Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Trismegistos Gods

Trismegistos Gods


TM Gods is a tool dealing with gods in the ancient western world. It aspires to make available some of the information gathered in the course of projects NOT specifically dealing with gods, e.g. TM People and TM Places. The internship of Marije Derksen (Radboud University Nijmegen) in 2017/2018 has also added substantially to the data that we present here, especially the references to gods in Latin inscriptions.

The decisive nudge to continue our work on TM Gods - a section which we have had on our to-do list for a considerable time - was given by Gaby Garcia, a student in Classical Studies and Computer Science of the University of Chicago. For her thesis, she was brought into contact with us by Sofia Torallas-Tovar, who was a fellow advisor for her Computer Science - Classics BA together with Mark Depauw. Gaby had a fruitful discussion with the TM team about gods and all their problems when visiting Leuven in December 2022.

Discussing the resulting database structure here would lead us too far, and also the work is not entirely finished. Suffice it to say that we have a level 'Gods' (for which we provide a persistent identifier, the TM God ID, e.g. TM God 105 for Apollo, in a digital context). Below that is a level 'God variant' or GodVar. This solves the problems of gods being attested in several languages with minor spelling variations. A GodVar can be connected with several gods, e.g. Minerva Sulis is connected both with Minerva (TM God 176) and with Sulis (TM God 262). In this way we have tried to cope with the difficult problem of syncretism and translation.

Work on TM Gods is still continuing (see also below under Coverage). If you would like to collaborate with us or have comments, please contact us !

What is a god?

Answering this question is not and should not be the ambition of this section. But we do want to give you an idea of what we have included in TM Gods, so here we go.

Google's English Dictionary, as powered by Oxford Languages, defines a (polytheistic) god as a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortune. A god in a polytheistic religion is fundamentally different from the God of the three major monotheistic religions. In the former case especially gods are indeed very often anthropomorphic, and it can be very tricky to distinguish them from 'mere mortals'. On the other hand some gods are very similar to geographical entities, think of river or mountain gods. In Greek mythology in particular, many protagonists have certainly never existed but this does not necessarily imply that they are gods and should be included in our database. To complicate matters further, several of these mythical figures are said to be the offspring of gods. And then there is the possibility of divinisation of humans, either after their demise or even during their life, and even for 'real' people.

How do we deal with all of these complications?

  • We distinguish the god of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition (TM God 152) from unidentified gods in polytheistic systems (TM God 870).
  • Human-like mythological figures in contact with gods but without specific divine qualities such as immortality or supernatural powers are not included, even if they are the offspring of gods.
  • Non-human mythological figures such as monsters, animals or even nymphs are included.
  • River and mountain gods or other geographic entities are included, but only references to their human-like behaviour are included, e.g. talking or love making.
  • Personifications such as Ira 'Rage' (TM God 839) are included if they are described or treated as gods in the ancient sources, often indicated by capitalisation in modern editions.
  • Divinised mythological figures are included, but references to them are only connected to the TM Gods entry if they concern their divinisation or the result of this process (often a constellation), e.g. the Crown of Ariadne.
  • Divinised 'real-life' humans are also included, but only if they are described as gods (e.g. by means of divus in Latin).
  • References to divinised rulers or their families are included, but the rulers do not have individual TM Gods entries. Attestations are connected to TM God 200 'Imperial cult' or TM God 2646 'Hellenistic cult'.
  • Saints, who have begun their life as humans and are not really divinised, have been excluded from TM Gods.

No doubt there are other complications, and very likely we have not always been consistent in the inclusion or exclusion of entities or attestations. Users should take this into account: TM Gods is a practical tool to find information and attestations, not the end product of a project on the nature of gods and the distinction between gods and humans.


TM Gods is a work in progress, even more so than other sections of Trismegistos. The gods in the TM Gods table have been gleaned from many different sources, starting with the actual attestations in Latin inscriptions and Greek papyrological texts. We have also added material from the Theoi website on Greek mythology and from Wikipedia (especially for gods and goddesses of the smaller cultures). No doubt there still are many gods missing, but we hope that the current figure of 2,431 entries is at least a good enough approximation.

For place names and for personal names, we have connected almost all of our entries to TM Gods: the detail pages provide a survey of personal names (TM People) and place names (TM Geo) referring to each god.

The work on the presence of the gods themselves, as acting parties or as the object of veneration, is much less systematic. In the academic year 2017-2018, Marije Derksen has annotated references to the most common gods in the EDCS data of 2015. This means that we may have missed references to the 'lesser gods', but also that we have not systematically reviewed our results. For Greek papyrological texts we only have the information that was collected when we applied our rule-based Named Entity Recognition to the material from the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, in the KU Leuven project Creating Identities in Graeco-Roman Egypt (2008-2012).

This means that we do not have recently published texts, for Latin inscriptions nor for Greek papyri. And for other papyrological and epigraphic texts, written in other languages, we even have nothing, except their presence in personal names and place names as specified above.

For literary texts transmitted through the mediaeval manuscript tradition, we are doing some work in the margin of the Networks of Ideas and Knowledge in the Ancient World [NIKAW] project (2022-2026). We hope to make a first instalment of gods in Latin literature available early in 2024.


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