In antiquity, a fascinating Hermetic work focused on alchemy was lost, leaving us with only fragments to piece together its wisdom. Zosimos, the renowned alchemist from Panopolis in Upper Egypt, who lived during the late third or early fourth century, serves as our witness to this enigmatic work.
Zosimos mentions the lost Hermetic work in a treatise addressed to a fellow alchemist, Theosebeia, which exists in a Syriac translation and a Greek excerpt found in the Chronographia of George Syncellus.
The holy scriptures, that is the books, say, my lady, that there is a race of demons who avail themselves of women. Hermes also mentioned this in his Physica, and nearly every book, esoteric and exoteric, makes mention of this. So the ancient and divine scriptures said this, that certain angels lusted after women, and having descended taught them all the works of
nature. And since they stumbled thanks to these women, he says (φησί), they remained outside heaven, because they taught the humans everything wicked and nothing benefiting the soul. The same scriptures say that from them the giants were born. The first transmission from them regarding these arts is (by?) Chemeu (ἡ πρώτη παράδοσις Χημεῦ). He called (ἐκάλεσε) this the book of Chemeu, whence also the art is called chemeia,
and so forth.
The subject for “he called” (ἐκάλεσε) must be Hermes, and we may infer that Chemeu is the title of one of the books of the Physica of Hermes, named after the revealer. The identity of Chemeu (Χημεῦ) remains somewhat uncertain, as it can be the title of a book or the name of the revealer.
It has been suggested that the term “chemeia” (χημεία) may be rooted in the Egyptian word “km,” meaning “black,” alluding to Egypt’s “black land” (Kemet), or the black, primal matter employed in alchemy.
It is also possible that Chemeu refers to the Middle Egyptian book called Kemit, a “completion” or anthology, popular until the Hellenistic era. Some scholars link the word “alchemy” to χύμα, while others propose its association with the Akkadian verb “kamû/kawû,” both signifying transformative processes. Nevertheless, the Egyptian derivation appears more plausible in the context of Zosimos and Hermes.
From the passage of Zosimus, we can deduce that the Physica of Hermes contained a book on alchemy called Chemeu. Chemeu is likely the one who first revealed the art of chemeia to Hermes, and the name likely refers to Kemet, the “black land” of Egypt, though a double entendre with km, “to complete,” might also be intended.
In the True Book of Sophe the Egyptian, it is mentioned that the symbol of chemeia (χημείας σύμβολον) is given from the creation of the world (κοσμοποιΐας) to those who save and purify the divine part of their soul, which is trapped in matter.
Chemeu and Agathodaimon
Olympiodorus, another commentator on Zosimos, identifies Chemeu with Agathodaimon, the “Good Demon” who published “the chemeutic book” (βίβλον ἐκτίθησιν χημευτικὴν).
Agathodaimon takes on various identities, such as an ancient Egyptian philosopher, a mysterious angel associated with the mysteries, the guardian daimon of Egypt, or even a divine representation of the cosmos. An anonymous alchemical fragment also mentions adherents of Agathodaimon (οἱ Ἀγαθοδαιμονῖται).
Both Chemeu and Agathodaimon are associated with the profound concept of “The all is one”.
In the Authentic Memoirs of Zosimus there is an image of the Ouroboros surrounding the slogan “The all is one” (ἕν τὸ πᾶν) together with other alchemical images.
A similar saying is attributed to Chymes in a work by Zosimus:
“Indeed the all is one, and through it the all has come into being. The all is one. And if the all were not to contain all, the all would not have come to be.”
It is fascinating that a variant of the same saying is also attributed to Agathodaimon In Corpus Hermeticum XII:
Therefore I always listened when Agathodaimon spoke, and if he had published it in writing it would have been of great help for humankind. For only he, my son, since he looked down on everything as first-born god, truly spoke divine words. Anyway, I once heard him say that “the all is one, and especially intelligible bodies.”
Unfortunately, both Zosimos as well as Hermes do not make it clear if Agathodaimon was a human teacher. He might have been a divinized human teacher, maybe even the first human who ascended to godhood.
We also encounter a variant of “The all is one” in Book X of the Corpus Hermeticum called The Key:
“This is the administration of the all, which depends on the nature of the one and which extends through one mind … this is the Agathodaimon” (καὶ αὕτη ἡ τοῦ παντὸς διοίκησις, ἠρτημένη ἐκ τῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς φύσεως καὶ διήκουσα δι’ ἑνὸς τοῦ νοῦ … οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθὸς δαίμων).
From Zosimus, we learn that Hermes in his Physica likely claimed to have received the art of alchemy as a revelation from Chemeu. And from Olympiodorus we learn that Chemeu is identified with Agathodaimon.
From the Corpus Hermeticum, we learn that an essential element of the teaching of Agathodaimon was that “The all is one,” symbolized by the serpent which bites its own tail, the Ouroboros. An image we encounter in the Authentic Memoirs of Zosimus.
From the True Book of Sophe the Egyptian, we learn that alchemy was given to Mankind to save and purify our divine soul which is embodied/trapped in matter. The same salvation Hermes teaches us in his Corpus Hermeticum. We might even conclude that “al-chemeia” is the same as Hermeticism as they both have the same goal and the same divine teacher(s).
Source: Wicked Angels and the Good Demon: The Origins of Alchemy According to the Physica of Hermes by Christian H. Bull