Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism

  • Wouter J. HanegraaffEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_180-1


The so-called philosophical Hermetica were written down in Egypt in the second to third centuries. They are concerned with philosophical and spiritual teachings about how to find salvation through the attainment of suprarational knowledge (gnosis). Western intellectuals during the Middle Ages had access only to the Latin Asclepius, and the core teachings of this tradition were no longer understood. They became available again during the second half of the fifteenth century, when manuscripts of the Corpus Hermeticum reached Italy from Byzantium and were translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino (C.H. I–XIV) and Lodovico Lazzarelli (C.H. XVI–XVIII). According to a highly influential but now discredited narrative created by Frances A. Yates since the 1960s, this led to a “Hermetic tradition” represented by major Renaissance intellectuals such as Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Giordano Bruno. In fact, none of these thinkers can be properly described as “Hermeticists” or adherents of a “Hermetic philosophy”: most of them are more appropriately labeled “Platonic Orientalists” with a special interest in ancient Egyptian, Persian, or Hebrew wisdom (attributed, respectively, to Hermes, Zoroaster, or Moses). The true story of Renaissance Hermetism is considerably more modest but fascinating on its own terms. Its central representative was the relatively unknown poet and humanist Lodovico Lazzarelli, whose work became a major influence on Cornelius Agrippa.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Section editors and affiliations

  • Teodoro Katinis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Literary StudiesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium