An interview with Tim Whitmarsh, author of Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

Tim Whitmarsh, author of shortlisted work Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, kindly agreed to an interview.

The title of your book conveys less than it might. You say a lot about belief as well as disbelief: the nature of the ancient Greeks’ belief in their gods, and about their practice of religion, and about “putting the gods in their place”. Could you expand on the title for us in a few lines to convey this wider range?

Yes, it’s a book about both continuity and difference. That’s to say, there are aspects of ancient Greek atheism that are certainly very recognisable now: the centrality of the argument from evil, for example (how could a benevolent, omnipotent deity permit suffering?) But as you imply, the ancient Greco-Roman religious context was very different to anything we find in the modern world, and that does affect the forms in which atheism was expressed. Ancient religions were polytheistic, largely local, based in communal ritual rather than scripture; and priests had less of a hold over personal morality.

Read moreAn interview with Tim Whitmarsh, author of Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

An excerpt from Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh

Tragedy responded to the sophists in subtler ways, projecting the issues onto a mythical canvas, so that the connections with contemporary culture become suggestive rather than explicit. One of the greatest examples of Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, seems to be a case in point. The date is not certain, but 428 or so seems likely; this would place it precisely in the eye of the sophistic storm. Sophocles has often been thought to be the most religiously-minded of the three major tragedians, but Oedipus the King paints a more complex, challenging picture than this. Oedipus is centrally about divine prophecy, and humans’ attempts to assert control over lives that have already been predestined.

Read moreAn excerpt from Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh

An audio interview in Greek with Dimitris Papadimitriou, co-author of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power

Last week I met Dimitris Papadimitriou in Manchester, and much enjoyed a brief chat (along with a slice of lemon drizzle cake). My intention was to record a brief interview on my laptop, but we didn’t have time. Instead, we Skyped yesterday and I recorded the call. I’m afraid the result is technically imperfect, but … Read moreAn audio interview in Greek with Dimitris Papadimitriou, co-author of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power

An interview with Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power

Many thanks to Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of shortlisted book Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power, who kindly agreed to this interview.

It was difficult not to get carried away with all the questions I wanted to ask them. In fact, some of my questions were impossible to answer in just one paragraph, and would have required… a whole book!

You were both involved in an ad hoc advisory committee to George Papandreou some years ago. Can you tell us more about it? What impact did the advisory committee have? Were any changes made as a result?

We interviewed George Papandreou, before he became PM, about his father, Andreas.  It was a good and wide-ranging discussion.  Kevin had written in ‘Kathimerini’ about the contrast between the formal powers of the Greek PM and the practical reality of a constrained and under-resourced position.  Later, after George’s election victory he invited Kevin to join an ad hoc advisory committee on how to ‘modernise’ the government structure and operation.  The Committee was to be composed of foreigners; Dimitris made his own bilateral input.  George announced in 2010 that he would be adopting the Committee’s Report and he started to implement some of its action-points.  But, of course, wider political events took over and George resigned as PM.  Yet, the impact continued: the governments that followed took action to reform the government at the centre and the Troika itself pressed this same agenda.  So, a focus had been defined and an agenda set.

Read moreAn interview with Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power