The Uses of Euhemerism: An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Event Date: 
17 Jul 2017 to 18 Jul 2017

 Sir Herbert Grierson Centre for Textual Criticism and Comparative Literary History, in association with the Centre for Early Modern Studies, University of Aberdeen and with support from the Aberdeen Development Trust and the Society for Renaissance Studies (Scotland)



Renaissance understanding of classical mythology was strongly infused with Euhemerism—the conviction that the Greek pantheon were originally mortal kings, and myths poetic distortions of historical events. The approach originated c. 300 BCE in a controversial prose narrative by Euhemeros of Messene, informed Roman literature and religious thought, and was appropriated by early Christians to debunk polytheism while simultaneously justifying the continued study of classical literature. The term ‘Euhemerism’ has been found indispensable by scholars of classics, religion, and mediaeval and Renaissance literature, but is used in widely divergent ways. This diversity reflects the enigmatic nature of its origin, Euhemeros’ Sacred Inscription, a text which survives only in fragments and partial paraphrases, and which has been taken variously as a theory of religion, an atheist’s manifesto, as justifying or satirizing ruler-worship, as a fantasy travel-narrative, and as an early ‘utopia’. When encountered in later mythography, Euhemerism is often denigrated as a dull, literal-minded approach, which strips mythology of its pleasing complexity, or which simply reflects anti-pagan chauvinism inherited from early Christian apologetic. Yet Renaissance practice suggests its central significance in the age’s attempt to reconcile classical mythology with Christian belief, and sophisticated appreciation of its flexibility as a poetic and polemical tool. As fantasy travel-narrative and fictional politeia, Euhemeros’ text reverberates in utopian fiction from Thomas More onwards; as a ludic reflection on the relation between kings and gods, it informs both royal panegyric and the republican critique of monarchy as idolatrous in seventeenth-century England. Euhemerism underpins the literary uses of classical mythology in the Renaissance in more complex and fundamental ways than has hitherto been recognized. This symposium will bring together voices from Classics, Religious Studies, and mediaeval and Renaissance literary studies—recapturing the interdisciplinary perspective of Renaissance humanism—to enquire into the origins and history of Euhemerism, and the varied uses to which it has been put. We hope to achieve a fuller and more nuanced understanding of this complex and influential current of Western thought.



  • Emma Buckley (St. Andrews)
  • Elizabeth De Palma Digeser (University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Raphael Falco (University of Maryland)
  • Denis Feeney (Giger Professor of Latin, Princeton University)
  • Amanda Gerber (Saint Louis University)
  • Ethan Guagliardo (Boğaziçi University)
  • Samantha Newington (University of Aberdeen)
  • Syrithe Pugh (University of Aberdeen)
  • Nickolas Roubekas (University of Vienna)
  • Robert Segal (Sixth Century Chair, University of Aberdeen)
  • Tim Whitmarsh (A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge)


For more information, please contact Dr. Syrithe Pugh,

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