Sienna's Reviews > The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times

The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus by Florian Ebeling
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's review
Nov 11, 2011

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bookshelves: 2011, research
Read in November, 2011

This was a very interesting read, providing a glimpse into contemporary German-language Hermetic scholarship. Ebeling suggests that the Hermetic 'tradition' ought to be made plural, rightly pointing out that Ficino's translation of the Corpus Hermeticum only constituted a resurrection in Italy, where Neoplatonists and humanists embraced its philosophical and theological aphorisms. The more technical Hermetic texts (like the Tabula Smaragdina) had persisted through the medieval period in northern climes. Paracelsus and his followers exemplify the latter tradition, although Ebeling never really defines what he means by a Paracelsist (I assume iatrochemistry is involved), and we only get the namesake's background fifty pages after first encountering that word. This chronological account suffers a bit from both structural and translation issues, with confusing references to the Renaissance in the chapter on antiquity, Martin Luther's 1526 work on fanaticism worryingly dated to the late seventeenth century (p. 109), and a bunch of X-Y descriptors that must have worked brilliantly in German, the language of endless compound nouns, but serve only to muddle in English simply because there are so many of them (alchemo-Paracelsist, philosophical-theological, Hermetic-Platonic, magical-cabalistic, etc., etc.). Add inconsistent spelling (Pimander, Poemander, Pymander?) and use of the possessive apostrophe and my inner editor was apoplectic. Plenty of good stuff within these pages if you can put up with the editorial flaws, though.
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