[PDF / Epub] ☂ Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World By Tim Whitmarsh – Natus-physiotherapy.co.uk


10 thoughts on “Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

  1. says:

    A lot duller than I thought it would be when I picked it up.


  2. says:

    Fascinating exploration of the role and relevance of atheism from the time of Homer to the Christianised Roman Empire Whitmarsh provides a readable and convincing case that atheism was not only evident in, but important to, ways of thinking in the Ancient World He works chronologically through the extant evidence, primarily textual works of tragedians, philosophers, historians and , that deal with the form and meaning of the divine in Greece and Rome The Greeks had no sacred texts or dete Fascinating exploration of the role and relevance of atheism from the time of Homer to the Christianised Roman Empire Whitmarsh provides a readable and convincing case that atheism was not only evident in, but important to, ways of thinking in the Ancient World He works chronologically through the extant evidence, primarily textual works of tragedians, philosophers, historians and , that deal with the form and meaning of the divine in Greece and Rome The Greeks had no sacred texts or deterministic rules to follow, works of literature were where contemporaries could debate the human divine dichotomy The pluralistic religiosity of Athenian society afforded the cornerstone for a shared culture, but one that could be questioned and tested within the bounds of contemporary discourse It was this that allowed the pre Socratic philosophers, such as Anaximander, Xenophanes, and Hippo, to move away from theological explanations for the world around them tonaturalistic and relativistic ones Most especially, human ones In Thucydides and Gorgias Helen , the question of human responsibility and justification is manifest Whitmarsh calls the Historythe earliest surviving atheist narrative of human historylocation 1287 Thucydides certainly rejected divine motivation or involvement his History of the Peloponnesian War is a thing of human action and reaction based on power, not religion My area of my personal interest, Greek tragedy and historiography Herodotus Thucydides Sophocles Euripides , provided a good deal of evidence for Whitmarsh s argument I was aware of the ways in which these new forms of literature questioned the role of the gods in society especially that of direct divine intervention in human affairs, as the punishers of transgressions or the deciders of fate Yet Whitmarsh made some excellent points about the ways in which theatre could underpin the status quo whilst being asafe space in which dangerous religious ideas can be experimented with without causing offencelocation 1602 Therefore it is important that much of the staged action of tragedy, such as Sophocles Oedipus Sophocles I Antigone Oedipus the King Oedipus at Colonus, is of humans acting outside of divine influence, even if the downfall is, in the end, inevitable Putting the question of the gods onstage opened it to the whole Athenian community, and demanded an evaluative response from its citizens I was surprised that atheism is considered by some to be a modern phenomenon, intrinsic to the post Enlightenment West It seems rathersensible, to me, to understand that there has always been a broad spectrum of belief disbelief Perhaps this is a reflection of my own atheism Or maybe because it is no longer necessarily the case that belief in God gods is considered normal , or even valuable In this vein, atheism is not now lesser or unnatural, hidden by being outside the normative accounts of society Instead, the notion of disbelief has been associated in modernity with progress time, science, and technological innovation being naturally opposed to religious belief Whitmarsh notes that within the sphere of Greek religiosity, each god was individualised to local culture, meaning that people environment determined the face of divinity according to their own circumstances situation It seems apt that the atheists he presents follow the same pattern, reflecting a diversity and plurality of opinion and explanation on the subject of the divine The nature of theist discourse is expected to be multifaceted and Whitmarsh accords that same value and interest to atheism Many thanks to Tim Whitmarsh, Faber Faber, and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review


  3. says:

    In Battling the Gods Tim Whitmarsh counters the idea that atheism is a new phenomenon, a result of the 18th century European Enlightenment, by using reason, history, and a careful examination of written works from the classical ages of Greece and Rome Whitmarsh, a professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge, states in the Preface that his book is a work of history and that his goal isn t to prosthelytize for or against atheism as a philosophical position, and I found that to be tr In Battling the Gods Tim Whitmarsh counters the idea that atheism is a new phenomenon, a result of the 18th century European Enlightenment, by using reason, history, and a careful examination of written works from the classical ages of Greece and Rome Whitmarsh, a professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge, states in the Preface that his book is a work of history and that his goal isn t to prosthelytize for or against atheism as a philosophical position, and I found that to be true, though he does believe that dismissing atheism as a recent fad can make the persecution of atheists seem like a less serious problem than the persecution of religious minorities In the opening chapter Whitmarsh argues convincingly that adopting a skeptical attitude toward miracles or supernatural beings would not be a strange, unheard of position at any time in history, and that there would have always been a spectrum of belief and unbelief After this initial chapter the book is divided into four sections Archaic Greece, Classical Athens, The Hellenistic Era, and Rome and it s in these that the author delves deeply into the written works of ancient poets, philosophers, historians, and playwrights, looking for evidence of atheism from the time of the pre Socratic philosophers in early Greece to the rise of Christianity during Constantine s rule of the Roman Empire As a history I found the book fascinating, but because I m less invested than the author in dissecting texts to discover which particular people from the ancient past may have held atheist views, my interest flagged at times Obviously the author needed to do these close and considered readings to support his contention that atheism has been around since at least the dawn of history, and considering the scholarly slant and serious subject matter, it s a highly readable book and far from dry Like any well written history,than a few parts are deeply moving the chapters on the death sentence imposed on Socrates and the long ranging repercussions of that act, for instance I read an advanced review copy supplied to me at no cost by the publisher Review opinions are mine


  4. says:

    Pssst Atheists have been around a lot longer than Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris Atheism existed in the ancient world Anyone familiar with Epicurus knows this fact but the author brings into focus Atheists that existed in the classical world I knew a lot of this history but it is nice to see it the focus of book With talk about God genes and natural propensities to religion, could it be that a small varying minority of humanity had a natural predisposition to disbelieve Unbelievers se Pssst Atheists have been around a lot longer than Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris Atheism existed in the ancient world Anyone familiar with Epicurus knows this fact but the author brings into focus Atheists that existed in the classical world I knew a lot of this history but it is nice to see it the focus of book With talk about God genes and natural propensities to religion, could it be that a small varying minority of humanity had a natural predisposition to disbelieve Unbelievers seem to go back a long way It could be that there have always been a skeptical few living among us throughout the ages


  5. says:

    While this was a bitof a polemic than I d anticipated Whitmarsh claims in his Preface that it is not my aim to prove the truth or indeed falsehood of atheism as a philosophical position, but he then practically ties himself in knots trying to work out ways in which the most unlikely of the ancients Sophocles might be construed to be atheists it is, nevertheless, interesting and entertaining Whitmarsh writes nicely, only occasionally slipping into flippancy or inserting too many While this was a bitof a polemic than I d anticipated Whitmarsh claims in his Preface that it is not my aim to prove the truth or indeed falsehood of atheism as a philosophical position, but he then practically ties himself in knots trying to work out ways in which the most unlikely of the ancients Sophocles might be construed to be atheists it is, nevertheless, interesting and entertaining Whitmarsh writes nicely, only occasionally slipping into flippancy or inserting too many popular references for purposes of illustration into his history His quest to out the atheists of ancient Greece and Rome, if often unconvincing and he is honest enough to conclude his discussions, in most cases, with the recognition that the figures he discusses, while unconventional, would generally not qualify as atheists by most modern standards offers an interesting angle from which to examine a variety of Greek and Roman philosophical and religious positions 3 1 2 stars, rounded up to 4.ETA To clarify, what I mean by polemic is that Whitmarsh is working very hard to establish the ancient Greek and Roman world as one in which, atheism was not treated as a heretical position, the other of true belief it was seen rather as one of the many possible stances one could take on the question of the gods albeit an extreme one It was only in Christian late antiquity that atheism began to be constructed in systematically antithetical terms, as the inverse of proper religion, a threat to the very foundations of human civilization Until that moment borrowing from Assman, we might speak of the Christian distinction atheism was an integral part of the cultural life of Greece Of course, as Socrates, Aristotle, Theodorus of Cyrene, etc discovered, even the ancient Greeks were not consistently open minded about religious disbelief Atheism seems to have been integral in the ancient world in the sense that questioning the nature and or interest of the gods was sometimes done And a few writers openly doubted But integral


  6. says:

    Professor Whitmarsh has brought an erudite and thorough narrative to light in researching a subject that has been seemingly neglected by mainstream historians primarily focused on the story of antiquity His recent tome, aptly entitled Battling the Gods Atheism In the Ancient World draws on a variety of partial and secondary texts in philosophy, drama and political screeds to highlight the voices of theistic doubt that pervaded the Greek and Roman world environment of pantheism Of immediate Professor Whitmarsh has brought an erudite and thorough narrative to light in researching a subject that has been seemingly neglected by mainstream historians primarily focused on the story of antiquity His recent tome, aptly entitled Battling the Gods Atheism In the Ancient World draws on a variety of partial and secondary texts in philosophy, drama and political screeds to highlight the voices of theistic doubt that pervaded the Greek and Roman world environment of pantheism Of immediate insight is his deconstruction of the much familiar Oedipus the King as a world without divine determination and the will of the gods does not dictate our lives angle that highlights the ongoing fate and free will discussion undermining a great deal of the epic stories credited to Homer And who knew that Diagoras was the first self described atheist in the Greek world In addition, his chapters regarding the famed fate of Socrates as presented to modern readers through his most famous student, Plato deserves commendation And a thoughtful chapter on the rise of Christianity as Rome floundered reinforces the well known trope of monotheism as an exclusionary religion while pantheism remained inclusionary in nature.In all, a very welcome and rather concise 242 page reflection on a little known area of ancient understanding Highly recommended


  7. says:

    An excellent portrayal of atheism in antiquity coveringthan a thousand years of free thinking and disbelief The author wishes to prove that the rise of atheism as it evolved in the last two centuries is not a phenomenon of the modern era, and he does so by exploring writings of several ancient scholars, philosophers and scientists The ancient Greeks had no sacred texts, no particular moral codes invested in religion, while priests and priestesses were there only for the occasional ritual An excellent portrayal of atheism in antiquity coveringthan a thousand years of free thinking and disbelief The author wishes to prove that the rise of atheism as it evolved in the last two centuries is not a phenomenon of the modern era, and he does so by exploring writings of several ancient scholars, philosophers and scientists The ancient Greeks had no sacred texts, no particular moral codes invested in religion, while priests and priestesses were there only for the occasional rituals and sacrifices So the circumstances favored philosophical debate, doubt, even open challenge of the nature of divinity Atheists were often frowned upon but were rarely prosecuted see Anaxagoras or the trial of Socrates Tragedy was one of the most successful vehicles in order to disapprove of the gods right to intervene into human affairs, especially the plays by Sophocles and Euripides I personally find Aeschyluspious A mass audience had the chance to familiarize with atheistic and agnostic beliefs through a popular spectacle such as the tragedy.Extremely interesting subject, well written researched and the use of a smooth understandable language makes it evenappealing to the untrained reader.Many thanks to Faber Faber Ltd and Netgalley for providing a copy of this wonderful book in exchange for an honest review.Recommended reading In EnglishAntigone Oedipus the King ElectraThe Trojan WomenThe Trial and Death of SocratesThe Epicurus Reader Selected Writings and TestimoniaNatural History A SelectionIn Greek 1 , , , , , ,


  8. says:

    This was a very dense dive into a somewhat niche topic but it ended up being very intriguing albeit occasionally a drag The references are thin but Whitmarsh does a pretty convincing job of convincing you that the general view of Atheism being very much a post enlightenment phenomena is simply not true he goes through four ages of the classical world including Ancient Greece, Classical Greece, the Hellenistic period and Ancient Rome and chronicles the various figures of Atheism all on a spec This was a very dense dive into a somewhat niche topic but it ended up being very intriguing albeit occasionally a drag The references are thin but Whitmarsh does a pretty convincing job of convincing you that the general view of Atheism being very much a post enlightenment phenomena is simply not true he goes through four ages of the classical world including Ancient Greece, Classical Greece, the Hellenistic period and Ancient Rome and chronicles the various figures of Atheism all on a spectrum some out and out denying the existence of Gods period others the Epicurians with aDeist flare to them and so forth connected by their ideas but never really in any formal group or school as you imagine ancient philosophic schools to be like What was cool for me was that the book was actually a really good at laying the landscape of the political progression from Ancient Greece through to the city states, to the rise of Macedonia and through to the rise of Rome which I had never really had the dots connected on before Three stars because well it was a slog at times lots of names that all sound very similar which I was not familiar with, incredibly dense and academic which in a sense would be a strength of the book for someone studying classics but was a bit much for thecasual reader If your really into your classics give it a go, otherwise give it a miss


  9. says:

    This is an excellent history of a neglected element in Classical thought and culture atheism and scepticism about the gods in the Greek and Roman world Whitmarsh not only manages to present an analysis of this subject from Archaic Greece to the Christian emperors of the fourth century, but he also does so in a way that is highly accessible to the general reader Each period and movement he discusses is presented with enough historical, social and political background for readers to understand This is an excellent history of a neglected element in Classical thought and culture atheism and scepticism about the gods in the Greek and Roman world Whitmarsh not only manages to present an analysis of this subject from Archaic Greece to the Christian emperors of the fourth century, but he also does so in a way that is highly accessible to the general reader Each period and movement he discusses is presented with enough historical, social and political background for readers to understand the context of the rest of his discussion and analysis and endnotes give excellent guides for further reading on all key points Whitmarsh takes care to ensure these summaries don t become glib or overgeneralised And even those who are very familiar with the periods in question benefit from the judicious way he links his story s chapters together The transition over time from the the vigorous, varied, highly competitive and necessarily self reliant poleis of Archaic Greece, with their variety of schools of thought, to the farcentralised, monarchical, monotheistic and ideologically restrictive world of the late Roman Empire is made very clear And this helps the reader understand the changes in thought over this same period.Given that this is one of the few histories of ancient unbelief and certainly the most accessible on the subject, the way it pulls together all the various atheist, semi atheist and otherwise sceptical strands in ancient writings and shows how they interconnected is extremely useful His primary objective showing that atheism did not spring fully formed from the writers of the Enlightenment and actually has a deep, ancient pedigree is definitely achieved But where the book becomes somewhat frustrating and, at times, less than convincing is where Whitmarsh seems to be stretching the evidence to maximise the picture of ancient atheism s extent and impact Sometimes this is limited to rather too much use of the words perhaps or maybe Other times it seems the most atheist interpretation of evidence is being emphasised over other readings Whitmarsh is too careful a scholar to fall into pure speculation in the place of analysis, but in places he seems to veer extremely close to it So the first time he suggested a thinker e.g Plato was merely pretending to believe in the gods to avoid public disapproval I was happy to let that supposition by After he had done this several times, however, this gambit began to grate So Lucretius claim that Epicurus himself was a god gets read as purely figurative and, on the basis of some very ambiguous evidence, Whitmarsh declares that it is absolutely clear that the Epicurians were only pretending to condemn atheism because they were secretly atheists themselves This is unconvincing stuff.In a similar vein, scepticism about the Olympian gods or even just some wry mockery of the myths related about them gets equated much too closely with full atheism In several places the reader is assured that sceptics about the gods who expressed, despite this, a belief in the divine were really talking about nature and not anything actually godlike An increasing tendency to be sceptical about theconventional, unintellectual conception of the gods and a corresponding move to a conception of a single divine principle the One in Neoplatonism is arguably a fairly clear progression from the third century BC onward, but that gets downplayed in Whitmarsh s telling That Roman Christianity both co opted this tendency and, at the same time, grew out of it is also pretty clear, but this is barely touched on.So in the final chapters we are told that on the eve of Constantine s conversion atheism had developed to the point that the Roman Empire stood open to the possibility of a world that left religions behind , yet when the Constantinian emperors combined their new faith with imperial power, atheism did not even register as a threat to them In all the laws about heresies, pagan sacrifice and belief folded into the Theodosian Code at the close of the fourth century AD, there is not a single one about atheism or anything like it Whitmarsh says this is because the new order simply could not conceive of such unbelief, but ignores theobvious alternative explanation atheism had always been a fringe idea and so was simply not important enough to proscribe.So this is a highly enjoyable, extremely interesting and very useful book Even when its arguments seem strained, it remains reasonable if not always wholly convincing All else aside, it is definitely a book I know I will be returning to many times to consult and re read, which is always a sign of book that has made a valuable contribution


  10. says:

    Battling the Gods meets its design, which, according to the author is for a broad readershipit deals with a millennium of history in a small compass and cannot be comprehensive I will becritical in 242 pages there is room enough only for a summary historical sketch, elaborating only when necessary to connect all the mentioned people and ideas into some topical thread I get the feeling the author had written a larger book that was severely cut down for publication.Tim Whitmarsh i Battling the Gods meets its design, which, according to the author is for a broad readershipit deals with a millennium of history in a small compass and cannot be comprehensive I will becritical in 242 pages there is room enough only for a summary historical sketch, elaborating only when necessary to connect all the mentioned people and ideas into some topical thread I get the feeling the author had written a larger book that was severely cut down for publication.Tim Whitmarsh is a professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge and not surprisingly the chapters on Greek religion and atheism are well done, but not nearly detailed enough Much of the material the mythological, theological, and philosophical ideas of all the usual Greek characters from Homer, through the Anaxims, Xenophanes, Herodotus, Protagoras, etc., up to Socrates, Aristotle, and Epicurus has, of course, been covered elsewhere by innumerable authors for centuries, and has been taught to most college students What Whitmarsh adds, however, is a particular focus on atheism, or, as he calls it, battling the gods, which does make the material worth sifting through, at least, to locate the new matter But because of the few pages he has to cover all this, it often appears simply as a elucidation of names and ideas, formatted into paragraphs, a form which is the shallowest kind of history.After using 193 pages 78% of the book on the Greeks, only 50 pages are given to the Romans This was the major failure of the book Whitmarsh s main thesis is that atheism in Greece existed in interconnected pockets, and was influential enough as such, but in Rome grew to something much larger, eventually enraging the Christians by being an example of any belief system which was not Christian The Theodosian Code was promulgated in the Fifth Century AD directly as a result of this It defined Catholic Christianity in opposition to every other belief As Whitmarsh states correctly, The arrival of Catholic Christianity Christianity conjoined with imperial power meant the end of ancient atheism in the West Once it had been established that the paradigm of true versus false religion was the only one that mattered, there was nowhere to place atheism on the map Yes, he rises to his subject in the Roman chapters, but they are much, much too short.I picked up Battling the Gods as an accessory to Gibbon s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which I m reading now They dovetail, chronologically, quite well, but especially in the light of Gibbon s great work, Whitmarsh s was insufficient.The last word goes to Whitmarsh The apparent rise of atheism in the last two centuries c 1800 now , however, is not a historical anomaly viewed from the longer perspective of ancient history, what is anomalous is the global dominance of monotheistic religions and the resultant inability to acknowledge the existence of disbelievers


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Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World How New Is Atheism Although Adherents And Opponents Alike Today Present It As An Invention Of The European Enlightenment, When The Forces Of Science And Secularism Broadly Challenged Those Of Faith, Disbelief In The Gods, In Fact, Originated In A Far Remote Past In Battling The Gods, Tim Whitmarsh Journeys Into The Ancient Mediterranean, A World Almost Unimaginably Different From Our Own, To Recover The Stories And Voices Of Those Who First Refused The DivinitiesHomer S Epic Poems Of Human Striving, Journeying, And Passion Were Ancient Greece S Only Sacred Texts, But No Ancient Greek Thought Twice About Questioning Or Mocking His Stories Of The Gods Priests Were Functionaries Rather Than Sources Of Moral Or Cosmological Wisdom The Absence Of Centralized Religious Authority Made For An Extraordinary Variety Of Perspectives On Sacred Matters, From The Devotional To The Atheos, Or Godless Whitmarsh Explores This Kaleidoscopic Range Of Ideas About The Gods, Focusing On The Colorful Individuals Who Challenged Their Existence Among These Were Some Of The Greatest Ancient Poets And Philosophers And Writers, As Well As The Less Well Known Diagoras Of Melos, Perhaps The First Self Professed Atheist Democritus, The First Materialist Socrates, Executed For Rejecting The Gods Of The Athenian State Epicurus And His Followers, Who Thought Gods Could Not Intervene In Human Affairs The Brilliantly Mischievous Satirist Lucian Of SamosataBefore The Revolutions Of Late Antiquity, Which Saw The Scriptural Religions Of Christianity And Islam Enforced By Imperial Might, There Were Few Constraints On Belief Everything Changed, However, In The Millennium Between The Appearance Of The Homeric Poems And Christianity S Establishment As Rome S State Religion In The Fourth Century AD As Successive Greco Roman Empires Grew In Size And Complexity, And Power Was Increasingly Concentrated In Central Capitals, States Sought To Impose Collective Religious Adherence, First To Cults Devoted To Individual Rulers, And Ultimately To Monotheism In This New World, There Was No Room For Outright Disbelief The Label Atheist Was Used Now To Demonize Anyone Who Merely Disagreed With The Orthodoxy And So It Would Remain For CenturiesAs The Twenty First Century Shapes Up Into A Time Of Mass Information, But Also, Paradoxically, Of Collective Amnesia Concerning The Tangled Histories Of Religions, Whitmarsh Provides A Bracing Antidote To Our Assumptions About The Roots Of Freethinking By Shining A Light On Atheism S First Thousand Years, Battling The Gods Offers A Timely Reminder That Nonbelief Has A Wealth Of Tradition Of Its Own, And, Indeed, Its Own Heroes From The Hardcover Edition

  • ebook
  • 304 pages
  • Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World
  • Tim Whitmarsh
  • English
  • 01 February 2018
  • 0307958337

About the Author: Tim Whitmarsh

Tim Whitemarsh is A.G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University He works on all areas of Greek literature and culture, specialising particularly in the world of Greeks under the Roman Empire He has also written a book on atheism in the ancient world, which will be out with Faber and Faber in 2015.