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.
BaumgartenAlbert I.KatzoffRanonPetroffYaakovSchapsDavid“Euhemerus’ Eternal Gods or How Not to Be Embarrassed by Greek Mythology.”Classical Studies in Honor of David Sohlberg.1996Ramat GanBar-Ilan University Press91103
KoenenLudwigBullochAnthonyGruenErichLongAnthony A.StewartAndrew“The Ptolemaic King as a Religious Figure.”Images and Ideologies. Self Definition in the Hellenistic World.1993Berkeley and Los AngelesUniversity of California Press25115
PachisPanayotisMartinLuther H.PachisPanayotis“‘Manufacturing Religion’ in the Hellenistic Age: The Case of Isis-Demeter Cult.”Hellenisation Empire and Globalization: Lessons from Antiquity. Acts of the Panel held during the 3rd Congress of the EASR Norway 9-10 May 2003.2004ThessalonikiVanias163190
Diodorus SiculusLibrary of History6.1.4: “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.
Diodorus SiculusHistorical Library17.118.2. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.