Definitions

apotheosis

apotheosis

[uh-poth-ee-oh-sis, ap-uh-thee-uh-sis]
apotheosis, the act of raising a person who has died to the rank of a god. Historically, it was most important during the later Roman Empire. In an emperor's lifetime his genius was worshiped, but after he died he was often solemnly enrolled as one of the gods to be publicly adored. Apotheosis is closely related to ancestor worship.

Elevation to the status of a god. The term recognizes that some individuals cross the dividing line between human and divine. Ancient Greek religion was disposed to belief in heroes and demigods, and historical figures were sometimes worshiped as gods. Until the end of the republic the Romans accepted only one apotheosis, identifying the god Quirinus with Romulus. The emperor Augustus ordered Julius Caesar recognized as a god and thus began a tradition of deifying emperors.

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Apotheosis (from Greek ἀποθεόω, apotheoō "to deify"), deification or divinization is the glorification of an individual to a divine level.

Antiquity

Prior to the Hellenistic period, imperial cults were known in Ancient Egypt (pharaohs) and Mesopotamia (since Naram-Sin). From the New Kingdom, all deceased pharaohs were deified as Osiris.

Hellenistic Greece

From at least the Geometric period of the ninth century, the long-deceased heroes linked with founding myths of Greek sites were accorded chthonic rites in their heroon, or "hero-temple".

In the Greek world, the first leader who accorded himself divine honours was Philip II of Macedon, who was a prince, when the Greeks had set kingship aside, and who had extensive economic and military ties, though largely antagonistic, with Achaemenid Persia, where kings were divine. At his wedding to his fifth wife,Mary. Philip's enthroned image was carried in procession among the Olympian gods; "his example at Aigai became a custom, passing to the Macedonian kings who were later worshipped in Greek Asia, from them to Julius Caesar and so to the emperors of Rome". Such Hellenistic state leaders might be raised to a status equal to the gods before death (e.g., Alexander the Great) or afterwards (e.g., members of the Ptolemaic dynasty). Heroic cult similar to apotheosis was also an honour given to a few revered artists of the distant past, notably Homer.

Archaic and Classical Greek hero-cults became primarily civic, extended from their familial origins, in the sixth century; by the fifth century none of the worshipers based their authority by tracing descent back to the hero, with the exception of some families who inherited particular priestly cult, such as the Eumolpides (descended from Eumolpus) of the Eleusinian mysteries, and some inherited priesthoods at oracle sites. The Greek hero cults can be distinguished on the other hand from the Roman cult of dead emperors, because the hero was not thought of as having ascended to Olympus or become a god: he was beneath the earth, and his power purely local. For this reason hero cults were chthonic in nature, and their rituals more closely resembled those for Hecate and Persephone than those for Zeus and Apollo. Two exceptions were Heracles and Asclepius, who might be honored as either gods or heroes, sometimes by chthonic night-time rites and sacrifice on the following day.

Ancient Rome

Apotheosis in ancient Rome was a process whereby a deceased ruler was recognized to be divine by his successor, usually also by a decree of the Senate and popular consent. In addition to showing respect, often the successor deified his popular predecessor to legitimize himself. The upper-class, in fact, did not always take part in the cult and some secretly ridiculed the apotheosis of inept and feeble emperors.

At the height of imperial cult worship during the Roman Empire, sometimes the emperor's deceased loved ones--heirs, empresses, or lovers--were deified as well. Deified people were awarded posthumously with the prefix Divus (Diva if women) to their names to signify their divinity. Temples and columns were sometimes erected to provide a space for worship.

Ancient China

The Ming dynasty epic Investiture of the Gods deals heavily with deification legends. Numerous mortals have been deified into the Daoist pantheon, such as Guan Yu, Iron-crutch Li and Fan Kuai. Song Dynasty General Yue Fei was deified during the Ming Dynasty and is considered by some practitioners to be one of the three highest ranking heavenly generals.

Christology

Trinitarian Christianity asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son and Word of God, and as such is God Himself revealed. It explicitly rejects the idea that Jesus became divine, and teaches instead that God became man (that is, he obtained human nature and united it to himself, not that he was changed into a man). The mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches theosis, the doctrine that men enter into the life of the Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ, to be healed of sinfulness, by participation in the love that exists eternally between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: and in this sense "men are God revealed". This is regarded in Orthodox theology, and all Trinitarianism, to be antithetical to apotheosis.

Modern

Later artists have used the concept for motives ranging from real respect for the deceased (Constantino Brumidi's fresco The Apotheosis of Washington on the dome of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.), to artistic comment (Salvador Dalí's or Ingres's Apotheosis of Homer), to comedic effect.

Many modern leaders have exploited the artistic imagery, if not the actual worship, of apotheosis. Examples include Rubens's depictions of James I of England at the Banqueting House (an expression of the Divine Right of Kings) or Henry IV of France, or Appiani's apotheosis of Napoleon. The term has been used figuratively to refer to the elevation of a dead leader (often one who was assassinated and/or martyred) to a kind of superhuman charismatic figure and an effective erasing of all faults and controversies which were connected with his name in life - for example, Abraham Lincoln in the US and Yitzchak Rabin in Israel. Kim Jong-il of North Korea took the place of his father Kim Il-sung and much of the nation has grown up with the idea of the "leader" being placed at the height of society, this is the result of parents raised under a similar image by Kim Il-sung passing this view onto their children.

In Literature

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, writes that the Universal Hero from monomyth must pass through a stage of Apotheosis. According to Campbell, apotheosis is the expansion of consciousness that the hero experiences after defeating his foe. Arthur C Clarke has the Overlords refer to Mankind's apotheosis at the end of Childhood's End, when the world's children evolve into their union with the Overmind (see also post-human).

References and further reading

  • Arthur E.R. Boak, "The Theoretical Basis of the Deification of Rulers in Antiquity", in: Classical Journal vol. 11, 1916, pp. 293-297.
  • Franz Bömer, "Ahnenkult und Ahnenglaube im alten Rom", Leipzig 1943.
  • Walter Burkert, "Caesar und Romulus-Quirinus", in: Historia vol. 11, 1962, pp. 356-376.
  • Jean-Claude Richard, "Énée, Romulus, César et les funérailles impériales", in: Mélanges de l'École Française de Rome vol. 78, 1966, pp. 67-78.
  • Bernadette Liou-Gille, "Divinisation des morts dans la Rome ancienne", in: Revue Belge de Philologie vol. 71, 1993, pp. 107-115.
  • David Engels, "Postea dictus est inter deos receptus. Wetterzauber und Königsmord: Zu den Hintergründen der Vergöttlichung frührömischer Könige", in: Gymnasium vol 114, 2007, pp. 103-130.

See also

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