Deification

 

A sixth form boy had seen the film of A Passage to India and was struck by the way the local people begin to invoke Mrs Moore as a goddess: and in the film, when she leaves by train to take ship back to England, Professor Godbole kneels on the platform to worship her.

It was easy for him to connect this with Odysseus’s farewell to Nausicaa: he says that if he arrives home,

τῷ κέν τοι καὶ κεῖθι θεῷ ὣς εὐχετοῴμην
αἰεὶ ἤματα πάντα: σὺ γάρ μ᾽ ἐβιώσαο, κούρη.
I will even there pray to you as to a god
all my days; for you, maiden, have given me life.
Odyssey VIII 467-8

I warned him against simplifying: the Hindu religion is far more complex than the beliefs of Homer: it has many forms; it has its own scriptures and its own philosophy: and in the midst of all this polytheism and readiness to worship new gods, there is the central Hindu belief that God is one.

However—this urge to venerate and to worship runs as a thread through classical literature and the life of the Greeks and Romans. At their first meeting Odysseus says to Nausicaa that as he looks on her,

σέβας μ᾽ ἔχει εἰσορόωντα.
Awe possesses me as I look on you.
Odyssey VI.161

Thomas Carlyle tries to explain the pagan imperative to worship human beings:
‘Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these…  We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain… in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.’
Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic, Lecture 1