cover image Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

Tim Whitmarsh. Knopf, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-95832-7

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. (Nov.)