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Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine

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Drawing on the abundant material available for the study of religious experience in late antiquity, Professor Dodds examines the personal religious attitudes and experiences common to pagans and Christians in the period between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. World-hatred and asceticism, dreams and states of possession, and pagan and Christian mysticism are all discussed. Drawing on the abundant material available for the study of religious experience in late antiquity, Professor Dodds examines the personal religious attitudes and experiences common to pagans and Christians in the period between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. World-hatred and asceticism, dreams and states of possession, and pagan and Christian mysticism are all discussed. Finally, Dodds considers both pagan views of Christianity and Christian views of paganism as they emerge in the literature of the time. Although primarily written for social and religious historians, this study will also appeal to all those interested in the ancient world and its thought.


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Drawing on the abundant material available for the study of religious experience in late antiquity, Professor Dodds examines the personal religious attitudes and experiences common to pagans and Christians in the period between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. World-hatred and asceticism, dreams and states of possession, and pagan and Christian mysticism are all discussed. Drawing on the abundant material available for the study of religious experience in late antiquity, Professor Dodds examines the personal religious attitudes and experiences common to pagans and Christians in the period between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine. World-hatred and asceticism, dreams and states of possession, and pagan and Christian mysticism are all discussed. Finally, Dodds considers both pagan views of Christianity and Christian views of paganism as they emerge in the literature of the time. Although primarily written for social and religious historians, this study will also appeal to all those interested in the ancient world and its thought.

30 review for Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine

  1. 4 out of 5

    AC

    This book is absolutely fundamental. It is brilliant and short. It should be read by anyone in any field. I cannot stress it enough. The title, of course, comes from Auden. Dodds' father was friends with MacGregor Mathers and Stephan McKenna (the translator of Plotinus) and other 19th cen. Irish mystics. Dodds himself was a brilliant classical scholar. He is best known for his Greeks and the Irrational http://www.amazon.com/Greeks-Irration... -- a book as fundamental as it is flawed (and his accou This book is absolutely fundamental. It is brilliant and short. It should be read by anyone in any field. I cannot stress it enough. The title, of course, comes from Auden. Dodds' father was friends with MacGregor Mathers and Stephan McKenna (the translator of Plotinus) and other 19th cen. Irish mystics. Dodds himself was a brilliant classical scholar. He is best known for his Greeks and the Irrational http://www.amazon.com/Greeks-Irration... -- a book as fundamental as it is flawed (and his account of Plato IS flawed). This is ironic, since his commentary on the Gorgias of Plato is his best book. And it is a masterpiece: http://www.amazon.com/Gorgias-Clarend.... The text is superb, and is an improvement on Burnet, and the commentary will never be surpassed. His judgement is flawless. On gnosticism generally -- after reading Dodds' lectures - read Jonas, not Pagels. Yet another example of how modern scholarship proves that what is new is often not what is improved. Anyway - consider this book as most HIGHLY recommended to anyone who chances on this review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    An interesting and quite well-written, though ultimately unconvincing, work, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety brings together a series of four lectures given by E.R. Dodds on the subject of religious experience between about 161 and 312CE. That Dodds was writing in the 1960s is readily apparent—he draws almost exclusively on literary material in order to make a case about religious experience (ignoring what is surely a wealth of epigraphic material!), and he interprets the evidence large An interesting and quite well-written, though ultimately unconvincing, work, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety brings together a series of four lectures given by E.R. Dodds on the subject of religious experience between about 161 and 312CE. That Dodds was writing in the 1960s is readily apparent—he draws almost exclusively on literary material in order to make a case about religious experience (ignoring what is surely a wealth of epigraphic material!), and he interprets the evidence largely through a Freudian lens. He elucidates beautifully the ways in which Christian and polytheist Neo-Platonists influenced and drew on one another, but in the light of more recent scholarship which has reassessed the nature and the vigour of polytheism in the Later Roman Empire, Dodds' thesis (that an enervated polytheism couldn't resist Christianity's innovations and energy) is ultimately unconvincing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dariusz Płochocki

    Klasyczne dzieło wybitnego filologa, odwołujące się do wielu starożytnych klasyków, szczególnie widać zachwyt nad Plotynem, ale także Markiem Aureliuszem. Ciekawe spostrzeżenie, że wczesne chrześcijaństwo miało wiele wspólnego z ukąszeniem komunizmem, przyciągało młodych, dzieliło rodziny.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Lawson

    Dodd provides an intriguing look at the interaction between pagan and Christian notions during the first three centuries after Christ. Definitely worth the read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Porzenheim

    Dodds does two things in Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety; He: 1. Shows ways in which Christian Philosophers and Pagan Philosophers interacted and understood each other. 2. Suggests tentative reasons why Christianity “won” over the Greco-Roman philosophical schools in the battle for the Roman Empires “soul.” Dodds does a better job with the first rather than the second. Regardless, I laud the fact that Dodd's doesn’t take sides in the battle for Rome's soul: “I am interested less in the issue Dodds does two things in Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety; He: 1. Shows ways in which Christian Philosophers and Pagan Philosophers interacted and understood each other. 2. Suggests tentative reasons why Christianity “won” over the Greco-Roman philosophical schools in the battle for the Roman Empires “soul.” Dodds does a better job with the first rather than the second. Regardless, I laud the fact that Dodd's doesn’t take sides in the battle for Rome's soul: “I am interested less in the issues which separated the combatants than in the attitudes and experiences which bound them together.” I try to take the same approach in this review. I'll be quoting more passages of a longer nature than usual in this review; because Dodd's is a pleasure to read and what he has to say radically undermines what are normally seen as the differences between religion and philosophy. Dodds does a great job revealing the striking degree to which Pagan Greco-Roman philosophers and Christian philosophers shared common practices and ideas. The example of the Roman Emperor Severus is illuminating: “The Emperor Alexander Severus, kept in his private chapel statues of Abraham, Orpheus, Christ and Apollonius of Tyana, four mighty prophetai to all of whom he paid the same reverence. He was not alone in adopting this attitude: about the same date the Gnostic Capocrates was preaching a similar comprehensive cult-if we can believe Irenaeus and Augustine, his followers worshipped images of Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Christ and St Paul. The same spirit is illustrated in the undated letter of a Syrian named Serapion in which he cites Christ, ‘the wise King of the Jews’, along with Socrates and Pythagoras, as an example of a sage whose teachings has survived unjust persecution.” Emperor Severus was not unusual. Eclecticism in philosophical and religious belief and practice was the rule rather than the exception in the early and late Roman Empire. Reflecting this philosophical and religious diversity, what being a “Christian” meant was also highly flexible and uncertain. For example, take a look at the conflict of Celsus and Origen. Celsus was an Anti-Christian author, and Origin and early church father who wrote a work to refute Celsus. Orthodoxy was not yet clearly marked off from heresy: it was easy to slide from one to the other, [...] If Celsus sometimes confused Christianity with Gnosticism, as Origen alleges, it is probable that his confusion was shared by a good many contemporary Christians." It would take thousands of; years, heresies, and persecutions for Christianity to achieve anything near the level of orthodoxy we think of today. To many minds there was more overlap than difference between Greco-Roman philosophy and Christianity.  For example, Celsus and Origen both saw Christianity as a kind of “idiot's guide to” Platonic philosophy: "[Celsus found] Christian ethics banal: they ‘contain no teaching that is impressive or new’: the advice about turning the other cheek is old stuff, better expressed by Plato. And Origen for his part does not deny this: the difference, he says, is that the Christian preachers ‘cook for the multitude’, whereas Plato spices the same dish to please the gentry. His admiration for Plato is hardly less than that of Celsus; but Plato is read only by the learned. Christianity, he seems at times to suggest, is Platonism for the many." What difference would a pagan defender of philosophy like Celsus see between Christianity and philosophy? “Had any cultivated pagan of the second century been asked to put in a few words the difference between his own view of life and the Christian one, he might reply that it was the difference between logismos and pistis, between reasoned conviction and blind faith.” Such a “cultivated” pagan would have been in a pickle. Because any difference between “reason” and “faith” was based on shaky ground. All ‘sacred texts,’ Plato, the Gospels, etc, were considered more-or-less equally legitimate. Textual criticism hadn’t yet achieved its current tentative ability to reach a consensus on authors identities and texts dates of composition. ‘Christians and pagans were alike schoolmen: they could not challenge the authority of ancient texts; they could only evade it by reading back their own thoughts into them.’ There were, and perhaps still are, no “rational” grounds on which to prefer a Socratic dialogue as more faithful to the historical Socrates than a Gospel is to the historical Jesus. This levels the playing field for all sorts of things we might now call “fake news.”   Thus, even if Celsus disagreed with a text like the Bible; he could not argue based on “reason” that it was false; instead Celsus could only argue that it was more inconsistent than a competing text like Plato’s. This is what pedantic polemicists like Celsus and Origen did: ‘Origen was ready to refute the pagans point by point, borrowing for the purpose all the weapons in the arsenal of Greek philosophy. His contempt for mere pistis [blind faith] is hardly less than that of Celsus. ‘We accept it’, he says, ‘as useful for the multitude’: it is the best that can be done for them, ‘since, partly owing to the necessities of life and partly owing to human weakness, very few people are enthusiastic about rational thought.’ And he goes on to point out, with justice, that pagans do not always choose their philosophy on purely rational grounds. (P122) Dodds claims that as the years passed slowly but surely the Christians learned from the Pagans to argue with “reason” and the Pagan’s learned from the Christians to appeal to authority and faith: In fact, while Origen and his successors were endeavouring to supplement authority with reason, pagan philosophy tended increasingly to replace reason by authority-and not only the authority of Plato, but the authority of Orphic poetry, of Hermetic theosophy, of obscure revelations like the Chaldaean Oracles. Plotinus resisted revelations of this type and set his pupils the task of exposing them, but after Plotinus Neoplatonism became less a philosophy than a religion, whose followers were occupied like their Christian counterparts in expounding and reconciling sacred texts. For them too pistis became a basic requirement.’ (P122) Dodds claims that it was not a stretch of the mind for the average citizen of the Roman Empire to see a "Christian" as a "philosopher," or a "philosopher" as a "Christian." This was the deliberate goal of the early Christians, who sought to make their religion more universal by presenting it as a kind of philosophy. Echoing the earlier example of the Emperor Severus's eclecticism, Dodds relates the life story of a man named Peregrinus who shows just how slippery the categories of “Christian,” “philosopher” and “prophet” were.   The passage is long, but also hilarious, and therefore worth quoting in full: "Born of wealthy parents at Parium on the Hellespont, he [Peregrinus] gets into trouble as a young man through disreputable love affairs, quarrels with his father, and leaves home under suspicion of having strangled him. In Palestine he is converted to Christianity and becomes a prophetes and a leader in the community; he expounds the Scriptures and writes numerous books himself. Gaoled as a Christian, he wins great credit by his stubborn refusal to renounce his faith, but is eventually released by an enlightened Governor. Next, he goes home, voluntarily, to face charges of parricide, but silences his accusers by presenting the whole of his estates to the town for charitable purposes. For a time he is supported by the Christians, but he quarrels with them and is reduced to asking, unsuccessfully, for the return of his estates. After this he visits Egpyt, where he practices flagellation, smears his face with mud, and adopts the Cynic way of life in its crudest form. From there he goes to Italy, whence he is expelled for insulting the Emperor; once again his indifference to personal danger wins him admirers. We next find him settled in Greece, where he attempts to start a rising against the Roman power and publicly insults the philanthropic benefactor Herodes Atticus. Finally he crowns his career by a sensational suicide, burning himself to death before an admiring crowd at the Olympic Festival of A.D. 165. Whereupon he becomes an object of a cult: the stick he once carried sells for a talent; a statue set up in his honour works miracles (as a Christian writer testifies) and attracts pilgrims in great numbers." Peregrinus was not the only L. Ron Hubbard or Mary Baker Eddy around. Cults and sacred texts were popping up everywhere. There are multiple examples suggesting that late antiquity was a great time to start a new religion or philosophy of self improvement for personal profit. At least, so long as your religion doesn’t require too much education. Dodds argues that an advantage that Christianity had over Pagan Philosophy was the fact that it required less education.   To develop this line of argument more fully than Dodds does is suggestive. I do agree that Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy require an amount of education impractical for mass adoption. The only other philosophies with a mass appeal and lower educational bar were Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Skepticism. With the exception of Stoicism and Skepticism, all of these philosophies, which were ways of life, tended to encourage the avoidance of political life. But to a potential convert, even this lower educational bar would have required more reliance on “reason” than Christianity. Dodds suggests that "Reason" was losing the "battle" against "Faith," and that the "Reason" being appealed to slowly became mere "Faith." With all the tyranny of hindsight, Dodds’s view implies that Christianity was simply better suited as a mass philosophy and imperial state religion. I’m not totally convinced by this, and I think Dodd's overreaches here. Dodds is at his best when he focuses on similarities between Pagans and Christians rather than when he tries to diagnose the historical "victory" of Christianity. It seems to me that if Pagan and Christian practice and thought were so intermixed that it is very misleading to speak of a "victory" at all. There was no zero-sum game going on in “the battle for the Roman Empire’s soul.” While the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian may have closed the Schools of Philosophy in 529 AD, it seems that philosophy, in some odd form or another, lived on in Christianity. As Dodd's wryly notes: "Nilson laments that the Church threw out the baby with the bathwater, rejecting not only the superstitions of late paganism, but ‘the sound kernel of ancient science.’ One may question, however, whether the kernel could at this point have been saved at all." My issues with Dodd's are small relative to the strengths of this book. I strongly recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in the history of philosophy or religion. It’s only 130 pages long and because the writing comes from Dodd’s transcribed lectures it reads very well and has good jokes strewn about.  Click Here for a Rich Text Version of this Review with Pictures and Links to Sources, etc

  6. 5 out of 5

    Will

    "I will not discuss the intrinsic merits of the Christian creed; but I will end this chapter by mentioning briefly some of the psychological conditions which favoured its growth and contributed to its victory. In the first place, its very exclusiveness, its refusal to concede any value to alternative forms of worship, which nowadays is often felt to be a weakness, was in the circumstances of the time a source of strength. The religious tolerance which was the normal Greek and Roman practice had r "I will not discuss the intrinsic merits of the Christian creed; but I will end this chapter by mentioning briefly some of the psychological conditions which favoured its growth and contributed to its victory. In the first place, its very exclusiveness, its refusal to concede any value to alternative forms of worship, which nowadays is often felt to be a weakness, was in the circumstances of the time a source of strength. The religious tolerance which was the normal Greek and Roman practice had resulted by accumulation in a bewildering mass of alternatives. There were too many cults, too many mysteries, too many philosophies of life to choose from: you could pile one religious insurance on another, yet not feel safe. Christianity made a clean sweep. It lifted the burden of freedom from the shoulders of the individual: one choice, one irrevocable choice, and the road to salvation was clear. Pagan critics might mock at Christian intolerance, but in an age of anxiety any 'totalist' creed exerts a powerful attraction: one has only to think of the appeals of communish to many bewildered minds in our own day. Secondly, Christianity was open to all. In principle, it made no social distinctions; it accepted the manual worker, the slave, the outcast, the ex-criminal; and though in the course of our period it developed a strong hierarchic structure, its hierarchy offered an open career to talent. Above all, it did not, like Neoplatonism, demand education. Clement might smile at the quaint beliefs of the simpliciores, Origen might declare that true knowledge of God was confined to 'a very few among the few'; but the notion of 'Pass and Honours standards in the service of God' (as Arthur Nook once phrased it) was originally foreign to the spirit of Christianity, and on the whole remained so. In the second century and even in the third the Christian Church was still largely (though with many exceptions) an army of the disinherited. Thirdly, in a period when earthly life was increasingly devalued and guilt-feelings were widely prevalent, Christianity held out to the disinherited the conditional promise of a better inheritance in another world. So did several of its pagan rivals. But Christianity wielded both a bigger stick and a juicier carrot. It was accused of being a religion of fear, and such it no doubt was in the hands of the rigorists. But it was also a religion of lively hope, whether in the crude terms described for example by Papias, or in the rationalised versions offered by Clement and Origen. Porphyry remarked, as others have done since, that only sick souls stand in need of Christianity. But sick souls were numerous in our period: Peregrinus and Aelius Aristides are not isolated freaks; Porphyry himself had been sufficiently sick to contemplate suicide, and there is evidence for thinking that in these centuries a good many persons were consciously or unconsciously in love with death. For such men the chance of martyrdom, carrying with it fame in this world and bliss in the next, could only add to the attractions of Christianity. But lastly, the benefits of becoming a Christian were not confined to the next world. A Christian congregation was from the first a community in a much fuller sense than any corresponding group of Isaic or Mithraist devotees. Its members were bound together not only by common rites but by a common way of life and, as Celsus shrewdly perceived, by their common danger. Their promptitude in bringing material help to brethren in captivity or other distress is attested not only by Christian writers but by Lucian, a far from sympathetic witness. Love of one's neighbour is not an exclusively Christian virtue, but in our period the Christians appear to have practised it much more effectively than any other group. The Church provided the essentials of social security: it cared for widows and orphans, the old, the unemployed, and the disabled; it provided a burial fund for the poor and a nursing service in time of plague. But even more important, I suspect, than these material benefits was the sense of belonging which the Christian community could give. Modern social studies have brought home to us the universality of the 'need to belong' and the unexpected ways in which it can influence human behaviour, particularly among the rootless inhabitants of great cities. I see no reason to think it was otherwise in antiquity: Epictetus has described for us the dreadful loneliness that can beset a man in the midst of his fellows. Such loneliness must have been felt by millions - the urbanised tribesman, the peasant come to town in search of work, the demobilised soldier, the rentier ruined by inflation, and the manumitted slave. For people in that situation membership of a Christian community might be the only way of maintaining their self-respect and giving their life some semblance of meaning. Within the community there was human warmth: some one was interested in them, both here and hereafter. It is therefore not surprising that the earliest and the most striking advances of Christianity were made in the great cities - in Antioch, in Rome, in Alexandria. Christians were in a more than formal sense 'members of one another': I think that was a major cause, perhaps the strongest single cause, of the spread of Christianity."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Norma

    ¡Atención! la primera edición no es de 1980, sino de 1968, en Cambridge university press, Londres.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Konstantinos

    (read this in Greek)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Richard

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katerina

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dean

  13. 4 out of 5

    xhxhx

  14. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Elmy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Helga-Johanna Kuusler

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Richard

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ubelluri

  19. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jared

  21. 5 out of 5

    José Osorio

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard Novak

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  24. 5 out of 5

    Igolder

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marcela

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  28. 5 out of 5

    josh

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bruno

  30. 4 out of 5

    Konstantinos

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