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For other uses, see Demigod (disambiguation).
"Cuchulain Slays the Hound of Culain", illustration by Stephen Reid from Eleanor Hull's The Boys' Cuchulain, 1904

A demigod (or demi-god) is a divine or supernatural being in classical mythology. The term has been used in various ways at different times and can refer to a figure who has attained divine status after death, a minor deity, or a mortal who is the offspring of a god and a human.


The English term is a calque of the Latin semideus, "half god",[1] which is probably a coining by the Roman poet Ovid in reference to less important gods, such as dryads.[2]


In the ancient Greek and Roman world the word did not have a consistent definition.[3] It was rarely used and had a number of different meanings.[4]

The earliest recorded use of the term is in the archaic Greek poets Homer and Hesiod. Both describe dead heroes as hemitheoi, "half gods". This did not mean that they had one parent who was divine and one who was mortal.[5] Instead, according to Price, those who demonstrated "strength, power, good family, and good behavior" were termed heroes, and after death they could be called hemitheoi, a process she refers to as "heroization".[6] Pindar also uses the term frequently as a synonym for hero.[7]

According to the Roman author Cassius Dio, Julius Caesar was declared a demigod by the Roman Senate after his victory at Thapsus.[8] However, Dio was writing in the third century and modern critics have cast doubt on this.[2][9]

The first Roman to employ the term demigod may have been the poet Ovid who used the Latin semideus several times in reference to minor deities.[2] The poet Lucan also uses the term to speak of Pompey attaining divinity upon his death.[10] In later antiquity, the Roman writer Martianus Capella proposed a hierarchy of gods: the gods proper, or major gods; the genii or daemones; the demigods or semones (who dwell in the upper atmosphere); the manes and ghosts of heroes (who dwell in the lower atmosphere); and the earth-dwelling gods like fauns and satyrs.[11]


The term demigod first appeared in English in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century when it was used to render the Greek and Roman concepts of semideus and daemon.[1] Since then, it has frequently been applied figuratively to people of extraordinary ability.[12] John Milton states in Paradise Lost that angels are demigods.[13]

Demigods are important figures in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, where many of the characters, including Percy Jackson himself are demigods. In Riordan's work, a demigod is strictly defined as an individual born of one human and one divine parent.[14]


In Hinduism, demigod is used to refer to deities who were once human and later became devas (gods). There are three very notable demigods in Vedic Scriptures, Hanuman, Nandi (the divine vehicle of Shiva), and Garuda (the divine steed of Vishnu). Examples of demigods worshiped in South India are Madurai Veeran and Karuppu Sami.

The heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers, fit the Western definition of demigods, but are generally not referred to as such. Queen Kunti, the wife of King Pandu, was given a mantra that, when recited, meant that one of the Gods would give her his child. When her husband was cursed to die if he ever engaged in sexual relations, Kunti used this mantra to provide her husband with children, Yudishtira (father Yama), Bhima (father Vayu) and Arjuna (father Indra). She taught this mantra to Madri, King Pandu's other wife, and she conceived twin boys, Nakula and Sahadeva (fathers the Asvins). Queen Kunti had previously conceived another son, Karna, when she had tested the mantra out—despite her protests, Surya the sun god was compelled by the mantra to impregnate her.

The Vaishnavites (who often translate deva as "demigod") cite various verses that speak of the devas' subordinate status. For example, the Rig Veda (1.22.20) states, oṃ tad viṣṇoḥ paramam padam sadā paśyanti sūrayaḥ: "All the suras (i.e., the devas) look always toward the feet of Lord Vishnu." Similarly, in the Vishnu Sahasranama the concluding verses state: "The Rishis (great sages), the ancestors, the devas, the great elements, in fact all things moving and unmoving constituting this universe, have originated from Narayana," (i.e., Vishnu). Thus the Devas are stated to be subordinate to Vishnu, or God.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) translated the Sanskrit word "deva" as "demigod" in his literature when the term referred to a God other than the Supreme Lord. This is because the ISKCON tradition teaches that there is only one Supreme Lord and that all others are but His servants. In order to emphasize their subservience, Prabhupada used the word "demigod" as a translation of deva. However, there are at least three occurrences in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavad-Gita where the word deva is used to refer to Lord Krishna; here Prabhupada translates it as "Lord". The word deva can be used to refer to the Supreme Lord, celestial beings and saintly souls depending on the context. This is similar to the word Bhagavan which is translated according to different contexts.

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna himself states that worshipers of deities other than the Supreme Lord, Vishnu, are incorrect (Gita 9.23) as such worship leads only to temporal benefits, rather than to the Lord Himself (Gita 7.23). Krishna also says: "Whatever deity or form a devotee worships, I make his faith steady. However, their wishes are granted only by Me." (Gita: 7:21-22) Elsewhere in the Gita Lord Krishna states: "O Arjuna, even those devotees who worship other lesser deities (e.g., devas, for example) with faith, they also worship Me, but in an improper way because I am the Supreme Being. I alone am the enjoyer of all sacrificial services (Seva, Yajna) and Lord of the universe." (Gita: 9:23)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary. UK: Oxford University Press. 1971. 
  2. ^ a b c Weinstock, Stefan (1971). Divus Julius. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. p. 53. 
  3. ^ Talbert, C H (1975). "The Concept of Immortals in Mediterranean Antiquity". Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (3): 419–436. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Charlton. An Elementary Latin Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 767. 
  5. ^ Hansen, W (2004). Handbook of Classical Mythology. ABC-CLIO Ltd. p. 199. 
  6. ^ Price, T H (1973). "Hero-cult and Homer". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 22 (2): pp. 129–144. 
  7. ^ Liddell, H (1897). A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford University Press. 
  8. ^ Dio, Cassius. Roman History. 43.21.2. 
  9. ^ Fishwick, D (1975). "The name of the demigod". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 24 (4): pp. 624–628. 
  10. ^ Lucan. The Civil War. Book 9. 
  11. ^ Capella, Martianus. De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. 2.156. 
  12. ^ "demigod". Collins English Dictionary. Collins. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Milton, John (1667). Paradise Lost. 9.937. 
  14. ^ Riordan, Rick (2010). Percy Jackson: The Demigod Files. London: Penguin. 

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Guardian Liberty Voice

Guardian Liberty Voice
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 23:00:00 -0700

The MGM and Paramount feature Hercules, with Dwayne Johnson is an impressive retelling of the legendary myth of a stupendously strong hero in an alternative story of a demigod. While many will automatically think of the actor Kevin Sorbo and his small ...
Chicago Daily Herald
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 10:26:15 -0700

Say this for Brett Ratner's production of "Hercules:" This movie has a sense of proportion. Running just over 90 minutes, the movie is often clunky, but at least it's fast and unpretentious. And its likable star, Dwayne Johnson, manages to murder ...


Sun, 27 Jul 2014 08:22:30 -0700

The movie also feels the need to remind us that Hercules is a demigod over and over again. However they don't really take that trait to it's full potential. It's the reason why I was reminded of Conan The Barbarian a lot of the time. Most of the time I ...

Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press
Sat, 26 Jul 2014 00:07:30 -0700

Hercules may look like just another swords-sandals-'n'-sorcery movie, but that's a clever bit of misdirection. There is precious little sorcery or godly magic here. In fact, this may be the first Hercules movie to openly question the existence of Zeus.

Toronto Sun

Thu, 17 Jul 2014 09:59:38 -0700

"Rush Hour" director (and super nice guy) Brett Ratner has teamed up with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to right the wrongs of this year's earlier "Hercules Movie That Shall Not Be Named," with the more simply titled and far more promising "Hercules," out ...


Times of Malta
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 00:18:34 -0700

The film is a well-honed exercise in popcorn entertainment that besides presenting Dwayne Johnson as the central action hero, provides a strong supporting cast and debunks all we know or think we know about the Greek demigod. Brett Ratner's film is ...
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Wed, 30 Jul 2014 00:52:30 -0700

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Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:48:45 -0700

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