Euhemerus

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Euhemerus

(yo͞ohĕm`ərəs), fl. c.300 B.C., Cyrenaic philosopher, b. Sicily. He is famous for a theory of mythology embodied in his philosophical romance, Sacred History, a work of which only fragments remain. Euhemerus' theory, called after him euhemerism, was that the gods originated from the elaboration of traditions of distinguished historical persons. His theory was consistent with the attempts of his period to explain religious beliefs in terms of naturalism.
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Having in his dangerous journey identified the principal maladies at court, the petitioning poet-orator, in the peroration declaring the allegorical (and euhemerist) meanings of the Isle of Love, now assumes a more hortatory tone as he exhorts those desirous of meriting eternal fame to awake from their slumber and sloth [87] that enslave the will, and to curb the vices of ambition, greed, and oppressive tyranny88 because these are vain honors which are unrelated to true virtue.89 It is better to merit but lack them than to have but not deserve them.90
The basis for this historical model may be found in eighteenth-century euhemerist scholarship--in the crabbed pages of Jacob Bryant, among others.
(12) The euhemerist method took its name from Euhemerus, a scholar in ancient Greece who claimed to have gone to a distant isle and found physical evidence that Zeus was a human being.
As Bernard Lewis observes, Gibbon much earlier had treated Mahomet as an ordinary mortal "in order to argue against the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ." (3) Carlyle's lectures on Odin and Mahomet are the most significant nineteenth-century step in this Euhemerist mode, and suggest the emphasis of the whole book: All these studies--of gods, prophets, priests, men of letters, kings--constitute a celebration of the capacities of the human being, the wonder of wonders.
It was just such a period, the declining centuries of Greco-Roman civilization, that bred the original euhemerists, Hermetists, alchemists, and theurgists, as well as a swarm of other turbid irrationalities not very different from many we see around us today.
He well realized that these myths were "essentially distorted forms of reality that appear at an early stage of historical development"; but, crucially for Horkheimer, as such "forms" they were real enough, i.e., they could not be conscious distortions of reality, as old and new Euhemerists like Machiavelli, Hobbes, or Feuerbach all too simply implied when they explained myths as political fabrications, which have always been made up and sustained by the ruling authorities in order to control and manipulate the ignorant masses (385).