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Atheism in Pagan Antiquity   By: (1860-1935)

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Atheism In Pagan Antiquity

By

A. B. Drachmann

Professor of Classical Philology in the University of Copenhagen

Gyldendal

11 Hanover Square, London, W.1

Copenhagen

Christiania

1922

CONTENTS

Preface Introduction Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Chapter VII Chapter VIII Chapter IX Notes Index Footnotes

PREFACE

The present treatise originally appeared in Danish as a University publication ( Kjoebenhavns Universitets Festskrift , November 1919). In submitting it to the English public, I wish to acknowledge my profound indebtedness to Mr. G. F. Hill of the British Museum, who not only suggested the English edition, but also with untiring kindness has subjected the translation, as originally made by Miss Ingeborg Andersen, M.A. of Copenhagen, to a painstaking and most valuable revision.

For an account of the previous treatments of the subject, as well as of the method employed in my investigation, the reader is referred to the introductory remarks which precede the Notes.

A. B. DRACHMANN. CHARLOTTENLUND, July 1922 .

INTRODUCTION

The present inquiry is the outcome of a request to write an article on "Atheism" for a projected dictionary of the religious history of classical antiquity. On going through the sources I found that the subject might well deserve a more comprehensive treatment than the scope of a dictionary would allow. It is such a treatment that I have attempted in the following pages.

A difficulty that occurred at the very beginning of the inquiry was how to define the notion of atheism. Nowadays the term is taken to designate the attitude which denies every idea of God. Even antiquity sometimes referred to atheism in this sense; but an inquiry dealing with the history of religion could not start from a definition of that kind. It would have to keep in view, not the philosophical notion of God, but the conceptions of the gods as they appear in the religion of antiquity. Hence I came to define atheism in Pagan antiquity as the point of view which denies the existence of the ancient gods . It is in this sense that the word will be used in the following inquiry.

Even though we disregard philosophical atheism, the definition is somewhat narrow; for in antiquity mere denial of the existence of the gods of popular belief was not the only attitude which was designated as atheism. But it has the advantage of starting from the conception of the ancient gods that may be said to have finally prevailed. In the sense in which the word is used here we are nowadays all of us atheists. We do not believe that the gods whom the Greeks and the Romans worshipped and believed in exist or have ever existed; we hold them to be productions of the human imagination to which nothing real corresponds. This view has nowadays become so ingrained in us and appears so self evident, that we find it difficult to imagine that it has not been prevalent through long ages; nay, it is perhaps a widely diffused assumption that even in antiquity educated and unbiased persons held the same view of the religion of their people as we do. In reality both assumptions are erroneous: our "atheism" in regard to ancient paganism is of recent date, and in antiquity itself downright denial of the existence of the gods was a comparatively rare phenomenon. The demonstration of this fact, rather than a consideration of the various intermediate positions taken up by the thinkers of antiquity in their desire to avoid a complete rupture with the traditional ideas of the gods, has been one of the chief purposes of this inquiry.

Though the definition of atheism set down here might seem to be clear and unequivocal, and though I have tried to adhere strictly to it, cases have unavoidably occurred that were difficult to classify... Continue reading book >>




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