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Euhemerus

EUHEMERUS

Euhemerus of Messene; c. 340260 b.c.; famous for his theory of the natural origin of the gods and religion. His only known work was the Sacred Record Ιερ ναγραφή in at least three books, of which Jacoby identifies 11 fragments, along with 15 more in the remains of Ennius's Latin version. It was an autobiographical romance in which the author claimed to have visited Panchaea, an island in the Indian Ocean. There he found a golden stele with an inscription setting forth the deeds of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus, just rulers of Panchaea, who had been deified, or had caused themselves to be deified. Euhemerus described also the natural products and social structure of his imaginary kingdom in sober, realistic terms, using the geographical discoveries of Alexander's admirals, details drawn from contemporary knowledge of Persia, Arabia, and Egypt, and utopian theories of government (cf. Hippodamus of Miletus in Aristotle, Politics 1267b1268a). Euhemerus was primarily a rationalistic philosopher of religion, but the realism of his work has sometimes caused him to be regarded as a geographer or historian.

Ennius's translation made Euhemerus known to the Romans, and promoted the development of religious skepticism among them. Christian writers, both Greek and LatinClement of Alexandria, Minucius Felix, Lactantius, and Augustinefound him useful in their apologetic against pagan religion and its origins. The term "Euhemerism" was coined in the 19th century to signify the rationalistic interpretation of myths and religion.

Bibliography: Fragments in f. jacoby, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Berlin 1923) 1: No. 63. f. jacoby, "Euemeros (3)," Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1907) 6.1:952972. j. geffcken, "Euhemerism," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings (Edinburgh 190827) 5:572573. j. w. schippers, De ontwikkeling der Euhemeristische godencritiek in de Christelijke Latijnse literatuur (Groningen 1952).

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