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Wouter Hanegraaff (University of Amsterdam): 'Terrestrial Gods and Statues of Light'

Stargates - The Magic of Images from Heka to the Monas Hieroglyphica is a lecture series dedicated to the material aspects of making magical images. Following a chronological sequence in order to underline the transformations, continuities, and discontinuities from ancient to “modern” practices, this series builds on the legacy of the Warburg Institute scholars D.P. Walker and Frances Yates. 

In this lecture I will discuss the famous (or notorious) passages about animated statues in the Asclepius, an important Hermetic treatise in Latin that is based on a lost Greek original known as the Logos Teleios. It is well known that Augustine condemned Hermes Trismegistus’ praise of what Christians were bound to see as idolatry; and the Hermetic practice of statue animation came to be seen as a model of talismanic magic since William of Auvergne. First of all, I will place Hermes’ discussion with his pupil Asclepius about statues in the social and political context of third-century Roman Egypt; secondly, I argue that it is most plausibly interpreted in the context of Iamblichean theurgy; thirdly, I will ask and try to answer the question of how we may explain the conviction of practitioners that statues could actually come alive; and finally, I will discuss the connection of these “god-making passages” to the other famous part of the Asclepius, Hermes’ lament about the imminent decline of Egypt.

Organised by Luisa Capodieci (Frances A. Yates Long Term Fellow, Warburg Institute).