Euhemerus (also spelled Euemeros or Evemerus; Ancient Greek:
Εὐήμερος Euhēmeros, "happy; prosperous"; late fourth century
BC), was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of
Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with
the most probable location, while others suggest
The philosophy attributed to and named for Euhemerus, euhemerism,
holds that many mythological tales can be attributed to historical
persons and events, the accounts of which have become altered and
exaggerated over time.
Euhemerus’s work combined elements of fiction and political
utopianism. In the ancient world he was considered an atheist. Early
Christian writers, such as Lactantius, used Euhemerus's belief that
the ancient gods were originally human to confirm their inferiority
regarding the Christian God.
1.1 Euhemerus' Sacred History
3 See also
6 External links
Little is known about Euhemerus's life, and his birthplace is
disputed. Classical writers such as Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch,
and Polybius, maintained that
Euhemerus was a Messenian, but did
not specify whether he came from the Peloponnesian or the Sicilian
Messene, which was an ancient Greek colony. Other ancient testimonies
placed his birth at Chios,
Tegea (Pseudo-Plutarch, Plac. Phil.), or
Agrigentum (Clement of Alexandria, Protrept.; Arnobius, Adv. Gent.).
Most modern scholars, however, generally agree that
from the Sicilian Messene (Messina).
Diodorus Siculus is one of the very few sources who provide other
details about Euhemerus' life. According to Diodorus,
a personal friend of Cassander, king of Macedonia (c. 305 – 297 BC)
and the most prominent mythographer for the Macedonian court. Sometime
in the early third century BC
Euhemerus wrote his main work "Sacred
History" ("Hiera Anagraphê").
Euhemerus' Sacred History
Only quoted fragments remain from Euhemerus' main work, Sacred
Diodorus Siculus included fragments from Euhemerus’
writings in the Arabian geography of his fifth book and in the
mythology of his sixth book.
The sixth book of Diodorus’ Bibliotheca is lost, but
a fragment from it at length in his Praeparatio evangelica. The
ancient Roman writer
Ennius first translated Euhemerus' work into
Latin, but this translation also is lost.
Lactantius however in the
third century AD included substantial references to Ennius'
translation in the first book of his Divine Institutes. Various
other fragments of importance are also found in the later literature
of Augustine of Hippo. From these extant fragments and references,
modern scholars have been able to "compile what is presumably a fairly
complete picture of Euhemerus’ work".
Euhemerus' work may have taken the form of a philosophical
fictionalized travelogue, universally accepted today as a
philosophical Romance, incorporating imagined archaic inscriptions,
which his literary persona claimed to have found during his travels.
Euhemerus claims to have traveled to a group of islands in the waters
off Arabia. One of these, Panchaea, being home to a utopian society
made up of a number of different ethnic tribes. His critique of
tradition is epitomized in a register of the births and deaths of many
of the deities, which his narrator persona discovered inscribed on a
golden pillar in a temple of
Zeus Triphylius on the invented island of
Panchaea; he claimed to have reached the island on a voyage down
Red Sea round the coast of Arabia, undertaken at the request of
Cassander, according to the Christian historian of the fourth century
Euhemerus refers to a rational island utopia. The ancient Hellenic
tradition of a distant Golden Age, of Hesiod's depiction of human
happiness before the gift of Pandora, of the mythic convention of
idealized Hyperboreans, made concrete in the legendary figure of the
Scythian philosopher-hero Anacharsis, or the idealized "Meropes" of
Theopompus had been recently enriched by contacts with India.
Euhemerus apparently systematized a method of interpreting the popular
myths, which was consistent with the attempts of Hellenistic culture
to explain traditional religious beliefs in terms of a naturalism.
Euhemerus asserted that the Greek gods originally had been kings,
heroes, and conquerors, or benefactors to the people, who had thus
earned a claim to the veneration of their subjects. According to him,
Zeus was a king of Crete, who had been a great conqueror;
the tomb of
Zeus was shown to visitors near Knossos, perhaps
engendering or enhancing among the traditionalists the reputation of
Cretans as liars.
Main article: Euhemerism
Euhemerus has become known chiefly for a rationalizing method of
interpretation, known as "euhemerism", which treats mythological
accounts as a reflection of historical events, or mythological
characters as historical personages, but which were shaped,
exaggerated, or altered by retelling and traditional mores. In more
recent literature of myth, such as in Bulfinch's Mythology, euhemerism
is called the "historical interpretation" of mythology. Euhemerism
is defined in modern academic literature as the theory that myths are
distorted accounts of real historical events.
Euhemerus was not
the first to attempt to rationalize mythology through history, as
euhemeristic views are found in earlier writers, including Xenophanes,
Herodotus, Hecataeus of Abdera, and Ephorus, however,
Euhemerus is credited as having developed the theory in application to
all myths, considering mythology to be "history in disguise".
Leon of Pella
List of legendary kings of Britain
^ Diodorus vi.1.1
^ De Iside et Osiride, 23 (360A)
^ Hist. 34.5 apud Strabo ii.4.2
^ Ne´methy 1889: 4; van Gils 1902: 12; Jacoby 1909; van der Meer
^ Diodorus vi.1.4.
^ Diodorus v.41.4–46, vi.1.
Eusebius Praep. evan. ii.2.59B-61A.
Lactantius Div. inst. i.11, 13, 14, 17, 22.
^ Bibliotheca classica: or, A classical dictionary: containing a
copious account of the principal proper names mentioned in ancient
authors; with the value of coins, weights, and measures, used among
the Greeks and Romans; and a chronological table, Volume 1, John
Lemprière, G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1833, p. 547.
Euhemerus in Context, Franco De Angelis De Angelis and Benjamin
Garstad, Classical Antiquity, Vol. 25, No. 2, October 2006, p. 212.
Plutarch noted that no Greek nor barbarian had ever seen such an
island. (Fragment noted in Spyridakis 1968:338).
^ (Brown 1946:262); compare Plato's
Atlantis or the exotic tropical
isle described by Iambulus, which was noted in Diodorus 2.55ff.
^ Sprydakis 1968:340.
^ Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology. Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004,
^ Honko, Lauri. "The Problem of Defining Myth". Sacred Narrative:
Readings in the Theory of Myth. Ed. Alan Dundes. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1984. p. 45.
^ S. Spyridakis: "
Zeus Is Dead:
Euhemerus and Crete" The Classical
Journal 63.8 (May 1968, pp. 337-340) p.338.
Herodotus presented rationalized accounts of the myth of Io
(Histories I.1ff) and events of the Trojan War (Histories 2.118ff).
^ An introduction to mythology, Lewis Spence, 1921, p. 42.
Smith, William. 1870. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and
Mythology. (London: C. Little and J. Brown) sub "Evemerus"
Abbé Banier's Ovid commentary Englished The Euhemerist tradition in
Banier's "historical" commentaries on Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Brown, Truesdell S. "
Euhemerus and the Historians" The Harvard
Theological Review 39.4 (October 1946), pp. 259–274. Includes a
comprehensive redaction of the existing fragments of Euhemerus' Sacred
Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities 1898:
"Euhemerus". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol V: Cyprian, "On the Vanity of Idols" e-text
The Ancient Library
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