hermes trimegistus

Hermetic Transmission Into the Arabic World

The Sassanian Empire of Iran began in the third century when a noble family of Persia overthrew the Parthian king and established the Sassanid dynasty to control all of Iran and Mesopotamia. Later, during the Islamic conquest of Iran while the language of the Muslim converts and their descendants shifted to Arabic, education and literacy in Middle Persian died out.

Texts that were deemed important were translated into Arabic, but not many texts in Middle Persian survive to this day unless they have been specially preserved by the priests of the old Iranian Magian religion.

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We have reasonable evidence that at least part of the Arabic Hermetica derived from Middle Persian and, ultimately, Indian sources.

-Charles Burnett


A number of scientific texts were translated from Greek into Middle Persian in the Sassanian Persian Empire, and then later translated into Arabic during the late-eighth to the early-ninth century.

All Middle Persian versions of these texts have been lost, along with most of the literature of that language, but some survive in Arabic translations.

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One of these texts is the Kitāb Asrār an-nujūm of Hermes (The Secrets of the Stars).
The second of these texts is titled (in English) The Book of Hermes on Revolutions of the Years of the Nativities, as ‘Umar ibn al-Farruhān at-Tabarī Translated It from Persian into Arabic, it Being the Rod of Gold.

And the third Hermetic text we have in Arabic that came from a Middle Persian translation is the Carmen Astrologicum of Dorotheus which contains references to Hermes Trismegistus and also implies the existence of an Hermetic astrological work that seemed to be known in Middle Persian. Besides these main three translations of Middle Persian Hermetic texts we also have many references of astrologers in Iran crediting and giving mention to Hermes.

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The legend of a Persian Ostanes as a revealer of Hermetic wisdom in Egypt circulated along with the works of a third-century alchemist, Zosimus, who cites both Hermes and Ostanes in his works.

What is certain is that the earliest appearances of Hermes in Arabic, in the eighth century, is from Middle Persian tradition, and not the Greek.

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