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Apotheosis

Deification, the exaltation of men to the rank of gods

Apotheosis (Gr. apo, from, and theoo, deify), deification, the exaltation of men to the rank of gods. Closely connected with the universal worship of the dead in the history of all primitive peoples was the consecration as deities of heroes or rulers, as a reward for bravery or other great services. “In the same manner every city worshipped the one who founded it” (Fustel. de ‘Coulanges, The Ancient City, III, v). Because of the theocratic form of their government, and the religious character which sovereign power assumed in their eyes, the peoples of the great nations of the Orient—Persia, Chaldea, Egypt—paid divine honors to living rulers. Hero-worship had familiarized the minds of the Greeks with the idea that a man by illustrious deeds can become a god, and contact with the Orient made them ready to accept the grosser form of apotheosis by which divine honors were offered to the living (Boissier, La religion romaine, I, 112). ‘Philip of Macedon was honored as a god at Amphipolis, and his son, Alexander the Great, not only claimed descent from the gods of Egypt, but decreed that he should be worshipped in the cities of Greece (Beurlier, De divinis honoribus quos acceperunt Alexander et successores ejus, p. 17). After his death, and probably largely as the result of the teaching of Euhernerus, that all the gods were deified men, the custom of apotheosis became very prevalent ‘anion the Greeks (Dellinger, Heidenthum and Judenthum, 314 sqq.). In Rome the way for the deification of the emperors was prepared by many historic causes, such as the cult of the manes or the souls of departed friends and ancestors, the worship of the legendary kings of Latium, the Di Indigetes, the myth that Romulus had been transported to heaven, and the deification of Roman soldiers and statesmen by some of the Greek cities. The formal enrolment of the emperors among the gods began with Ceasar, to whom the Senate decreed divine honors before his death. Through politic motives Augustus, though tolerating the building of temples and the organization of priestly orders in his honor throughout the provinces and even in Italy, refused to permit himself to be worshipped in Rome itself. Though many of the early emperors refused to receive divine honors, and the senate, to whom the right of deification belonged, refused to confirm others, the great majority of the Roman rulers and many members of the imperial family, among whom were some women, were enrolled among the gods. While the cultured classes regarded the deification of members of the imperial family and court favorites with boldly expressed scorn, emperor-worship, which was in reality political rather than personal, was a powerful element of unity in the empire, as it afforded the pagans a common religion in which it was a patriotic duty to participate. The Christians constantly refused to pay divine honors to the emperor, and their refusal to strew incense was the signal for the death of many martyrs. The custom of decreeing divine honors to the emperors remained in existence until the time of Gratian, who was the first to refuse the insignia of the Summus Pontifex and the first whom the senate failed to place among the gods.

PATRICK J. HEALY


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