(280 bc)

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Of Messene, perhaps wrote while in the service of Cassander (311–298bc), but was perhaps active as late as 280 bc. He wrote a novel of travel which was influential in the Hellenistic world. The substance of the novel is known from fragments, especially in Diodorus Siculus, see below, and from an epitome by Eusebius. Euhemerus described an imaginary voyage to a group of islands in the uncharted waters of the Indian Ocean and the way of life on its chief island, Panchaea. The central monument of the island, a golden column on which the deeds of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus were recorded, gave the novel its title Hiera anagraphē, ‘Sacred Scripture’. From this monument Euhemerus learnt that Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus had been great kings in their day and that they were worshipped as gods by the grateful people. Earlier authors had written of imaginary utopias but the utopia of Euhemerus was particularly relevant to the position of those Hellenistic rulers who claimed to serve their subjects and on that account to receive worship for their services. Euhemerism could be interpreted according to taste as supporting the traditional belief of Greek epic and lyric poetry which drew no clear line between gods and great men; as advancing a justification for contemporary ruler-cults; or as a work of rationalizing atheism. At the same time Euhemerus was influenced by the beliefs of the wider world which had been opened up by the conquests of Alexander the Great, and his novel reflected the awareness of new ideas in an exciting situation.

The theory of god and man which was advanced by Euhemerus seems to have made little impression on the Greeks, but Diodorus, apparently taking the romance for fact, embodied it in his sixth book, which survives in fragments. In Latin it had more success after the publication of the Euhemerus of Ennius, and euhemerizing accounts of such mythological figures as Faunus exist. The Christian writers, especially Lactantius, liked to use it as evidence of the real nature of the Greek gods. Euhemerus' name survives in the modern term ‘euhemeristic’, applied to mythological interpretation which supposes certain gods (e.g. Asclepius) to be originally heroes.

Herbert Jennings Rose; Simon Hornblower

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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