Friday, April 22, 2016


Deliberate Avoidance of the Term Polytheism

Albert Henrichs, "'Full of Gods': Nietzsche on Greek Polytheism and Culture," in Paul Bishop, ed., Nietzsche and Antiquity: His Reaction and Response to the Classical Tradition (Rochester: Camden House, 2004), pp. 114-137 (at 124; footnotes omitted):
Nietzsche uses the term polytheism sparingly in his work, and always as a conscious antonym of monotheism. Ironically, the word polytheism is a product of the monotheistic tradition, both ancient and modern. Its application to Greek religion by Nietzsche is all the more remarkable. To this day it remains the exception rather than the rule among historians of Greek religion to call the Greek polytheistic belief system by its true name. No book on the Greek gods or Greek religion exists that incorporates the term polytheism in its title. This is not an accident but a case of deliberate avoidance. One can only speculate on the reasons for the continuing antipathy to the term, which is after all a perfectly good Greek word. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the word polytheism was applied predominantly to non-western religions, which were considered unconscionably primitive and heathen from a Christian point of view. Because of its negative connotations, the term came to be regarded as tainted and therefore inappropriate for the classical Greeks and their equally classical gods. Seen in this context, actual book titles such as "The Faith of the Hellenes" (Der Glaube der Hellenen), "The Greeks and their Gods," and "Greek Religion" turn out to be conventional euphemisms designed to mitigate a truth that Nietzsche confronted with relentless missionary zeal.

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