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How new is atheism?
In Battling the Gods, Tim Whitmarsh journeys into the ancient Mediterranean to recover the stories of those who first refused the divinities.
Long before the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of disbelief in a deeply Christian Europe, atheism was a matter of serious public debate in the Greek world. But history is written by those who prevail, and the Age of Faith mostly suppressed the lively free-thinking voices of antiquity.
Tim Whitmarsh brings to life the fascinating ideas of Diagoras of Melos, perhaps the first self-professed atheist; Democritus, the first materialist; and Epicurus and his followers. He shows how the early Christians came to define themselves against atheism, and so suppress the philosophy of disbelief.
Battling the Gods is the first book on the origins of the secular values at the heart of the modern state. Authoritative and bold, provocative and humane, it reveals how atheism and doubt, far from being modern phenomena, have intrigued the human imagination for thousands of years.
In this lucid work, Whitmarsh (Greek Literature and the Roman Empire), AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge, reviews prominent atheist or questioning thinkers in the ancient world, from the archaic Greek writers of the pre-classical era to the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire. Whitmarsh's textual analysis and presentation of ancient debates reveal dynamics of change and diversity within a culture too often regarded (in historical perspective) as fixed or flat and easily summarized. Countering that tendency, Whitmarsh covers everyone from the famous Socrates and Plutarch to lesser-known figures such as Aemilianus, with discussions of their thoughts on religion and how their contemporaries confronted and dealt with those ideas. Whitmarsh is a skilled writer, employing accessible prose, clear organization of well-researched details, and erudite references and connections beyond the classical world that reveal his wide-ranging intellect. In his capable hands, this topic will engage readers from classical scholars to interested laypeople, and may even introduce new context and perspectives into our own era's treatment of religion, secularism, and the role of doubt.