Faculty Fall 2022: Juan Udaondo Alegre

Hermes Hispanus: Iberian Seekers of Ancient Wisdom in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean World

Assistant Professor of Spanish. Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

This project investigates how Hermes Trismegistus—the legendary sage and author associated with the pagan god Mercury—came to be seen as a cultural mediator for learned men of different religious traditions in medieval Spain. Through this figure, who represented the ideal teacher and philosophical mentor to many pre-modern thinkers and writers, I explore the role of non-Christian traditions in the growth of Spanish Christian culture. Studies of this period have tended to focus either on the “three cultures” model—the harmonic coexistence of religions—, or on conflict during the “Reconquista” wars. By contrast, I suggest that various complex themes and topics of Late Antiquity lay behind Jewish, Muslim, and Christian cultures alike, and thus served not only as a cohesive factor among them, but also as a controversial influence within the particular orthodoxies of each. Through the figure of Hermes Trismegistus, my project reassesses and sheds new light on the influence of Arab and Jewish authors in the intellectual history of Castile, Spain, and Europe more generally. It also adds a new dimension to the ongoing dialogue concerning how ancient knowledge was filtered and renovated through a personage that was shared and assimilated by representatives of the three monotheistic religions.