1902 Encyclopedia > Apotheosis


APOTHEOSIS, deification, the enrolment of a mortal among the gods. In its most rudimentary form, this practice may be regarded as an offshoot of the universal belief of primitive mankind in the existence of disembodied spirits, and their continued agency in human affairs. (Tylor, Primitive Culture, ch. xi.-xvii.) An invisible being thus invested with beneficent or malefic attributes, and capable of being offended or propitiated, virtually becomes a local or tutelary divinity. The cultus of such genii con-stitutes a large part of the religion of most negro nations. In China it takes the shape of a respectful veneration of ancestors, accompanied by a species of liturgical service. In India it is apparently excluded by the tenet of incarna-tion, according to which the individual either resumes a rank previously held by him, or enters upon a cycle of transmigrations admitting of no fixity of condition and, consequently, of no absolute deification. The Egyptian, Persian and Phoenician theologies seem to offer no trace of the idea; but there is reason to expect that it will be shown to have been a leading feature of the religions of Assyria and Babylon. For perfectly unequivocal examples of its prevalence among a highly cidtivated people, we must resort to Greece and Borne. In Greece the worship of deified heroes was universal. A distinction, however, must be observed between the imaginary patriarchs of the golden age, who, after their decease, according to Hesiod (Op. et Dies, 121), became by the counsel of Zeus beneficent daemons, guardians of mortal men, but who seem to have enjoyed only a vague and general veneration, and the mythical heroes, definite objects of worship, who may have been equally apocryphal, but whose legends were none the less regarded as authentic history. The reputed founders of cities were especially honoured with sacrifices by their descendants, and the practice extended to such indubitably historical personages as Lycurgus, Brasidas, Harmodius, Aristogiton, and Ptolemy Lagus. Instances of the origina-tion of such worship in the historical period are nevertheless rare, and the veneration paid to the hero was in all cases merely locaL The religious honours subsequently bestowed in their lifetime on Lysander, Alexander the Great, and other illustrious persons, were merely the extravagance of flattery, devoid of any influence on the national theology. The same cannot be said of the apotheosis of the Caesars, the germ of which already existed in the veneration paid to the legendary founder of Borne. To the Roman the emperor appeared as the visible manifestation of the genius of the state, long the object of his reverence. (Friedlander, Sittengeschichte Roiru, vol. iii. p. 455.) The people, says Suetonius, fully believed in the divinity of Julius Caesar, hinting at the same time that this was by no means the case with the majority of the apotheoses subsequently decreed by the senate. (Jul. Gees. c. 88.) The honour was indeed not only conferred upon almost every emperor who transmitted the sceptre to his descendants, but fre-quently upon deceased members of his family, or even his personal favourites, as in the case of Antinous. Sixty persons altogether are recorded as having been thus raised to divine honours from the time of Caesar to that of Con-stantine. The majority of such apotheoses would be regarded as mere matters of official form; in some instances, however, it was otherwise. We learn from Capitolinus that Marcus Aurelius was still worshipped as a household divinity in the time of Diocletian, and was believed to impart revelations in dreams. (Tit. M. Ant. c. 18.) Antinous was adored in Egypt a century after his death (Origen, Contra Celsum, iii. 36). The ceremonies attendant on an imperial apotheosis are very fully described by Herodian (lib. iv. c. 2) on occasion of the obsequies of Severus, which he appears to have witnessed. The most significant was the dismission, at the moment of kindling the funeral pyre, of an eagle which was supposed to bear the emperor's soul to heaven. Sharp-sighted persons had actually beheld the ascension of Augustus (Suet, August, c. 100), and of Drusilla, sister of Caligula; the latter eye-witness took the public incredulity exceedingly amiss (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis.) The ludicrous side of the deifi-cation of a bad or indifferent emperor could escape no one, and is pungently illustrated by Seneca in the witty lampoon just quoted : even here, however, it is laid down that principes pietate et justitia dei fiunt. Representations of apotheoses occur on several works of art; the most important are the apotheosis of Homer on a relief in the Townley collection, and that of Augustus on a magnificent cameo in the Louvre. The establishment of Christianity put an end to apotheosis as an avowed belief and a public ceremony, although the principle on which it rested is still conspicuous in the adoration and invocation of saints by the Latin, Greek, and African Churches. The commemo-ration of Auguste Comte by his followers may be cited as another instance in point. The worship of Ali and his sons by some Persian sects, and that of the Caliph Hakem by the Druses, are not properly examples of apotheosis, being rendered to them not as deified mortals, but as incarnations of the Deity. (R. G.)

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