A New Translation of Epictetus

9780691177717_0Here’s a good book for Election Day, however it turns out.

Recent years have seen a small revival of Stoicism, perhaps in response to the hypersensitivity that pervades our culture; witness the amazing popularity of Jordan Peterson, especially among young men. Christians often complain about today’s neo-paganism. If the paganism that revives is the Stoic variety, though, things might not be too bad. Conflicts would exist, surely. For example, Stoicism allows for suicide as a moral choice in some circumstances, and could support the movement to legalize euthanasia. Christianity could not. And the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius didn’t prevent the Empire from persecuting Christians, though it’s not clear how much Marcus himself was involved. But, today, Christianity and Stoicism could get along reasonably well, it seems to me–better, anyway, than Christianity and the other forms of neo-paganism currently on offer.

Last month, Princeton released a new translation of Epictetus by classicist A.A. Long (Cal-Berkeley). Here’s the description of the book, How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life, from Princeton’s website:

A superb new edition of Epictetus’s famed handbook on Stoicism—translated by one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoic philosophy

Born a slave, the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) taught that mental freedom is supreme, since it can liberate one anywhere, even in a prison. In How to Be Free, A. A. Long—one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoicism and a pioneer in its remarkable contemporary revival—provides a superb new edition of Epictetus’s celebrated guide to the Stoic philosophy of life (the Encheiridion) along with a selection of related reflections in his Discourses.

Freedom, for Epictetus, is not a human right or a political prerogative but a psychological and ethical achievement, a gift that we alone can bestow on ourselves. We can all be free, but only if we learn to assign paramount value to what we can control (our motivations and reactions), treat what we cannot control with equanimity, and view our circumstances as opportunities to do well and be well, no matter what happens to us through misfortune or the actions of other people.

How to Be Free features splendid new translations and the original Greek on facing pages, a compelling introduction that sets Epictetus in context and describes the importance of Stoic freedom today, and an invaluable glossary of key words and concepts. The result is an unmatched introduction to this powerful method of managing emotions and handling life’s situations, from the most ordinary to the most demanding.

 

Winn, “Reading Mark’s Christology under Caesar”

5211Here is a forthcoming book from IVP Academic that reads the Gospel According to Mark as, in part, a response to imperial propaganda. I don’t know enough to evaluate the author’s argument, but the idea that first-century Roman Christians would have recognized references to the Flavian emperors, and to current events like the sack of Jerusalem, that elude us today is certainly plausible. Perhaps Mark’s Gospel is, at least in part, a reflection on Roman state policy. The book is Reading Mark’s Christology under Caesar: Jesus the Messiah and Roman Imperial Ideology, by Adam Winn (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor College of Christian Studies). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The Gospel of Mark has been studied from multiple angles using many methods. But often there remains a sense that something is wanting, that the full picture of Mark’s Gospel lacks some background circuitry that would light up the whole.

Adam Winn finds a clue in the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. For Jews and Christians it was an apocalyptic moment. The gods of Rome seemed to have conquered the God of the Jews.

Could it be that Mark wrote his Gospel in response to Roman imperial propaganda surrounding this event? Could a messiah crucified by Rome really be God’s Son appointed to rule the world?

Winn considers how Mark might have been read by Christians in Rome in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem. He introduces us to the propaganda of the Flavian emperors and excavates the Markan text for themes that address the Roman imperial setting. We discover an intriguing first-century response to the question “Christ or Caesar?”

Rupke, “Pantheon”

9780691156835Earlier this year, Princeton released a new work on religion in Ancient Rome that looks quite interesting. The book is Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, by German religious studies scholar Jörg Rüpke (University of Erfurt). Ancient Rome did not separate religion from government, as we do today. The emperor held the title of Pontifex Maximus, the greatest bridge-builder between the gods and men; visitors to the Capitoline Museum today can see, in one of the museum’s staircases, a wonderful bas-relief of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius performing a sacrifice in that role. Indeed, it is only the liberal societies of the West (and their imitators in other parts of the world) that have attempted to separate religion from the state, typically in an attempt to squelch the power of Christianity. The liberal project is feeling some strain just now; one wonders whether, if liberalism really does fade away, Western societies will return to the older model, with religion at the center of public life. But what religion would that be? Anyway, here is the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

From one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, an innovative and comprehensive account of religion in the ancient Roman and Mediterranean world

In this ambitious and authoritative book, Jörg Rüpke provides a comprehensive and strikingly original narrative history of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion over more than a millennium—from the late Bronze Age through the Roman imperial period and up to late antiquity. While focused primarily on the city of Rome, Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity. This generously illustrated book is also distinguished by its unique emphasis on lived religion, a perspective that stresses how individuals’ experiences and practices transform religion into something different from its official form. The result is a radically new picture of both Roman religion and a crucial period in Western religion—one that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even the modern idea of religion itself.

Drawing on a vast range of literary and archaeological evidence, Pantheon shows how Roman religion shaped and was shaped by its changing historical contexts from the ninth century BCE to the fourth century CE. Because religion was not a distinct sphere in the Roman world, the book treats religion as inseparable from political, social, economic, and cultural developments. The narrative emphasizes the diversity of Roman religion; offers a new view of central concepts such as “temple,” “altar,” and “votive”; reassesses the gendering of religious practices; and much more. Throughout, Pantheon draws on the insights of modern religious studies, but without “modernizing” ancient religion.

With its unprecedented scope and innovative approach, Pantheon is an unparalleled account of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion.

Harper, “The Fate of Rome”

9780691166834Here’s a new book from Princeton University Press, The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, by University of Oklahoma classicist Kyle Harper. The book argues that climate change and disease brought down the Empire. I guess Gibbon was wrong about it being the Christians’ fault. The description from the Princeton website:

A sweeping new history of how climate change and disease helped bring down the Roman Empire.

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome’s power—a story of nature’s triumph over human ambition.

Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. He takes readers from Rome’s pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the seventh century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a “little ice age” and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.

A poignant reflection on humanity’s intimate relationship with the environment, The Fate of Rome provides a sweeping account of how one of history’s greatest civilizations encountered and endured, yet ultimately succumbed to the cumulative burden of nature’s violence. The example of Rome is a timely reminder that climate change and germ evolution have shaped the world we inhabit—in ways that are surprising and profound.

Teitler, “The Last Pagan Emperor”

In March, the Oxford University Press released “The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity,” by H.C. Teitler.  The publisher’s description follows:

Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but 9780190626501.jpgapostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine’s sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius’ sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.

As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called ‘Galilaeans’. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians–the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor’s early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.

Ramelli, “Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery”

In January, Oxford University Press will release Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery: The Role of Philosophical Asceticism from Ancient Judaism to Late Antiquity by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli (Thomas Aquinas University). The publisher’s description follows:

social-justice-and-the-legitimacy-of-slaveryWere slavery and social injustice leading to dire poverty in antiquity and late antiquity only regarded as normal, “natural” (Aristotle), or at best something morally “indifferent” (the Stoics), or, in the Christian milieu, a sad but inevitable consequence of the Fall, or even an expression of God’s unquestionable will? Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery shows that there were also definitive condemnations of slavery and social injustice as iniquitous and even impious, and that these came especially from ascetics, both in Judaism and in Christianity, and occasionally also in Greco-Roman (“pagan”) philosophy. Ilaria L. E. Ramelli argues that this depends on a link not only between asceticism and renunciation, but also between asceticism and justice, at least in ancient and late antique philosophical asceticism.

Ramelli provides a careful investigation through all of Ancient Philosophy (not only Aristotle and the Stoics, but also the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, the Neoplatonists, and much more), Ancient to Rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic Jewish ascetic groups such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae, all of the New Testament, with special focus on Paul and Jesus, and Greek, Latin, and Syriac Patristic, from Clement and Origen to the Cappadocians, from John Chrysostom to Theodoret to Byzantine monastics, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Bardaisan to Aphrahat, without neglecting the Christianized Sentences of Sextus. In particular, Ramelli considers Gregory of Nyssa and the interrelation between theory and practice in all of these ancient and patristic philosophers, as well as to the parallels that emerge in their arguments against slavery and against social injustice.

Hurtado, “Destroyer of the Gods”

In September, Baylor University Press will release “Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World,” by Larry W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows:

Destroyer of the Gods“Silly,” “stupid,” “irrational,” “simple.” “Wicked,” “hateful,” “obstinate,” “anti-social.” “Extravagant,” “perverse.” The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity—including branding Christianity “new.” Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a “bookish” religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day.

In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic—a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project.

Christianity’s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

Ulanowski, “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome”

In July, Brill Publishers released “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome,” by Krzysztof Ulanowski (Gdańsk University). The publisher’s description follows:

“Hellenistic Sanctuaries” (Melfi & Bobou, eds.)

In April, Oxford University Press will release “Hellenistic Sanctuaries: Between Greece and Rome,” edited by Milena Melfi (Oxford University) and Olympia Bobou (Ashmolean Museum).  The publisher’s description follows:

Sanctuaries were at the heart of Greek religious, social, political, and cultural life; however, we have a limited understanding of how sanctuary spaces, politics, and 9780199654130rituals intersected in the Greek cities of the Hellenistic and Republican periods. This edited collection focuses on the archaeological material of this era and how it can elucidate the complex relationship between the various forces operating on, and changing the physical space of, sanctuaries. Material such as archaeological remains, sculptures, and inscriptions provides us with concrete evidence of how sanctuaries functioned as locations of memory in a social environment dominated by the written word, and gives us insight into political choices and decisions. It also reveals changes unrecorded in surviving local or political histories. Each case study explored by this volume’s contributors employs archaeology as the primary means of investigation: from art-historical approaches, to surveys and fieldwork, to re-evaluation of archival material. Hellenistic Sanctuaries represents a significant contribution to the existing bibliography on ancient Greek religion, history, and archaeology, and provides new ways of thinking about politics, rituals, and sanctuary spaces in Greece.

“Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome” (eds. Salzman et al)

In November, the Cambridge University Press released “Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century,” edited by Michele Renee Salzman (University of California, Riverside), Marianne Sághy (Central European University), and Rita Lizzi Testa (Università degli Studi di Perugia). The publisher’s description follows: 

This book sheds new light on the religious and consequently social changes taking place in late antique Rome. The essays in this volume argue that the once-51gcE0J9FuL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_dominant notion of pagan-Christian religious conflict cannot fully explain the texts and artifacts, as well as the social, religious, and political realities of late antique Rome. Together, the essays demonstrate that the fourth-century city was a more fluid, vibrant, and complex place than was previously thought. Competition between diverse groups in Roman society – be it pagans with Christians, Christians with Christians, or pagans with pagans – did create tensions and hostility, but it also allowed for coexistence and reduced the likelihood of overt violent, physical conflict. Competition and coexistence, along with conflict, emerge as still central paradigms for those who seek to understand the transformations of Rome from the age of Constantine through the early fifth century.

  • The most up-to-date analysis of the texts and archaeological evidence from late antique Rome
  • Written by an international team of scholars with diverse backgrounds and approaches
  • Illuminates new approaches to ancient history by addressing the nature of religious change in the largest city in the Mediterranean world – Rome
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