This Book may justly challenge the first place for antiquity, from all the Books in the World, being written some hundreds of years before Moses his time, as I shall endeavour to make good. The Original (as far as is known to us) is Arabic, and several Translations thereof have been published, as Greek, Latin, French, Dutch, etc., but never English before. It is pity the Learned Translator [Dr. Everard] had not lived, and received himself, the honour, and thanks due to him from the Englishmen for his good will to, and pains for them, in translating a Book of such infinite worth, out of the Original, into their Mother-tongue.
Concerning the Author of the Book itself, Four things are considerable, viz., His Name, Learning, Country, and Time.
1. The name by which he was commonly styled, is Hermes Trismegistus, i.e., Mercurius ter Maximus, or, The thrice greatest Intelligencer. And well might he be called Hermes, for he was the first Intelligencer in the World (as we read of) that communicated Knowledge to the sons of Men, by Writing, or Engraving. He was called Ter Maximus, for some Reasons, which I shall afterwards mention.
2. His Learning will appear, as by his Works; so by the right understanding the Reason of his Name.
3. For his Country, he was King of Egypt.
4. For his Time, it is not without much Controversy, betwixt those that write of this Divine, ancient Author, what time he lived in. Some say he lived after Moses his time, giving this slender Reason for it, viz., Because he was named Ter Maximus: for being preferred [Franciscus Flussas] (according to the Egyptian Customs) being chief Philosopher, to be chief of the Priesthood: and from thence, to be chief in Government, or King. But if this be all their ground, you must excuse my dissent from then, and that for this reason, Because according to the most learned of his followers [Geber, Paracelsus: Henricus Nollius in Theoria Philosophia Hermeticae, tractatu priimo.], he was called Ter Maximus; for having perfect, and exact Knowledge of all things contained in the World; which things he divided into Three Kingdoms (as he calls them), viz., Mineral, Vegetable, Animal; which Three, he did excel in the right understanding of; also, because he attained to, and transmitted to Posterity (although in an Ænigmatical, and obscure style) the Knowledge of the Quintessence of the whole Universe (which Universe, as I said before, he divided into Three Parts) otherwise called, The great Elixir of the Philosophers; which is the Receptacle of all Celestial and Terrestrial Virtues; which Secret, many ignorantly deny, many have chargeably sought after, yet few, but some, yea, and the Englishmen have happily found [Ripley, Bacon, Norton, etc.]. The Description of this great Treasure, is said to be found engraved upon a Smaragdine Table, in the Valley of Ebron, after the Flood. So that the Reason before alleged to prove this Author to live after Moses, seem invalid: neither doth it any way appear, that he lived in Moses his time, although it be the opinion of some, as of John Functius, who saith in his Chronology, That he lived Twenty-one years before the Law was given by Moses in the Wilderness; But the Reasons that he, and others give, are far weaker than those that I shall give, for his living before Moses his time. My reasons for that are these:
First, Because it is received amongst the Ancients, that he was the first that invented the Art of communicating Knowledge to the World, by Writing or Engraving. Now if so, then in all probability he was before Moses; for it is said of Moses that he was from his childhood [Acts vii.22] skilled in all the Egyptian Learning, which could not well have been without the help of Literature, which we never read of any before that invented by Hermes [Chapter x.].
Secondly, he is said by himself, to be the son of Saturn and by others to be the Scribe of Saturn. Now Saturn according to Historians, lived in the time of Sarug, Abraham’s great Grand-Father [Sanchoniathon]. I shall but take in Suidas his judgment, and so rest satisfied, that he did not live only before, but long before Moses; His words are these, Credo Mercurium Trismegistum sapientem Egyptium floruisse ante Pharaonem [Suidas].