CAIRO: In ancient times, the city of Hermopolis (Ashmunin in Arabic and also known as the City of Hermes), on the borders of Upper and Lower Egypt, was a major center of learning and administration.
The fascinating history of this ancient city and its significant contributions to the progression of philosophical thought and humanistic psychology over the ages are at the heart of Egyptian psychiatrist and writer Mervat Nasser’s recently published, highly engaging book “The Path to the New Hermopolis.”
The book — subtitled “The History, Philosophy, & Future of the City of Hermes” — is also the story of Nasser’s own attempt to recover this ancient city through her pioneering New Hermopolis. Founded in 2011, her social enterprise consists of a green farm, a hospitality center (eco-retreat), and a cultural space “for the benefit of both the local community as well as the national and the international visitor.”
Over the course of four chapters, Nasser maps the evolution of ancient Hermopolis — “the place where being is seen as perpetual becoming, and the knowledge of yesterday is nothing but a well of inspiration for tomorrow.”
She traces the origins, and enduring appeal, of Hermeticism, which she defines as “a philosophical system based on the study of the Hermetica as a way of helping the soul to develop reasonable mind, reasonable speech, and self-knowledge, so we may begin to understand the world and our place in it.”
It is Hermeticism’s legacy as a “Philosophy of Hope” as well as its “emphasis on the unity of humanity,” she writes, that allowed it to influence modern concepts including humanism, idealism, and utopianism.
Despite its weighty subject matter, Nasser’s book is highly accessible to a non-academic audience. For some, it will read as a testimony of how modern intellectual thought essentially finds its roots in ancient philosophy. For others, as a vivid document of an ancient city and its philosophical legacy. I read it as a story of a brave woman who quit a three-decade long career as clinical psychiatrist and academic in the UK to return to her home country to “retrieve the lost soul of Egypt and ... revive the city where it lies.”