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Hermetic Library discussions
translated by G.R.S. Mead
XVII. The Encomium of Kings
(About the Soul’s being Hindered by the Passion of the Body)
1. [Now] in the case of those professing the harmonious art of muse-like melody—if, when the piece is played, the discord of the instruments doth hinder their intent, its rendering becomes ridiculous.
For when his instruments are quite too weak for what’s required of them, the music-artist needs must be laughed at by the audience.
For He, with all good will, gives of His art unweariedly; they blame the [artist’s] weakness.
He then who is the Natural Musician-God, not only in His making of the harmony of His [celestial] songs, but also in His sending forth the rhythm of the melody of His own song[s] right down unto the separate instruments, is, as God, never wearied.
For that with God there is no growing weary.
2. So, then, if ever a musician desires to enter into the highest contest of his art he can—when now the trumpeters have rendered the same phrase of the [composer’s] skill, and afterwards the flautists played the sweet notes of the melody upon their instruments, and they complete the music of the piece with pipe and plectrum—[if any thing goes wrong,] one does not lay the blame upon the inspiration of the music-maker.
Nay, [by no means,]—to him one renders the respect that is his due; one blames the falseness of the instrument, in that it has become a hindrance to those who are most excellent—embarrassing the maker of the music in [the execution of] his melody, and robbing those who listen of the sweetness of the song.
3. In like way also, in our case, let no one of our audience for the weakness that inheres in body, blame impiously our Race.
Nay, let him know God is Unwearied Spirit—for ever in the self-same way possessed of His own science, unceasing in His joyous gifts, the self-same benefits bestowing everywhere.
4. And if the Pheidias—the Demiurge—is not responded to, by lack of matter to perfect His skilfulness, although for His own part the Artist has done all he can, let us not lay the blame on Him.
But let us, [rather,] blame the weakness of the string, in that, because it is too slack or is too tight, it mars the rhythm of the harmony.
5. So when it is that the mischance occurs by reason of the instrument, no one doth blame the Artist.
Nay, [more;] the worse the instrument doth chance to be, the more the Artist gains in reputation by the frequency with which his hand doth strike the proper note, and more the love the listeners pour upon that Music-maker, without the slightest thought of blaming him.
So will we too, most noble [Sirs], set our own lyre in tune again, within, with the Musician!
6. Nay, I have seen one of the artist-folk—although he had no power of playing on the lyre—when once he had been trained for the right noble theme, make frequent use of his own self as instrument, and tune the service of his string by means of mysteries, so that the listeners were amazed at how he turned necessitude into magnificence.
Of course you know the story of the harper who won the favour of the God who is the president of music-work.
[One day,] when he was playing for a prize, and when the breaking of a string became a hindrance to him in the contest, the favour of the Better One supplied him with another string, and placed within his grasp the boon of fame.
A grasshopper was made to settle on his lyre, through the foreknowledge of the Better One, and [so] fill in the melody in substitution of the [broken] string.
And so by mending of his string the harper’s grief was stayed, and fame of victory was won.
7. And this I feel is my own case, most noble [Sirs]!
For but just now I seemed to make confession of my want of strength, and play the weakling for a little while; but now, by virtue of the strength of [that] Superior One, as though my song about the King had been perfected [by Him, I seem] to wake my muse.
For, you must know, the end of [this] our duty will be the glorious fame of Kings, and the good-will of our discourse (logos) [will occupy itself] about the triumphs which they win.
Come then, let us make haste! For that the singer willeth it, and hath attuned his lyre for this; nay more, more sweetly will he play, more fitly will he sing, as he has for his song the greater subjects of his theme.
8. Since, then, he has the [stringing] of his lyre tuned specially to Kings, and has the key of laudatory songs, and as his goal the Royal praises, let him first raise himself unto the highest King—the God of wholes.
Beginning, [then,] his song from the above, he, [thus,] in second place, descends to those after His likeness who hold the sceptre’s power; since Kings themselves, indeed, prefer the [topics] of the song should step by step descend from the above, and where they have their [gifts of] victory presided o’er for them, thence should their hopes be led in orderly succession.
9. Let, then, the singer start with God, the greatest King of wholes, who is for ever free from death, both everlasting and possessed of [all] the might of everlastingness, the Glorious Victor, the very first, from whom all victories descend to those who in succession do succeed to victory.
10. Our sermon (logos) then, doth hasten to descend to [Kingly] praises and to the Presidents of common weal and peace, the Kings—whose lordship in most ancient times was placed upon the highest pinnacle by God Supreme; for whom the prizes have already been prepared even before their prowess in the war; of whom the trophies have been raised even before the shock of conflict.
For whom it is appointed not only to be Kings but also to be best.
At whom, before they even stir, the foreign land doth quake.
(About the Blessing of the Better [One] and Praising of the King)
11. But now our theme (logos) doth hasten on to blend its end with its beginnings—with blessing of the Better [One]; and then to make a final end of its discourse (logos) on those divinest Kings who give us the [great] prize of peace.
For just as we began [by treating] of the Better [One] and of the Power Above, so let us make the end bend round again unto the same—the Better [One].
Just as the Sun, the nurse of all the things that grow, on his first rising, gathers unto himself the first-fruits of their yield with his most mighty hands, using his rays as though it were for plucking off their fruits—yea, [for] his rays are [truly] hands for him who plucketh first the most ambrosial [essences] of plants—so, too, should we, beginning from the Better [One], and [thus] recipient of His wisdom’s stream, and turning it upon the garden of our souls above the heavens,—we should [direct and] train these [streams] of blessing back again unto their source, [blessing] whose entire power of germination [in us] He hath Himself poured into us.
12. ’Tis fit ten thousand tongues and voices should be used to send His blessings back again unto the all-pure God, who is the Father of our souls; and though we cannot utter what is fit—for we are [far] unequal to the task—[yet will we say what best we can].
For Babes just born have not the strength to sing their Father’s glory as it should be sung; but they give proper thanks for them, according to their strength, and meet with pardon for their feebleness.
Nay, it is rather that God’s glory doth consist in this [one] very thing—that He is greater than His children; and that the prelude and the source, the middle and the end, of blessings, is to confess the Father to be infinitely puissant and never knowing what a limit means.
13. So is it, too, in the King’s case.
For that we men, as though we were the children of the King, feel it our natural duty to give praise to him. Still must we ask for pardon [for our insufficiency], e’en though ’tis granted by our Sire before we [even] ask.
And as it cannot be the Sire will turn from Babes new-born because they are so weak, but rather will rejoice when they begin to recognise [his love]—so also will the Gnosis of the all [rejoice], which doth distribute life to all, and power of giving blessing back to God, which He hath given [us].
14. For God, being Good, and having in Himself eternally the limit of His own eternal fitness, and being deathless, and containing in Himself that lot of that inheritance that cannot come unto an end, and [thus] for ever ever-flowing from out that energy of His, He doth send tidings to this world down here [to urge us] to the rendering of praise that brings us home again.
With Him, therefore, is there no difference with one another; there is no partiality with Him.
But they are one in Thought. One is the Prescience of all. They have one Mind—their Father.
One is the Sense that’s active through them—their passion for each other. ’Tis Love Himself who worketh the one harmony of all.
15. Thus, therefore, let us sing the praise of God.
Nay, rather, let us [first] descend to those who have received their sceptres from Him.
For that we ought to make beginning with our Kings, and so by practising ourselves on them, accustom us to songs of praise, and train ourselves in pious service to the Better [One].
[We ought] to make the very first beginnings of our exercise of praise begin from him, and through him exercise the practice [of our praise], that so there may be in us both the exercising of our piety towards God, and of our praise to Kings.
16. For that we ought to make return to them, in that they have extended the prosperity of such great peace to us.
It is the virtue of the King, nay, ’tis his name alone, that doth establish peace.
He has his name of King because he levelleth the summits of dissension with his smooth tread, and is the lord of reason (logos) that [makes] for peace.
And in as much, in sooth, as he hath made himself the natural protector of the kingdom which is not his native land, his very name [is made] the sign of peace.
For that, indeed, you know, the appellation of the King has frequently at once restrained the foe.
Nay, more, the very statues of the King are peaceful harbours for those most tempest-tossed.
The likeness of the King alone has to appear to win the victory, and to assure to all the citizens freedom from hurt and fear.
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Index | Introduction | The Corpus Hermeticum: I. | II. | III. | IV. | V. | VI. | VII. | VIII. | IX. | X. | XI. | XII. | XIII. | XIV. | XV. | XVI. | XVII.
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