Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

WHEN the Nepalese prince Dipendra, who recently slaughtered most of the Nepalese royal family, was at Eton, he was excused chapel after being declared a god. Etonians were properly outraged at this unheard-of lapse in school rules, but if the explanation was that one god could not be asked to worship another, the reasoning was sound.

Gods in the ancient world were worshipped because they were taken to be unpredictable forces, capable of doing much harm and much good. Only regular gifts and honours could win their favour (though even then one could never be absolutely sure). But gods were jealous of their power, and any mortal who presumed to divine honours could expect a speedy blast of divine retribution.

Nevertheless, even in Homer, our earliest Western literature (8th century Bc), we find that great men, like the Trojan leader Hector, could be honoured like a god; and a habit of establishing religious cults in honour of powerful humans became widespread in the Greek world. It began with the cult in honour of Alexander the Great, and moved into top gear with the Roman emperors.

The reasoning was impeccable: like gods, emperors were powerful, unpredictable beings, capable of helping and hindering on a large scale. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.