The noun apotheosis traditionally means (1) deification, (2) glorification, and (3) an exalted or glorified example. But in practical usage, the word is almost always used as a synonym of apex, quintessence, or culmination. This sense appears even in publications with high editorial standards—for example:

Obama could do that in the presidential campaign because he was the thrilling apotheosis of the multi-century struggle against racism. [Washington Post]

Bagshaw is the apotheosis of the hack journalist, omni-competent in mediocrity of all kinds … [Independent]

Similar examples abound, and meanwhile we can’t find a single instance of apotheosis used in the traditional sense. This suggests the original definitions of the word may be dying, and that apotheosis now means culmination. The original apotheosis is a good word, though, so careful writers should perhaps keep fighting for it.

Let us know if you can find any instances of apotheosis used correctly (according to the conventional definition)

10 thoughts on “Apotheosis”

  1. The dictionary on my macbook defines apotheosis thusly:

    apotheosis |əˌpäθēˈōsis; ˌapəˈθēəsis|

    noun ( pl. -ses |-ˌsēz|) [usu. in sing. ]

    the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax : his appearance as Hamlet was the apotheosis of his career.

    So it seems that the new definition is now officially replacing the original. This is too bad, there are PLENTY of synonyms for apex, culmination, climax, etc, and not nearly as many for the act of deifying something.

  2. The word “apotheosis” is commonly found in titles of ancient works of art– “The Apotheosis of Sabina” being a notable example.

  3. I encountered the term in The Great Gatsby. My professor of Early Christianity always uses it correctly when he refers to the imperial cult of the Roman Emperors – where Caesar and the like are shown joining the gods, ascending, transformed to a deity.

  4. “Jame, Dally, and Canden went to Judgment Square to see the apotheosis of the Frost King, but were driven to the rooftops when fighting broke out…” P.C. Hodgell, second sentence in chapter 6 of “God Stalk”


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