Who is Hermes Trismegistus and Thoth?
The main character in the Corpus Hermeticum is Hermes Trismegistus. In ancient Greek religion, Hermes was the messenger of the gods, the patron saint of borders, and of those who had to cross borders, such as travelers and shepherds.
Hermes was associated with human activities that require alert intelligence, whether directed toward good or evil ends. Therefore, Hermes was also the patron of orators, poets, men of letters, inventors, and athletes, but also of thieves and liars.
In the Hellenistic era, Hermes became associated with the Egyptian god Thoth. Thoth is the heart and tongue of the sun god Ra. Thoth communicates Ra’s will. Thoth’s task is both to maintain universal harmony by keeping good and evil in a state of perfect equilibrium, and to establish the exact proportions of the celestial bodies whose motions he governs.
For this reason, Thoth is often associated with (moral) law. Thoth is the ‘secretary’ of the gods and one of the duties he performs in this role is to record the results when a deceased’s heart is weighed against the feather of Ma’at, wife of Thoth and goddess of Justice.
If the heart of the deceased is heavier than the feather of Ma’at due to sins committed during life, then the deceased will be found guilty and sentenced to hellish punishments. Thoth is also the inventor of writing, the hieroglyphic alphabet, science, religion, philosophy, and magic.
In the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes Trismegistus is generally the one who brings man the divine revelation about God, reality, the cosmos, and the true nature of man. The identity of the recipient of Hermes’ revelation varies. Sometimes the recipient is Asclepius, other times it is Tat, who is sometimes considered the son of Hermes. But King Ammon also receives revelations.
The bringer of the divine revelation may also vary. In the first Hermetic treatise, entitled Poimandres, it is Poimandres, not Hermes, who is the divine revealer, while in Book 11 of the Corpus Hermeticum, the bringer of the divine revelation is Nous, the divine intellect. Finally, there are Hermetic treatises in which the hearer of the revelation is not addressed by a specific name. Sometimes he is just a son listening to his father’s lessons.