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Albertus Magnus and Hermes Trismegistus - An Update

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Text of Albertus Magnus and Hermes Trismegistus - An Update


    David Porreca

    ALBERTUS Magnus's stature as an outstanding philosopher of his time isuniversally acknowledged, and questions regarding the sources of hisideas are always of interest to scholars of intellectual history. The constantattention he devoted to Aristotle and his Arabic commentators (Averroes inparticular) demonstrates their importance to his worldview; yet he differs littlein this respect from other philosophers and theologians of his day. One aspect,however, of his use of authorities does set him apart from his contemporaries:his frequent citation of the mythical author Hermes Trismegistus.' In 1980,the Italian scholar Loris Sturlese published an article on Albert's employmentof Hermetic ideas and texts in his writings,^ and he provided a useful and vir-tually complete table of citations of Hermes in Albert's works. This paper isintended as an update on Sturlese's study. ^ It offers a more complete list of

    This paper is adapted and expanded from a chapter in the author's doctoral dissertation"The Influence of Hermetic Texts on Western European Philosophers and Theologians (1160-1300)" (Warburg Institute, University of London, 2001). Initial research on this topic was con-ducted thanks to the generous assistance of the Social Sciences and Humanities ResearchCouncil of Canada. I have used the following abbreviations in the footnotes:

    Borgnet edition = B. Alberti Magni Ratisbonensis episcopi, ordinis praedicatorum. Operaomnia, ed. Auguste Borgnet, 38 vols. (Paris, 1890-99);

    Cologne edition = Alberti Magni Opera omnia, ed. Bernhard Geyer, Wilhelm Kbel, andLudger Honnefelder, 40 vols, (in progress) (Mnster, 1951-);

    Asclepius = Apulei Platonici Madaurensis opera quae supersunt, vol. 3: De philosophialibri, ed. Claudio Moreschini (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1991)

    ' Other fictional authors whom Albert cites include "Iorach" (Iuba II), De animalibus16.48.1 (ed. Hermann Stadler, Beitrge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters 15 and16 [Mnster, 1916-20], 16:1405); "Nicolaus Peripateticus," ibid. 13.32.7 (ed. Stadler, 16:918)and Depraedicamentis 5.12 (Borgnet edition 1:266); "Theodorus," De animalibus 16.38.4 (ed.Stadler, 16:1074); and "Abrutallus," De homine (ed. Henryk Anzulewicz and Joachim R.Sder, Cologne edition 27.2 [2008], 128).

    ^ Loris Sturlese, "Saints et magiciens: Albert le Grand en face d'Herms Trismgiste,"Archives de philosophie 43 (1980): 615-34. See also his Vernunft und Glck: Die Lehre vom"intellectus adeptus" und die mentale Glckseligkeit bei Albert dem Groen (Mnster, 2005), 4n. 12, 18-27,29.

    ^ Other studies which have dealt with various aspects of Albert's works tangentially relat-

    Mediaeval Studies 72 (2010): 245-81. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

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    references to Hermes in Albert's works,'' yet it cannot claim to be the defini-tive study on this topic since critical editions of Albert's complete works arenot yet available. A digital text project entitled Alberti Magni e-corpus, onceit is complete, will allow for the compilation of a definitive list of referencesto Hermes in Albert's writings.^ It should also be noted that the present studyonly analyzes Albert's use of the authority he himself openly recognized asHermes rather than statements modem scholars have identified as having theirorigin in works attributed to Hermes.*

    ing to his use of Hermes include Paolo Lucentini, "L'ermetismo mgico nel seclo XIII," in Sicitur ad astra. Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften: Festschriftirden Arabisten Paul Kunitzsch zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Menso Folkerts and Richard Lorch(Wiesbaden, 2000), 409-50, esp. 429-38; Alain de Libera, Mtaphysique et notique Albert leGrand (Paris, 2005), esp. 168-78; and idem, "La face cache du monde," Critique 59 (2003):430-48, esp. 439^8.

    "* To Sturlese's list of references to Hermes in Albert ("Saints et magiciens," 633-34) thefollowing seven items may be added: IVSententiarum 44.8 (Borgnet edition 30:557); De mine-ralibus 1.1.1 (in addition to the one aleady in Sturlese's list); De somno et vigilia 3.1.10 (Borg-net edition 9:193); De vegetabilibus (ed. Ernst Meyer and Carl Jessen [Berlin, 1867], 647);Ethica 10.2.3 (Borgnet edition 7:629); Super lob 28.2 (ed. Melchior Weiss [Freiburg, 1904],col. 308); and Super Porphyrium de V universalibus 1.6 (ed. Manuel Santos Noya, Cologneedition LIA [2004], 11-12). Sturlese's reference to Albert's Summa theologica shouldbe corrected to Summa theologica For a tabulated list of all identified references toHermes in Albert's works, see pp. 254-57 below.

    ' Bruno Tremblay established the Alberti Magni e-corpus project as a fully searchable,freely available digital version of Borgnet's edition of Albert's works. The project has beenmade possible through the support of the Canada Foundation for Innovation New OpportunitiesFund Award and can be found at

    '' This caveat applies in particular to a passage in Albertus Magnus, De bono 1.2.2 (ed.Heinrich Khle et al., Cologne edition 28 [1951], 25 n. 59), where Albert, while discussinghow different authorities describe the divisions of the "good," attributes to Augustine a state-ment saying that it is divided into "substance, species and reason" ("substantia, species, ratio").Editors have traced this claim to a Hermetic work in Arabic entitled De castigatione animae14.7. Other of Albert's predecessors and contemporaries used this triad and attributed it toHermes, but since he himself did not, the passage has been excluded from further considerationin this study. See Hermetis Trismegisti De castigatione animae libellus, ed. Otto Bardenhewer(Bonn, 1873), 113-14. For other thirteenth-century references to this triad, see Alexander ofHales, Glossa in quatuor libros Sententiarum, ed. PP. Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 4 vols. (Qua-racchi, 1951), \:5\, Alexandri de Hales Summa theologica (Summa fratris Alexandri) 1 n . l l 3 ,ed. PP. Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 4 vols. (Quaracchi, 1924-48), 1:179; John Peckham, Super ISententiarum 3.6, Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Conv. Sopp. G.IV.854, fol. 18ra;Odo Rigaldus, In I Sententiarum 3, in Alexandri de Hales Summa theologica 4:ccxxx; andRichard Fishacre, De vestigio Trinitatis 3 (ed. Friedrich Stegmller in Archives d'histoiredoctrinale et littraire du Moyen ge 10-11 [1935-36], 330). For a tacit reference to Hermesthat has been included in this study, and the criteria for including it, see p. 278 and n. 118below.


    Albert's opinion regarding Hermes as a person as well as his reaction to theideas found in the Hermetic writings can be gleaned from a study of the pas-sages in which Hermes is cited. Cases in which Albert uses Hermes to supporthis arguments, refutes Hermetic ideas, remains ambivalent, or expresses noopinion will all be examined in order to assess the overall impact on Albert'sthought. The picture that will emerge is one in which Albert uses the Her-metic writings in a piecemeal fashion, not considering the corpus as a cohe-rent whole. Hermes was employed frequently throughout Albert's career inrecurrent contexts, such as his discussions of fate, of the nature and ftanctionof the human intellect, and of the universal order of causes. A ftirther sectionwill examine the references to Hermes that are drawn from the latter's non-philosophical, so-called "technical" works which are associated more closelywith the history of science than with the history of philosophy. Prior to inves-tigating Albert's opinion of Hermes' ideas, however, we should first examinewho he thought Hermes was and what contact he had with Hermetic material.

    Albert paints a very diverse picture of Hermes, with many and varied fa-cets, if one considers all of his descriptions to apply to a single character. Itappears that he was conftised as to the position Hermes held in the chronologyof philosophers, sometimes placing him before Pythagoras, Empedocles, So-crates, and Plato, and at other times making him their follower.'' Albert de-scribes him as the "flrst of the Egyptians,"^ "the most ancient father,"' the"flrst philosopher,""' a "magus,"" the "leader and father of alchemy,"'^ the

    ' Sturiese, "Saints et magieiens," 618-19; Hermes as prior to other authors: Albertus Mag-nus, De celo et mundo 1.1.2 (ed. Paul Hossfeld, Cologne edition 5.1 [1971], 5); Metaphysica1.1.2 (ed. Bernhard Geyer, Cologne edition 16.1 [1960], 4); De mineralibus 1.1.4, 2.3.3, 3.1.6(Borgnet edition 5:6, 51, 66; Dorothy Wyckoff, Albertus Magnus: Book of Minerals [Oxford,1967)], 19, 134, 168); Problemata determinata, quaestio 1 (ed. James Weisheipl, Cologneedition 17.1 [1975], 48); Super Iohannem, prol. (Borgnet edition 24:15). Hermes as follower:Physica 2.1.5 (ed. Paul Hossfeld, Cologne edition 4.1 [1987], 83).

    * Albertus Magnus, De celo et mundo 1.1.9 (Cologne edition 5.1:23): "tam Graeci philo-sophi . . . quam etiam alii ex gentibus Chaldaeorum et Aegyptiorum, quorum primus fuit Her-mes Trismegistus...."

    ' Ibid. 2.1.1 (Cologne edition 5.1:106): "Et hoc quidem optime traditum est ab antiquis-simo patre Hermete Trimegisto in libro de natura dei et veneratione."

    '" Albertus Magnus, Problemata determinata 1 (Cologne edition 17.1:48): "refert Augusti-nus in libro de Civitate dei, quod primus philosophus Hermes Trismegistus ... dixit quod deus(est) anima "

    " Albertus Magnus, De mineralibus 2.2.4 (Borgnet edition 5:34): "ex libris magorum Her-metis, et Ptolemaei, Thebith Bencorath [sic in Erlangen, Universittsbibliothek 206, fol. 130ra;Beneherath in Borgnet]..."; cf Wyckoff, Minerals, 86.

    '^ Ibid. 3.2.3 (Borgnet edition 5:78): "Propter quod Hermes dux et pater alchimiae dicit..."; cf. Wyckoff, Minerals, 192.

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