Post Mortem Makes a Difference: On a Redescription of Euhemerism and Its Place in the Study of Graeco-Roman Divine Kingship

in Religion and Theology
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Abstract

Euhemerus of Messene is one of the most popular ancient theorists of religion. In his now lost work Sacred Inscription he formulated a theory of religion by arguing that the Olympian gods were nothing more than prominent kings that were deified due to their benefactions to mankind. On the other hand, true divinity was to be found in the natural phenomena. However, this theory – known as euhemerism – has been (ab)used in many ways due to the different interpretative agendas of various authors and critics. In this paper I argue that euhemerism needs a new interpretation, a redescription, based primarily on a rereading of the text. In addition, by showing the different usages of the text by Euhemerus’s contemporaries and the early Christian writers, I argue that the connection of his theory with the practice of deification of kings in the Graeco-Roman world should be dismissed and reexamined by taking into account contemporary responses to his work that show that his theory was not meant as a justification for the deification of the Graeco-Roman kings.

Post Mortem Makes a Difference: On a Redescription of Euhemerism and Its Place in the Study of Graeco-Roman Divine Kingship

in Religion and Theology

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References

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2

Joyce MarcusMesoamerican Writing Systems. Propaganda Myth and History in Four Ancient Civilizations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press1992) 261 (emphasis added).

4

Jonathan Z. SmithMap is not Territory. Studies in the Histories of Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1993) xi.

6

The most recent work is Sylvie Honigman“Euhemerus of Messene and Plato’s Atlantis,” Historia 58 no. 1 (2009): 1–35.

8

Luther H. Martin“Redescribing Christian Origins: Historiography or Exegesis,” in Redescribing Christian Origins (ed. Ron Cameron and Merrill P. Miller; SBL Symposium Series 28; Leiden: Brill2004) 476.

9

Richard S. Ascough“Bringing Chaos to Order: Historical Memory and the Manipulation of History,” Religion & Theology 15 (2008): 296.

10

Neville MorleyTheories Models and Concepts in Ancient History (London: Routledge2004) 3.

13

Diodorus SiculusLibrary of History 6.1.4: “Now Euhemerus who was a friend of King Cassander and was required by him to perform certain affairs of state and to make great journeys abroad.” It is certain that Euhemerus was also resident in Alexandria Egypt and probably for a long period (at least after Cassander’s death in 297 B.C.E.). See Peter M. Frazer Ptolemaic Alexandria: vols. I–II (Oxford: Clarendon 1972 vol. I) 289; 292–94.

19

Diodorus SiculusLibrary of History 6.1.10 (emphasis added).

20

Joseph FontenroseThe Ritual Theory of Myth (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press1971) 20–21 (emphasis in original).

24

R. Malcolm ErringtonA History of Macedonia (trans. Catherine Errington; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press1990) 133.

25

Adams“Alexander’s Successors to 221 BC” 217–18.

26

PlutarchAlex. 74.1–2 (Perrin LCL).

27

Diodorus SiculusHistorical Library 17.118.2. Also see Adams Cassander Macedonia and the Policy of Coalition 323–301 B.C. 61. This anti-Alexandrian attitude of Cassander is also portrayed by Peter Green Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age. A Short History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007) 40–41 and Robin L. Fox Alexander the Great (London: Penguin 2004) 469; 475.

28

PlutarchDemet. 18.2 (Perrin LCL).

30

Helen S. LundLysimachus. A Study in Early Hellenistic Kingship (London: Routledge1992) 162. Also see Robert A. Hadley “Royal Propaganda of Seleucus I and Lysimachus” Journal of Hellenic Studies 94 (1974): 50–65.

33

PlutarchDemet. 10.3; also Versnel Coping with the Gods 451–52.

34

See MikalsonReligion in Hellenistic Athens83.

40

See Minos Kokolakis“Zeus’ Tomb. An Object of Pride and Reproach,” Kernos 8 (1995): 127.

42

See Gregory O. HutchinsonHellenistic Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon1988) 38–39; Marco Fantuzzi and Richard Hunter Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004) 42.

43

On Arsinoe see Fantuzzi and HunterTradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry42; on the Hymn to Delos see Koenen “The Ptolemaic King as a Religious Figure” 81–82.

44

Koenen“The Ptolemaic King as a Religious Figure” 84.

46

Niklas Holzberg“Utopias and Fantastic Travel: Euhemerus, Iambulus,” in The Novel in the Ancient World (ed. Gareth Schmeling; Leiden: Brill2003) 625.

47

Kenneth S. SacksDiodorus Siculus and the First Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press1990) 72; also 5; 73–74. Also see Kenneth S. Sacks “Diodorus and his Sources: Conformity and Creativity” in Greek Historiography (ed. Simon Hornblower; Oxford: Clarendon 1994) 213–32.

49

Bruce Lincoln“Theses on Method,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8 no. 3 (1996): 225.

51

See Albert I. Baumgarten“Euhemerus’ Eternal Gods or How Not to Be Embarrassed by Greek Mythology,” in Classical Studies in Honor of David Sohlberg (ed. Ranon Katzoff, Yaakov Petroff and David Schaps; Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press1996) 91–103.

52

Gerhard van den Heever“Redescribing Graeco-Roman Antiquity: On Religion and History of Religion,” Religion & Theology 12 no. 3/4 (2005): 220.

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