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The Corpus Hermeticum and Ibn Sab’in

What exposure might Ibn Sab’in have had to the so-called Corpus Hermeticum, or collection of revelatory and philosophical texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus?

In the Fihrist of al-Nadim (d. 380/ 991) several tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum are noted as having been translated into Arabic. Among these are Hirmis ila ibnihi (Hermes to His Son) and Hirmis ila Tat (Hermes to Tat). These works may correspond to libellus (tractate) V (‘Hermes to His Son Tat’) and libellus IV (‘Hermes to Tat’, also known as The Bowl [Krater]).

Other Hermetic texts that were translated into Arabic include Kitab al-asrar (The Book of Secrets), Kitab al haritusKitab al-malatisKitab al-istamākhisKitāb al salmātisKitāb arminasKitāb nitādasKitab al-adkhiqi, and Kitāb damānus.

Kitab al-asrar or ‘The Book of Secrets’ may refer to libellus III (A Holy Discourse of Hermes Trismegistus’) on the unity of Mind and nature. Kitab arminas is most likely libellus XVI (‘An Epistle of Asclepius to Ammon), which was also known by the Greek title, Peri heimarmenes (On Destiny). Kitāb al-salmāțis may refer to libelli XVII and XVIII, on the nature of corporeal and incorporeal images (Gr. eidola somata/asomata). Kitāb damānūs is probably Poimandres, the title under which libelli I and XIII (and sometimes I-XIII inclusive) appeared in late antiquity.

Thus, from the evidence given by al-Nadim, it is thus possible to conclude that at least seven, and maybe as many as sixteen of the eighteen tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum were available in Arabic during Ibn Sab’in’s lifetime.

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