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Battling the Gods

by Tim Whitmarsh

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 more 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 divinities.Homer'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 Samosata.Before 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 centuries.As 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.

Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

by Tim Whitmarsh

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 more 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 divinities.Homer'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 Samosata.Before 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 centuries.As 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.

Beyond the Second Sophistic

by Tim Whitmarsh

The "Second Sophistic" traditionally refers to a period at the height of the Roman Empire's power that witnessed a flourishing of Greek rhetoric and oratory, and since the 19th century it has often been viewed as a defense of Hellenic civilization against the domination of Rome. This book proposes a very different model. Covering popular fiction, poetry and Greco-Jewish material, it argues for a rich, dynamic, and diverse culture, which cannot be reduced to a simple model of continuity. Shining new light on a series of playful, imaginative texts that are left out of the traditional accounts of Greek literature, Whitmarsh models a more adventurous, exploratory approach to later Greek culture. Beyond the Second Sophistic offers not only a new way of looking at Greek literature from 300 BCE onwards, but also a challenge to the Eurocentric, aristocratic constructions placed on the Greek heritage. Accessible and lively, it will appeal to students and scholars of Greek literature and culture, Hellenistic Judaism, world literature, and cultural theory.

The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel

by Tim Whitmarsh

The Greek and Roman novels of Petronius, Apuleius, Longus, Heliodorus and others have been cherished for millennia, but never more so than now. The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel contains nineteen original essays by an international cast of experts in the field. The emphasis is upon the critical interpretation of the texts within historical settings, both in antiquity and in the later generations that have been and continue to be inspired by them. All the central issues of current scholarship are addressed: sexuality, cultural identity, class, religion, politics, narrative, style, readership and much more. Four sections cover cultural context of the novels, their contents, literary form, and their reception in classical antiquity and beyond. Each chapter includes guidance on further reading. This collection will be essential for scholars and students, as well as for others who want an up-to-date, accessible introduction into this exhilarating material.

Galen and the World of Knowledge

by Christopher Gill Tim Whitmarsh John Wilkins

Galen is the most important medical writer in Graeco-Roman antiquity, and also extremely valuable for understanding Graeco-Roman thought and society in the second century AD. This volume of new essays locates him firmly in the intellectual life of his period, and thus aims to make better sense of the medical and philosophical 'world of knowledge' that he tries to create. How did Galen present himself as a reader and an author in comparison with other intellectuals of his day? Above all, how did he fashion himself as a medical practitioner, and how does that self-fashioning relate to the performance culture of second-century Rome? Did he see medicine as taking over some of the traditional roles of philosophy? These and other questions are freshly addressed by leading international experts on Galen and the intellectual life of the period, in a stimulating collection that combines learning with accessibility.

The Romance Between Greece and the East

by Tim Whitmarsh Stuart Thomson

The contact zones between the Greco-Roman world and the Near East represent one of the most exciting and fast-moving areas of ancient-world studies. This new collection of essays, by world-renowned experts (and some new voices) in classical, Jewish, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian literature, focuses specifically on prose fiction, or 'the ancient novel'. Twenty chapters either offer fresh readings - from an intercultural perspective - of familiar texts (such as the biblical Esther and Ecclesiastes, Xenophon of Ephesus' Ephesian Story and Dictys of Crete's Journal), or introduce material that may be new to many readers: from demotic Egyptian papyri through old Avestan hymns to a Turkic translation of the Life of Aesop. The volume also considers issues of methodology and the history of scholarship on the topic. A concluding section deals with the question of how narratives, patterns and motifs may have come to be transmitted between cultures.

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