Abstract | Prodicus on the Rise of Civilization: Agriculture, Religion and Culture Heroes

Prodicus gained a reputation for formulating a novel theory concerning the origins of religious belief. He suggests that humans initially regarded as gods things that were useful for their survival such as fruits and rivers, and in a more advanced stage they deified culture heroes such as Demeter and Dionysus. I suggest that Prodicus’ theory can be connected with other doctrines attributed to him, especially the speech concerning “Heracles’ choice” and the keen interest in the etymology of words. An examination of the fragmentary evidence shows Prodicus to be a thinker who was interested in the rise of civilization in general, and so his theory was part and parcel of a large-scale project to explain several interconnected aspects of social life in rational terms.