The Unity of the Divine

Daniel S. Richter

in Cosmopolis

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199772681
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895083 | DOI:
The Unity of the Divine

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As a system, polytheism can integrate outsiders into its pantheon when necessary. However, the “logic” of polytheism excludes the possibility of the existence of another pantheon; by virtue of its divinity, all gods are necessarily part of the same divine pantheon. As the peoples of the Mediterranean came into more meaningful and more frequent contact with one another, a set of discursive and hermeneutic practices developed as a means of essentially translating the names of the divine from one group to another. The question that Herodotus asked of the Egyptian priests was not, “who is Osiris,” but rather, “which one of the gods do you call Osiris?” These sorts of “syncretic associations” that enable the cultural go-between to explain Dionysus to Egypt and Osiris to Greece, however, are rarely stable. Rather, the relationships between pantheons evolve with the changing patterns of intercourse between the peoples themselves. While Herodotus might argue that the names of the gods came to Greece from Egypt, Plutarch argued that in fact, Isis is a Greek word. This chapter looks at how two early imperial intellectuals, Plutarch and Lucian, used and played with various syncretic associations of deities as means of envisioning the unity and diversity of the oikoumenê.

Keywords: Syncretism; translation; Polytheism; Isis; Hierapolis; The Syrian Goddess

Chapter.  19196 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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