Paul Cartledge interview image

An interview with Paul Cartledge, author of Democracy: A Life

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Paul.

Can we start with your motivation for writing this book?  Was it your knowledge of the ancient world and Greece’s political systems, or concerns about the modern world?

A combination. I think I’m a kind of ‘natural’ democrat in the sense of being (an) anti-elitist egalitarian, but it wasn’t until I was a student first at the University of California and then Oxford that I got a chance to show my true democratic colours

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An interview with Marc Domingo Gygax, author of Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City: The Origins of Euergetism

Today we are delighted to bring you the first in a series of interviews with this year’s shortlisted authors. Marc Domingo Gygax, author of Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City: The Origins of Euergetism, took the time to answer our long list of questions. Thank you, Marc! Your book is entitled Benefaction and … Read more

Marc Domingo Gygax

An excerpt from Marc Domingo Gygax’s entry, Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City: The Origins of Euergetism

3. Proleptic Honors

Let us return to our initial question: how is it possible that at Hippucome and other Greek poleis significant honors were granted to individuals who had only promised contributions to public projects and had not yet accomplished them? Put another way: How can we explain the paradox of public subscriptions? An initial answer is that euergetism was a form of gift-exchange, and that in this typically Greek practice it was normal to outdo oneself, whether intentionally or not, in the counter-gift, to the extent of indebting the initial giver and forcing him to reciprocate with a new gift.

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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.

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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.

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