Gnosticism] gnostics & trismegistus at nag hammadi 4
- Subj: interlude on the hermetic dialogue (& translation)
Date: 4/27/02 4:02:57 AM Eastern Daylight Time
Hello fellow poly-logue-ians!
Before proceeding to a reading of "The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth" I want to take a brief look at 1) the dialogue form which we find in the hermetic texts &2) the translation question as it relates to their reading.
1. The Dialogue
In the "Asclepius", and in the "Discourse on the 8th &9th" (which is not the original title of that tractate in the nag hammadi material, where it has none: the present title was given it by 20th century scholars), &in many other texts of the hermetic corpus, we find teachings/philosophy presented in the form of a dialogue, a series of verbal exchanges between two, one of whom is always Hermes Trismegistus ('father'/initiator/teacher/) and the other ('son'/initiate/student'). This latter is sometimes given a name (Tat or Asclepius or Ammon), and sometimes remains nameless (renaims maneless?) -- as in the "Discourse On 8 &9" to come.
We can find parallels to the hermetic in the platonic dialogue: there the privileged voice is generally named "Socrates" and the other is generally a student or learner with respect to Socrates' teachings/learnings. We begin by assuming in both cases that the privileged voice (Socrates/Hermes3x) somehow represents the writer of the text in question, and that the other voice represents the reader (& thus us) trying to understand the mind of the writer. Now this is part of what happens every time we read, of course, but in this kind of dialogue the asymmetry between writer &reader is presented to be read. This reflection of the asymmetry in the text generates irony, &throws the easy identification of writer, &reader, into question. In other words, Plato, or the writer of the hermetic dialogues, does not tell us (the reader) what he wants to say straight out (as in a philosophic monologue/monograph) but rather presents some one presenting it to some other. This makes the question of exactly which is which ultimately indeterminate (or ironic).
The earliest example of this dialogue form of which I am aware has been discussed earlier on this list: "Rebel in the Soul, An Ancient Egyptian Dialogue bnetween a Man and his Destiny", the title given by translator Bika Reed of hieratic papyrus 3024 in the Berlin Museum. see:
It first appeared about 1500 years before Plato. There too we have a privileged voice, that of the Soul as it speaks with the Man, and there too the discourse is not without its ironies...
2. the translation question
The question of translation came up earlier with regard to "Rebel in the Soul" (papyrus 3024) as well, with the Bika Reed translation differing markedly from the more academic &literal Faulkner. (See Daniel's post at the time:
By contrast, Plato's texts and their translation are much more firmly established. -- This cannot be said of the hermetic texts. In the case of the Nag Hammadi material, we have Coptic translations of Greek, with lacunae, or gaps. To give an idea of the possible accuracy of the Coptic translations found at Nag Hammadi there is, immediately preceding the "Discourse on the 8th &9th" in codex VI, ironically enough, the translation of a short passage from Plato's republic into Coptic.
For those interested it is appended below in english translation, following the Jowett english translation of that same passage from Plato.
...On to the Eighth...
(B Jowett translation of Plato, Republic 588A-589B)
Well, I said, and now having arrived at this stage of the argument, we may revert to the words which brought us hither: Was not some one saying that injustice was a gain to the perfectly unjust who was reputed to be just?
Yes, that was said.
Now then, having determined the power and quality of justice and injustice, let us have a little conversation with him.
What shall we say to him?
Let us make an image of the soul, that he may have his own words presented before his eyes.
Of what sort?
An ideal image of the soul, like the composite creations of ancient mythology, such as the Chimera or Scylla or Cerberus, and there are many others in which two or more different natures are said to grow into one.
There are said of have been such unions.
Then do you now model the form of a multitudinous, many-headed monster, having a ring of heads of all manner of beasts, tame and wild, which he is able to generate and metamorphose at will.
You suppose marvellous powers in the artist; but, as language is more pliable than wax or any similar substance, let there be such a model as you propose.
Suppose now that you make a second form as of a lion, and a third of a man, the second smaller than the first, and the third smaller than the second.
That, he said, is an easier task; and I have made them as you say.
And now join them, and let the three grow into one.
That has been accomplished.
Next fashion the outside of them into a single image, as of a man, so that he who is not able to look within, and sees only the outer hull, may believe the beast to be a single human creature. I have done so, he said.
And now, to him who maintains that it is profitable for the human creature to be unjust, and unprofitable to be just, let us reply that, if he be right, it is profitable for this creature to feast the multitudinous monster and strengthen the lion and the lion-like qualities, but to starve and weaken the man, who is consequently liable to be dragged about at the mercy of either of the other two; and he is not to attempt to familiarize or harmonize them with one another --he ought rather to suffer them to fight and bite and devour one another.
Certainly, he said; that is what the approver of injustice says.
To him the supporter of justice makes answer that he should ever so speak and act as to give the man within him in some way or other the most complete mastery over the entire human creature.
He should watch over the many-headed monster like a good husbandman, fostering and cultivating the gentle qualities, and preventing the wild ones from growing; he should be making the lion-heart his ally, and in common care of them all should be uniting the several parts with one another and with himself.
nag hammadi Plato, Republic 588A-589B
Translated [from the coptic translation found at Nag Hammadi] by James Brashler
"Since we have come to this point in a discussion, let us again take up the first things that were said to us. And we will find that he says, 'Good is he who has been done injustice completely. He is glorified justly.' Is not this how he was reproached?" "This is certainly the fitting way!"
And I said, "Now then, we have spoken because he said that he who does injustice and he who does justice each has a force."
"He said, 'An image that has no likeness is the rationality of soul,' so that he who said these things will understand. He [...] or not? We [...] is for me. But all [...] who told them [...] ruler, these now have become natural creatures - even Chimaera and Cerberus and all the rest that were mentioned. They all came down and they cast off forms and images. And they all became a single image. It was said, 'Work now!' Certainly it is a single image that became the image of a complex beast with many heads. Some days indeed it is like the image of a wild beast. Then it is able to cast off the first image. And all these hard and difficult forms emanate from it with effort, since these are formed now with arrogance. And also all the rest that are like them are formed now through the word. For now it is a single image. For the image of the lion is the one thing and the image of the man is another. [...] single [...] is the [...] of [...] join. And this [...] much more complex than the first. And the second is small."
"It has been formed."
"Now then, join them to each other and make them a single one - for they are three - so that they grow together, and all are in a single image outside of the image of the man just like him who is unable to see the things inside him. But what is outside only is what he sees. And it is apparent what creature his image is in and that he was formed in a human image.
"And I spoke to him who said that there is profit in the doing of injustice for the man. He who does injustice truly does not profit nor does he benefit. But what is profitable for him is this: that he cast down every image of the evil beast and trample them along with the images of the lion. But the man is in weakness in this regard. And all the things that he does are weak. As a result he is drawn to the place where he spends time with them. [...]. And he [...] to him in[...]. But he brings about [...] enmity [...]. And with strife they devour each other among themselves. Yes, all these things he said to everyone who praises the doing of injustice."
"Then is it not profitable for him who speaks justly?"
"And if he does these things and speaks in them, within the man they take hold firmly. Therefore especially he strives to take care of them and he nourishes them just like the farmer nourishes his produce daily. And the wild beasts keep it from growing.
Selection made from James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.