Reverse Euhemerization and How It Applies to Chinese Culture in General, Specifically to the Yellow Emperor

Essay by DigitalPariahCollege, UndergraduateA, April 2004

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Topic: In section 2, Part 1 of his essay (reading # 1) Derk Bodde discusses the process of "euhemerization" and on pp. 49 and 50 uses the example of the Yellow Emperor. What is the process, and why is the Yellow Emperor a good example?

In his essay Derk Bodde discusses both the process of euhemerization and its reverse. He relates the theory of Euhemerus, which states that, "the origin of myth is to be found in actual history, and that the gods and demigods of mythology were, to start with, actual human beings" (Bodde 48). Bodde explains that most myths have a basis in reality. People who once lived have, over time, become more than they were in their lives. Stories told of these people were handed down through the years with much embellishing have turned the real characters of the story into people or creatures so fantastic that their lives become myths and their actions too godlike to be human.

Bodde goes on to discuss the reverse process of euhemerization as used by Chinese scholars. He refers to it only as euhemerization, but says of it, " [a]s commonly used by writers on Chinese mythology, however, "euhemerization" denotes precisely the opposite process [to the one just described]: the transformation of what were once myths and gods into seemingly authentic history and human beings" (Bodde 48). Apparently, Chinese historians, upon reading ancient myths, would change the gods and demons in them to actual people; they would also change all incredible events to those more believable, or erase them entirely. In this manner well-intentioned historians have nearly eradicated the myths and legends of ancient China.

The Yellow Emperor is used as an example of reverse euhemerization. The Yellow Emperor goes through this process through a justification of apocryphal...