Since we’ve been talking about weird ways medieval stories were reimagined in regard to Zoroaster’s Pillars of Wisdom, I thought I’d bring up one final weird version of a (somewhat) related myth. You will recall that an earlier builder of the Pillars of Wisdom was Hermes, who in Arabic-language histories had these pillars identified with the two largest pyramids of Giza. These were said to be the tombs of Hermes and his teacher, Agathodaemon. For example, Abd Al-Latif al-Baghdadi’s Account of Egypt (c. 1200) says that “one of these two Pyramids is the tomb of Agathodaemon, and the other of Hermes, who are said to have been two great prophets, of whom Agathodaemon was the most famous and the most ancient” (trans. Joseph White).
The exact relationship of Agathodaemon to Hermes isn’t clear. Sometimes, as in Lactantius’ Hermetic fragment, Agathodaemon is the teacher of Osiris, not Hermes. But in Arabian mythology, the relationship can go two ways. Al-Kindi makes Agathodaemon the pupil of Hermes, while Mubashshir and Al-Qifti make Agathodaemon Hermes’ teacher. Al-Mas‘udi puts Agathodaemon a thousand years before Hermes.
At some point, though, Arabian historians tried euhemerizing or historicizing the myth of Hermes and his pals. One version of that is the famous story of Surid, a historical king perhaps indirectly derived from Khufu (via the intermediate form Suphis), building the pyramids before the Flood. A much more interesting euhemerizing can be found in Al-Idrisi’s book on the pyramids.
Sadly, this book seems never to have been published in a language I can read, so I have not been able to review the full context of the passage. From what I can gather, in the chapter on pyramid myths and legends Al-Idrisi presents with disapproval what he claims to be a Jewish pyramid legend presented by Joseph ben Gorion (Ibn Krion), the alleged author of the Josippon: “Aristotle was buried in one of them [the two pyramids] and Alexander was not buried in the other” (trans. Okasha El Daly). The story does not appear in the Josippon as we have received it and is known only from Al-Idrisi and from an apparent copy of Al-Idrisi’s claim found in a late seventeenth century Arabic text. Both the seventeenth century book and author have exceptionally long names, which I will omit.
Aristotle was Alexander’s teacher, and it is highly tempting to see this otherwise inexplicable tale as a corrupt euhemerizing of the relationship between Agathodaemon and Hermes mitigated through the supernaturalism of the Alexander Romance. Alexander, after all, was long suspected—since Classical Antiquity—of possessing the secrets of the gods, like Hermes (e.g. Plutarch, Life of Alexander 27.3; Cyprian, Treatise VI “On the Vanity of Idols,” sec. 3; etc.). In fact, Athenagoras, in the Embassy for the Christians 28 (176 or 177 CE), explicitly compares “Alexander and Hermes surnamed Trismegistus, who shares with them (the gods) in the attribute of eternity” (trans. B. P. Pratten), since both possessed the truth about the gods, that they were merely ancient humans. Indeed, in Hermetic lore, by the Middle Ages, Alexander had usurped the position of Balinas (Apollonius of Tyana), as Albertus Magnus wrote in De secretic chemicis: “Alexander the Great discovered the sepulchre of Hermes, in one of his journeys, full of all treasures, not metallic, but golden, written on a table of zatadi, which others call emerald” (trans. Thomas Thomson).
Whatever the real source of Idrisi’s story, it looks like it’s a corrupt euhemerizing of the medieval pyramid myth via Hermetic and/or Kabbalistic material.
6/14/2015 05:23:24 am
By "Al-Idrisi's book on the pyramids" do you mean 13th century historian Abu Jafar Al-Idrisi's "Anwar 'uli al-ajram fil-kashf 'an asrar al-ahram" [variously referred to in English as "Book of the Lights of the Pyramids" or "Light on the Voluminous Bodies to Reveal the Secrets of the Pyramids"]?
6/14/2015 06:01:18 am
Yes, that would be the one. The books I've read said that it remained unpublished in modern times until quite recently, and then only in Arabic facsimile.
6/14/2015 08:27:24 am
Yes, this Al-Idrisi seems a lot less fashionable than the earlier geographer. So far the most interesting vaguely relevant thing I've found is "L' abrégé des merveilles"- link is to the beginning of the section on Surid:
6/14/2015 06:14:27 am
I dunno Jaon, this series on how myth & legend transformed int bad history has me wondering if Jesus really was a space alien.
6/14/2015 06:39:02 am
If Jesus wasn't an alien, then how do you explain this unaltered photo of the crucifixion?
6/14/2015 09:37:27 am
Scott Wolter needs to investigate the question of who built the pyramids in his new show (if there really is one). He could fly to Eqypt, ride a camel to the pyramids, hammer on them for thirty-six seconds, find some ancient runes, then date them to the time of Henry Sinclair and conclude that they were built by the Knights Templar. Then state that anyone who doesn't follow his line of reasoning is just not looking at the evidence.
6/14/2015 01:53:10 pm
There's a third season of "Forbidden History" being filmed for the UK Yesterday Channel. Bruce Burgess must have big friends in broadcasting.
6/14/2015 08:15:28 pm
The Yesterday channel can't just show repeats of old BBC shows all the time- it would risk losing its Freeview transmitter slot. Therefore it needs to make a few new programmes very cheaply.
6/14/2015 11:11:18 pm
But we know what's going to be shown on each episode of "Forbidden History" before it's even shown. There is absolutely nothing new on any of the episodes of "Forbidden History" that you haven't already read about in the KOOK BOOKS. So in a way it is repeated material.
6/14/2015 11:24:08 pm
Season 2 of Forbidden History has been uploaded to Youtube.
6/14/2015 11:30:09 pm
There was a time in the UK - seems a long time ago now - when there documentaries like Horizon, Timewatch, Equinox, QED, Ancient Voices, and others - that were genuinely educational - and showed fresh material if not new material that was researched by the documentary makers themselves. This is sorely missed.
6/14/2015 11:40:22 pm
The old Horizon and old Timewatch would have made a documentary special about the Talpiot tomb and would have confronted the likes of Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor on camera, and would have confronted them with passages from Gnostic texts about how wrong they were misrepresenting Gnosticism by misinterpreting hand-picked passages given out of context.
6/14/2015 06:45:39 pm
Looks like Scotty updated his blog:
6/16/2015 06:04:57 am
The exaggeration of Alexander's deeds is an Arabic specialty. Interestingly, Plato's Atlantis is rarely mentioned in Arabic sources, as well as in Byzantine sources. Some want to see Alantis in the city of brass, but I heavily doubt this analogy.
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