There’s something about monotheism…

By skepticlawyer

Via Dave Bath, I’ve learnt that leading Spanish director (he won Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2005 for  Mar adentroAlejandro Amenábar has made a film about classical scientist Hypatia. It’s to be called Agora and stars Rachel WeiszFor those unfamiliar with the background, Hypatia (an astronomer) was killed in appalling circumstances by a Christian mob shortly after Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius’ ‘Edict of Intolerance’ in 391AD.

That’s my moniker, of course, but it sums up pretty accurately what Theodosius did: made all non-Christian religions (bar the very limited exception of Judaism, although the stinging slur ‘Christ Killer’ was beginning to make its presence felt) illegal, confiscating their property and giving it over to Christian churches, breaking up community associations and desecrating public structures associated with paganism. The most dramatic of these acts was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, which although a public building for the citizens of the city, was maintained and paid for by worshippers of the Hellenized Egyptian God Serapis. Theodosius did other nasty things at the same time, like banning same-sex marriage and generally taking what had always been a matter of private contract in the Roman world into the hands of the State. He’s the reason why churches in Italy with names like ‘Maria Maggiore’ will have a Temple of Cybele underneath, or why the crypt is so often a mithraeum

Here’s a rather bitty outtake from the film; the panicked reaction of library staff once they realise what’s coming is well done.


Hypatia was an academic and scholar, and slated by the Christians for her relationship with the Roman Prefect of Egypt (Orestes) and her support of Heliocentric (what later became Copernican) astronomy. Orestes’ name indicates that he was pagan; by this stage in the Empire’s history, Christians and pagans faced each other across a chasm of hatred that is really only comprehensible to people who have been forced to spend their annual leave in, I don’t know, Beirut or Belfast. One way that parents indicated allegiance to one or another tradition was by very deliberate name choices. Romans stopped calling their children Marcus or Claudia (of which there were so many in the Late Republic and Early Empire) and called them Orestes or Isis or Ioanne or Angela instead. This was becoming obvious even in the 2nd Century AD, when public perceptions of Christianity veered between social disapproval and social death. Archaeologists can spot the trend by looking at Roman tombs — which operated on a similar principle to Buddhist pagodas — with their cinerary urns set in wall niches.

In its day, Roman paganism was also a state religion, and its ‘civil’ aspects could be brutally demanding: hence the persecution of Christians when pagans had their hands on the levers of power. The crucial difference, of course, is that Roman religion did not purport to set a moral code for any of its followers (or tell those who governed and educated how to do their jobs). That was up to the individual citizen. The closest modern analogue is the anodyne Established Church of England in 2009, but for that analogy to work, one needs to engage in an act of willful forgetting. Behind me in my College rooms, for example, is a priest hole, redolent of the days when the Established Church meant the Church Militant.

I am not sure what the film will do with Orestes, who — as is so often the case with Roman pagans fighting their long rearguard against Christianity — manages to sound like a 19th Century liberal. He (along with Hypatia) was bitterly opposed to ‘Cyril’s agenda of ecclesiastical encroachment onto secular prerogatives’ and — like an ancient Jefferson — the two of them tried to do the separation of church and state thing. Here is a comment of Hypatia’s, for example,  that delights my Millean and skeptical heart:

Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.

It is very difficult to read Roman pagan attacks on Christianity — particularly when they note its moral imperialism and terrifying intolerance — without seeing the future state apparat, the witch trials, the wars of religion, the inquisition, the crusades, Matthew Shephard hanging on that fence in rural Wyoming. Here is Symmachus, a pagan senator appalled at the treatment of pagan priestesses (in particular) by the Christian Church:

All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.

The danger, of course, is that in seeing those bits of Roman paganism that chime with Jefferson or Mill is that we forget that their traditions were very, very different from those that gave England and America Bentham or Mill or Smith or Jefferson. Something of this is caught in Orestes’ character: his response to being badly assaulted and injured by monks was to have the Christian ringleader arrested and tortured to death in his presence. The Romans built wonderful baths and bridges and sewered their cities and produced the longest life expectancy anywhere in the world before vaccines. They were also horribly cruel.

Intriguingly (and I will be curious as to how this is managed), Agora has invented a slave character, Davus, who wants to become Christian because it may give him his freedom and at least will ensure him some measure of respect. He belongs to Hypatia, and one short floating around on YouTube shows him viewing his owner in a clearly sexual manner (a huge no-no in the Roman world; if you were servile and your owner showed a sexual interest in you, you had to reciprocate, but this process never obtained in reverse). 

This is all very Nietzschean, of course. People often isolate Nietzsche from his research, but the essence of On the Genealogy of Morals is that Christianity was a slave morality that built cages around the gifted and able in order to contain their power over the stupid and the weak. There is a mountain of historical evidence for Nietzsche’s assertion. It is very important to remember that early Christianity spread with uncommon rapidity among slaves, and slaves were — as a class — horribly exploited, particularly sexually, by their Roman owners. This applies to both sexes, all sexual orientations, middle and upper-class alike — there is no relief from the horror provided by an incipient feminism or class affiliation.

Early Christianity even had abolitionist elements (which the Quakers later picked up and ran with as part of their successful battle against slavery). There is evidence, for example, that Paul’s response to demands from servile converts to Christianity for their freedom was to convince Christian slave-owners (who would of course have been middle-class, and were in the early days of the church very few) not to make sexual use of their slaves. The trade-off was the Pauline (and Petrine) ‘slaves, obey your masters’. Missionary journeys cost money; if one’s new church only has middle-class converts to number on one hand, then keeping them becomes a matter of grave urgency.

Consistent with Nietzsche and his arguments, a persistent criticism of Christianity by pagan intellectuals (of whom Hypatia is simply the most prominent representative) is that it is a religion for idiots. One pagan admirer of Hypatia argued that ‘she was murdered because only ‘the poor in spirit’ — the intellectual babes — are the elect of Heaven.’ There is also much criticism of Christian charitable efforts (for which the Christians had to invent a word, caritas; it has no verb form and does not appear in Latin before the 4th Century).

Of course, the Romans understood philanthropy of the Carnegie or Rockefeller sort, and there is abundant evidence that it was valued. People who endowed libraries, theatres, baths and schools were well regarded and viewed in much the same way as we now view the likes of Bill & Melinda Gates. Romans did not, however, appreciate the concept of ‘unconditional welfare’ and thought that anyone who did it (public or private) was off their blooming rocker. People forget that the ‘corn dole’ of Ancient Rome was directed entirely at the working poor; people (both men and women) who had spotty or seasonal employment. The standard response to the homeless and indigent, by contrast, was to round them up and dump them outside the city limits. This practice was also characteristic of Greek cities, and Plato recommends it in his Republic.

During research for my current novel, I have found pagan Romans saying things about Christian unconditional welfare that make Thatcher look like a milksop: what? you’re giving them something for nothing? don’t you realise you’ll be taken for a ride? Yes, Virginia, the Romans appear to have invented the concept of moral hazard. 

Too late, of course, did pagan Romans realise that their attitude to charity was losing them the battle against Christianity. Here is the last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate, sounding remarkably like Sir Toby Belch with indigestion:

These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes. Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our Gods.

I’ve also found early Christian polemicists telling their followers that the abortionist maintains his or her rooms next to the Temple of [insert name here]; the similarity to the phenomenon in the USA is too chilling to ignore. Indeed, Christianity was associated with arson in the same way we now associate Islam with suicide bombings. In martyrology after martyrology, some Christian will be canonised because he was executed after burning down the Temple of [insert name here]. One of the ripest ones (and one which is historically well attested) is Theodore of Amasea. Brought before a Roman magistrate for refusal to participate in Roman civil religion (it’s always the same charge), the judge bailed him before trial. He then went and burnt down the Temple of Cybele. It’s a fair guess — as the Cybele cult was one of the rites that incorporated ‘ritual sex’ — that he’d have got a nice high kill rate, too. Priestesses of Cybele lived in their temples, unlike many pagan religious officers, who went home at the end of the day. Way to breach your bail conditions, sonny. Stay classy there.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

It’s for these reasons that I find myself exercising very great caution when tempted to read pagan Roman intellectuals as 19th Century liberals. They pinged Christianity’s intolerance and ignorance — and their prescience in that regard has to be acknowledged. Their culture was also broadly ‘sex-positive’ (as anyone who has taken the time to visit Pompeii or the Museo Nazionale di Napoli well knows). My, my they liked to do it ‘cowgirl’ style — you almost never see the missionary position — which perhaps accounts for Christian attempts to convince Roman converts that ‘man on top’ was the only ‘acceptable’ position. That they wouldn’t have recognised a soup kitchen if it had leapt up and hit them in the face also has to be acknowledged, as does the fact that their response to intolerance was yet more intolerance.

In any case, I’ll be interested to see what Agora does with Hypatia’s life, and whether it is the sort of root and branch attack on Christianity that its focus on the year 391AD would seem to presage. Amenábar is gay, so I will also be curious to see whether he addresses the ban on same-sex marriage (which was enforced against some rather high profile pairings by Christian lynch-mobs).

If this post seems rather meandering, my view (for what it is worth) is that we have paid too high a price for the Christian conception of charity, and that Dave Bath is also broadly right to make the following comment:

I’m not saying that Classical and Hellenistic civilizations treated women as equals, but pointing to the trajectory of the acceptance of women’s capabilities by men during those times, and how that trajectory drastically altered for the worse as Christianity dominated Europe.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the Romans had unilateral no-fault divorce (we got that in 1975, friends and neighbours) and property rights for women (which we got a weaker version of in 1868). That’s two of the biggest battles feminism had to fight over again in the 19th and 20th century. Mind you, I suspect (being the spec-fic aficionado that I am) that their feminism would have looked rather different from ours (no playing footsie under the table with prohibition, for a start).

That, however, is a subject for another day…

26 Comments

  1. Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Su says:

    “No doubt the Quakers were instrumental in moving abolition along but I am a little cynical about it since slavery had by the time of abolition, become economically unviable.”

    Since slavery continues to this day you may want to convince the slave traders and owners that slavery is not viable. As an example, there have been recent reports of sweatshops in Cambodia in which workers are chained to their work stations and toil away among their own vomit and faeces. Then there are the hundreds of mostly East European women trafficked as sex slaves in western Europe, ongoing traditional slavery in Chad etc etc etc

  2. su
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I was referring to the theory that declining profitability of the British sugar plantations after 1796 made abolition of the slave trade in 1807 less like economic suicide, I wasn’t making a general statement about slavery because clearly it is very profitable in many circumstances.

  3. Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Britain may have had relatively few slaves in the UK itself, but it was a vast slave-trading empire growing fat on the misery of the Middle Passage and the West Indian sugar plantations. It is also worth remembering that the Quaker anti-slavery movement came from nowhere: the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in 1787. It had 12 members.

    Slavery was abolished in 1807. By any measure (especially if one considers the massive defeats inflicted on early anti-slavery bills in the House of Commons), this is utterly extraordinary. Everything that we see modern NGOs do to run a campaign: posters, leafletting, alternative products not sourced from offending countries (ie a version of ‘Fair Trade’), doorknocking — all this was undertaken for the first time by Quaker abolitionists.

    There have been other people in vast slave-trading empires (the Stoics in Rome are a case in point) who — for the most part — wanted to see slavery out on its ear. Actually making that happen where people are getting filthy rich on the proceeds is bloody difficult, and it may yet be that the Quakers were historically unique. In the speculative fiction novel I’m writing, I’ve got Stoics doing the job of the Quakers, but I’ll freely concede that this may be a serious case of Alien Space Bats.

    Yes, the Industrial Revolution was incipient in 1780 — and the potential (if not the actuality) of labour-saving technology is a big help when it comes to making the economic (but not the emotional) case against slavery (1763 for Watt’s steam engine). But you still have to win the argument, which the Quakers in Britain managed to do.

    Without taking the Empire into war with itself.

  4. Posted July 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Well SL, you seem to have upset the Ozblogosphere’s very own Captain Catholic, who uses terms like “cartoonish and incompetent” to describe your post

    Oh he’s just going to LOVE the new novel…

    [email protected] I was referring to the theory that declining profitability of the British sugar plantations after 1796 made abolition of the slave trade in 1807 less like economic suicide, I wasn’t making a general statement about slavery because clearly it is very profitable in many circumstances.

    Ooo, interesting. Source/reference please?

  5. su
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember where I first heard this DEM but I see there is book by Selwyn Carrington called “The Sugar Industry and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1775-1810”, published in 2002 which expounds this theory. Following SL’s comment I did a bit of checking and it seems that it is a very contentious piece of historical analysis with its roots in a 1944 book called Capital and Slavery by Eric Williams. Selwyn Carrington has been in an extended debate for the last 20 or so years with another historian Seymour Drescher who has published a number of books criticizing Williams’ theories and you can find historians who hold views somewhere in the middle as well.

  6. Posey
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Adrien – That said I think that there’s an argument that classical liberalism, humanism and the high paganism of the Greeks and Romans were part of a mega-tradition of people, different from each other as they may have been, who were brave enough to face the world as it was and to live according to those facts.

    Christianity like other moral systems based on adherance to some supernatural concpetion of Justice are havens for the cowardly.

    But wasn’t paganism based on propitiation? The perceived need to appease the angry or potentially destructive gods by means of ritual, magic, or sacrifice?

    And didn’t the development of Christianity turn that fear on its head and in a sense was about embracing the fear, of accepting rather than evading the ugly realities of evils such as pestilence, poverty, pain, suffering, war and death and it did this by offering as an alternative belief in an afterlife and succour for the unfortunate, the poor and the slaves?

  7. Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Well Su, it seems reasonable to me to think that slavery could have hung around for decades or centuries as an anachronism long after its “used by” date expired in much the same way as the institution of royalty lingers on in the UK and elsewhere.

    You appear to be pushing an extreme Marxian position of historical development that I think can be refuted by countless examples such as the one I just mentioned. Having said that, my own view of historical development could be described as broadly Marxian (as distinct from Marxist).

  8. Posted July 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Posey – But wasn’t paganism based on propitiation? The perceived need to appease the angry or potentially destructive gods by means of ritual, magic, or sacrifice?

    And didn’t the development of Christianity turn that fear on its head and in a sense was about embracing the fear, of accepting rather than evading the ugly realities of evils such as pestilence, poverty, pain, suffering, war and death and it did this by offering as an alternative belief in an afterlife and succour for the unfortunate, the poor and the slaves?

    That’s a good point.

    The monotheistic religions facilitated a certain advance in science because instead of a complex of warring gods you had One God with the Grand Plan and that may have inspired people to inquire into it.

    But I don’t think the work of someone like Cicero boils down to the religious views he held so much as the will to use reason in political affairs: asking simple questions like who benefits from this crime.

    I don’t think the religious imagination belongs to the realm of reason, it’s beyond reason or beneath it. It’s romantic and stems from an impulse that has more in common with art or literature. I don’t think it’s a problem for people to have faith it’s only a problem when ‘faith’ gets used to curtail reason. For this you don’t even need a religion grounded in the supernatural. Stalinism had many of the attributes of a Sumerian God-Kingdom and was just as irrational. More so even.

    The various epochs I’ve mentioned can be linked. Read Cicero, Aurelius, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Swift, Mill, Arendt and you get this common feeling of someone who is willing to put aside emotive obligations to consider affairs in a cold light. What emerges is humane.

    It’s also worthwhile considering that the poor were liable to be oppressed under Christianity just as much. During the 14th century, when peasants in France were bearing the brunt of various aristo adventurisms arising from the Hundred Years war some members of the clergy rose to their defense in true Christian fashion. But mostly it didn’t help.

  9. Posted July 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    John G – What did you mean when you attributed Nietzsche’s slave/master routine to Hegel and Kant? I haven’t read Kant since postgrad (Critique of Pure Taste) and I find both men an excellent remedy for insomnia.

    So….

  10. John Greenfield
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    SL

    JG: That’s not borne out by the evidence, although it was something I remember being taught at a religious school. I remember thinking then, ‘hang on, that sounds like bull’. It is bull. The division was one of class, not gender.

    Darl, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Your post addressed 3/4 people, which bit was for me?

  11. Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] said:

    “But wasn’t paganism based on propitiation?”

    Yes if by paganism you mean belief in various entities thay you could interact with. But Christianity and Judaism would be pagan under this definition, while Zoroastrianism wouldn’t.

    No if you mean those who may have gone all dewey-eyed about “the one” (like Porphyry and others we call neo-platonists), who pretty much equated the kosmos (and importantly the laws/logos in it) with the divine…. but wouldn’t go in for anything propitiatory (they’d ask “what do you expect a sacrifice to a diophantine equation to do for you?…. we might think the totality of everything is divine, and as part of it, WE have some divinty, but it’s impersonal). They were no more into gods interested in persons than Socrates, who would be classed by early Christians as a pagan, but considered by many contemporaries an atheist – or one who brought the gods into disrepute.

    So, the “high pagans” were no more into propitiation than Confucius, seeing “pagan” celebrations the same way as a modern atheist who gives kids chocolate eggs and bilbies at Easter, as a means of binding society together.

    In my more mystical moments, I could be accused of what we now call neoplatonism. At other times I’m a thorough atheist, at others agnostic. It’s a context and mood thing.

    Which becomes a segue to [email protected] who said

    “Dave…Nothing in your hatred for Christianity”

    Depends on the Christianity. See my Dawkins v God (1), which criticises Dawkins for not giving a progressive Anglican bishop credit for holding the idea that gradual (evolutionary) understanding of whatever he claims to understand (and read what I think Dawkins should have said)

    And if I “hated Christianity” per se, (your statement was unambiguous and unnuanced), would I have written a post “Hier Stehe Ich” that was complimentary to the Logos concept (in the context of John 1:1)?

    Mind you, I’ll CERTAINLY reckon the concept of the trinity is downright ugly, and that the iota decision was wrong.

    So, given this, if I /did/ “hate Christianity”, it would not come from an unsophisticated concept of Galilean theology. For to use the term “Christian” gives implicit acceptance of the premise – and anyway I suspect you’ll find no “Christ” in at least one, probably 3, and possibly four of the gospels (John being the one most likely to use it) – but I stand to be corrected because I haven’t gone through the originals.

  12. Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Eeeek, can SL/LE/DEM fix the wrong blockquoting in my previous comment and delete this one.

  13. Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    John, I think SL’s response was to your point @9

    In response to HER comment @51 …

    In the speculative fiction novel I’m writing, I’ve got Stoics doing the job of the Quakers, but I’ll freely concede that this may be a serious case of Alien Space Bats.

    …it could be argued that given how unlikely abolition was, Quakers might well BE Alien Space Bats.

    *chirrup*

  14. Posted July 29, 2009 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Dave, I think I’ve fixed it. Please tell me if I’ve broken it irretrievably (always a possibility).

  15. Patrick
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Dave, perhaps you don’t hate Christianity. I should not have used such an extreme term.

    But to deflect your response, my overwhelming impression from your earlier comments is that you are very eager to criticise Christianity, to the point of revisionist glorification of its enemies on the grounds that, well, they were Christianity’s enemies.

    Quite possibly you wished to make a broader point about Abrahamism, for example, but a) I don’t think that would change much and b) I can’t help but doubt that you would be so keen to go back and praise all early Islam’s enemies.

    Of course, I would love to be wrong on the latter point as well as on whether you hate ‘Abrahamism’ or Christianity!

  16. Posted July 30, 2009 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s a problem for people to have faith it’s only a problem when ‘faith’ gets used to curtail reason.

    Ah, but Adrien that’s not a problem unique to religious faith. What about paradigm shifts in scientific research?

    Scientific models can achieve their own orthodoxy, determining the ‘acceptable’ directions of research that ‘deserve’ funding and sometimes result in campaigns of defamation against dissenting scientists who want to question the “revealed truth” (revealed by experiment in this case but then held to be absolute ever after).

    Eventually someone will scrape together the money and patronage for a definitive proof that blows the original paradigm out of the water and the scientific community once again starts from scratch… then this NEW paradigm becomes the orthodoxy and the whole process starts again. (Yes, I did watch my Einstein and Eddington DVD last night, now that you ask…)

    Science, regardless of what scientists would have you believe, is not an entirely reason and evidence based pursuit largely because (as with religion) it is an attempt by naturally faulty humans to understand concepts far larger than themselves.

  17. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Adrien

    John G – What did you mean when you attributed Nietzsche’s slave/master routine to Hegel and Kant? I haven’t read Kant since postgrad (Critique of Pure Taste) and I find both men an excellent remedy for insomnia. So….

    I have read neither with any especial care or devotion. Strangely enough it was Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man which led me to them.

    OK, my take/understanding is – ironically going back to our ‘Scientific Revolution’ discussions is that Kant was very influenced by Copernicus, and particularly Copernicus’ notes about the importance of the ‘observer effect’ in accounting for motion and change. As human beings – that is, their cognition, not their physicality – are natural ‘ends’ just like innaminate natural ‘ends’, only a “synthesis” can bring about truth, reality, etc.

    Fichte and Hegel used Kant to focus on individual human identity, consciousness, blah, blah. But instead of Kant’s focus on human and physical innanimate relations, Fichte focused on human interactions. That is, “identity,” “consciousness” and so on, were a RESULT of inter-subjectivity, not somehow fixed or determined a priori.

    Hegel extended Kant and Frichte’s notions by analysing these inter-subjective human encounters that produce ‘identity’ and ‘self-consciousness’ as dialectical.

    From what I can gather, Hegel assumes the case when two human beings – whom presumably have never met another human being, and so presume they are master of their identity. The two thus clash over their respective claims to “master” status in the identity game.

    Thus, ‘the Other’ is the Slave – the antithesis of the thesis self – that the loser of these two will become. Hegel argues that a “Death Struggle” thus emerges. However, unlike duelling quests for supremacy, Hegel argues that should one of these two actually die, the survivor’s integrated identity/consciousness is dashed. With both survivng, a “coming together” – synthesis – of the two produces the new individualism of both.

    However, this “synthesis” need not be so rosy for both parties/ The synthesis may result in one emerging he is the Master and the other a Slave; and ‘the Other might agree. OR, both could emerge thinking they are Masters OR indeed slaves.

    Thus Hegel’s dialectic between an individual’s Master and Slave subconsciounesses does not have any resolution – individually or socially.

    What Nietzsche does is greatly abstracts the master/slave dialectis away from the micro intersubjective confrontations in Kant, Frichte, and Kant. Rather, Nietzsche amplifies this dialectic not only through mega-tonne social woofers, but also trans-historic woofers.

    More than Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, Nietzsche focuses on the moral and ethical implications of these inter-subjective meetings with their Master/Slave dialectics and syntheses. He is especially appalled at how these interactions play out in his 19th century Germany.

    Nietzsche argues this master/slave dialectic was pretty simply in pre-classical Greece. “Master” was heroic, great, morally good. OTOH, Slave was weak, morally bad. Nietzsche is livid that Homeric morality has been replaced by Xian (and Jewish) morality, which turns the Greek world on its head, by attributing moral virtue to the pious, self-effacing, effete cheek-turner. OTOH, “evil” is assigned to the glorious wealth creators abnsihed from heaven unless a friendly eye of needle wanders by, military victors, and so on.

    Thus, for Nietzsche, 19th century Germany, and indeed Europe, had become a Slave People.

    And thus, Nietzsche’s project was to free Germans and Europeans from this Slave mentality, and Step One was to move beyond the notions og “good and “evil”.

    Pheww….that’ll do for now! 🙂

  18. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    The only Nietzsche I have read closely is the English Translation of The Birth of Tragedy. Now, I am well aware that Nietzsche was a genius classical philologist, while I am a mere troll and sockpuppet on social doemocratic blogs, BUT I think Nietzsche TOTALLY missed just how religion infused and entangled every moment of life, literature, art, and society during his Glory That Was Greece. I haven’t done any research on this, but I would not be surprised if it ties in with the “Conflict Thesis” we were discussing OTR. That is, Nietzsche did not categorise the Olympian Cults as religions qua monotheisms, such as Xianity and Judaism.

    Anyways, that should give you more than enough to chew on.

    I am quite possibly totally nowhere the truth on these matters, and nattering nonsense. In which case, I have no doubt, some kind soul will inform me so, toot sweet! 🙂

  19. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    Posey/su/Adrien

    From the mid-17th century onwards, it was the Protestants – but not the Lutherans and Cof E types – particularly the Calvinists and Puritans – who gave the ‘Scientific Revolution’ its final huge push.

  20. Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    John, you’re thread hogging and apart from those of us in the UK, likely talking to yourself. Both DEM and I have things to do so are not going to be around for a while, and everyone else is asleep.

  21. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Sorry, just can’t get it all into one post 🙁

  22. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Very brave man, that Mr. Khan. The Muslims must we think we western liberals and Xians are just sooo think. Not only have they got lots of us – not me – tied up in knots ofg guilt about slavery, but ALL discourse globally on the subject of “colonialism/imperialism” only focuses on western Europe. Islam was into the imperialism game before Europe was even born!

  23. John Greenfield
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    SL

    I’ve now read your post more closely, and I’m not sure what your sources are, but from my memory of studying Late Antiquity – thank god for final exams in History, at least you remember the stuff – there are a few points I’d disagree on.

    For those unfamiliar with the background, Hypatia (an astronomer) was killed in appalling circumstances by a Christian mob shortly after Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius’ ‘Edict of Intolerance’ in 391AD.

    Actually, Hypatia was killed in 415, 25 years after Theodius I’s Edict, and 20 years after his death.

    The most dramatic of these acts was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, which although a public building for the citizens of the city, was maintained and paid for by worshippers of the Hellenized Egyptian God Serapis.

    In 391, Hypatia was only 21, and the Library of Alexandria had been a very faint shadow of its former self, ever since the pagan emperor Aurelian destroyed the Library, over 100 years earlier in 273. True, Aurelian left untouched the much smaller library in the Serapeum – a temple for the worship of Serapis. But by the time Hypatia was alive most of those books had been nicked and sent to Constantinople.

    While there was once estimated 60,000 books in the Serapeum alone, most of them were put to the torch by Julius Ceaser centuries ago. In Hypatia’s day, it was just a place of worship. While the Xians sure did a job on the Serapeum, these attacks happened all the time, on all sides. But the Alexandrian Serapeum topped the former aggro.

    Theodosius He’s the reason why churches in Italy with names like ‘Maria Maggiore’ will have a Temple of Cybele underneath, or why the crypt is so often a mithraeum.

    Actually all successful societies and civilisations build over the vanquished. For example, the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul. Where else are they going to build? The Yanks are currently building over the old WTC site.

    by this stage in the Empire’s history, Christians and pagans faced each other across a chasm of hatred that is really only comprehensible to people who have been forced to spend their annual leave in, I don’t know, Beirut or Belfast.

    It is difficult to justify a simple pagan vs. Xian chasm. For starters, what sort of Xian?

    Now, your loathed Theodosius I died in 395. Theodosius II was only born in 401, and became the eastern Emperor, in 408, at the ripe old age of 8 years old!

    Theodosius II’s elder sister, Pulcheria, basically acted as regent. Pulcheria was the source of the most venomous anti-orthodox, anti-pagan, anti-Jew hues of Theodosius II’s reign. At age 15, he took full control.

    Meanwhile, Pulcheria had had herself appointed Empress. It was her rabid Trinitarianism that spelt trouble for Damascus and Alexandria, as they were the capitals of Monophyitism and Nestorians. THIS was what Hypatia got caught up in; Pulcheria’s Christological inflexibility.

    Pulcheria was ‘the hand that rocks the cradle’ combined with Stephanie Forrester. She was fabulous; her type not to be so historically powerful until Justinian’s missus, the Emperess Theodora in the sixth century.

    Hypatia was an academic and scholar, and slated by the Christians for her relationship with the Roman Prefect of Egypt (Orestes)

    Which Xians? There had been a turf-war between the Patriarch and Prefect for some time. Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria was a theologically orthodox ally of Pulcheria.

    Pulcheria gave Cyril the all clear to persecute and attack Monophysites, Nestorians, pagans, and Jews. Orestes asserted his Prefectorial authority to try and stop the violence. Orestes was attacked by nutty monks, so he killed their ringleader, then the Xians really went nuts.

    Orestes eventually appealing to Theodosius II in Constantinople, who was 12 years old at this stage. Pulcheria intervened and over-ruled Orestes.

    The exact steps between Pulcheria’s over-ruling Orestes, and the nutty monks murdering Hypatia are foggy.

    My verdict? Hypatia’s death was ordered by Pulcheria because Orestes was emboldened by the astrological advice, Hypatia was giving him.

    and her support of Heliocentric (what later became Copernican) astronomy

    There was no such thing as Heliocentric astronomy between Hipparchus/Ptolemy and Copernicus. Hypatia, like her Dad, was a textbook Ptolemaic astronomer and astrologer.

    Orestes’ name indicates that he was pagan

    Orestes was in fact a Xian, but his position – Prefect – relied on the people having faith he would act impartially in what was a secular role. But with Orestes increasing pressure, Orestes turned to non-Xian counsel, including the astrology of Hypatia.

    In its day, Roman paganism was also a state religion.

    Actually this did not happen till the Imperial Cult under Augustus. It did not appeal to so many Romans, especially the newly Romanised folks in the east, who sought more oriental exotica among Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the numerous ‘mystery religions’, and eventually Xianity.

    Indeed, if it had not been for the successive devastating Roman military losses during the 3rd century, Mithraism probably would have triumphed over Xianity! Ironically, it made the triumph of Xianity so much easier. In fact, Theodosius I Edict largely substituted Xinaity for the Imperial Cult.

    and its ‘civil’ aspects could be brutally demanding: hence the persecution of Christians when pagans had their hands on the levers of power

    Which ‘civil aspects were brutally demanding’? The supposed universal and brutal persecution of Xians by pagan Romans is one of the biggest myths in human history.

    The crucial difference, of course, is that Roman religion did not purport to set a moral code for any of its followers (or tell those who governed and educated how to do their jobs). That was up to the individual citizen.

    This is a simplification of a relationship – correct religio – and individual behaviour that was very complex and not easily compared to modern notions.

    The unwritten code of Mos Maiorum – “as was the custom of our forefathers,” – hung over ALL written law – private, public, or religious. The pagan Romans had notions such as virtu, pietas, superstitio.

    Superstitio, for example, had been a religious offence since before the Republic.Even in the 2nd century AD, Pliny the Younger called Xianity “a degenerate superstitio” And let’s not forget WHY the Romans had these protocols, rules, and laws regarding cult and religio. Their gods were not all-loving creatures like Jesus Christ and the Xian god!

    .Mos maiorum remained effective as an unwritten moral code until Justinian, while Superstitio kept on keeping on. Ironically, a couple of centuries later, Constantine demonstrated most vividly to Roman that the new ‘correct religio’ for the empire was Xianaity, when in 324 Constantine did not bound up the steps of the Capitol to pay appropriate homage to Jupiter for his victory at Milvian Bridge.

    I’m pooped for now, but have some comments on the conversion of Roman women to Xianity, anon.

  24. Posted July 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    JG: In 391, Hypatia was only 21
    Actually there is debate about the year of birth, some as early as ca 350, making her up to 65 at death in 415CE.

    And on Aristarchus v Ptolemy – One elegant, one ugly (but very compatible with Galilean theology with the Jerusalem as the centre of the universe). I’d wouldn’t be surprised if heliocentric views were well known, if not held by many.

    Consider the fiction about Columbus and the spherical world, even though Greeks argued for a spherical world since Thales from two bits of evidence:
    * What is the shadow of the earth on the moon during an eclipse?
    * When a boat approaches from the horizon, do you see a small but entire ship, or the crows nest first?

    The Greeks loved elegance (especially those of a Platonist bent), so what Copernicus argued for as a mathematical fiction, would have been seen as the most likely reason by the Greeks. Consider – they KNEW zero, but thought it was too ugly to be a number – after all… numbers are things you can add, subtract, multiply or divide by, but when you try to divide by zero….ugly. Therefore zero is not a proper number.

    And Hypatia and Theon are possibly responsible for the reworking of Euclid’s Elements into their modern form, the proofs well ordered and elegant.

    So, as Aristarchos (who got the ratio of the distance between the earth and the moon, and the earth and the sun, correct) would have been in the library at that time, and Hypatia was heavily into calculations about astronomical bodies, she would probably know about Aristarchos, and if so, would probably have been aware that it made calculations easier. Also, she was a guru of conics, including kepler’s ellipses…

    I reckon it’s a 50:50 chance that she held, or at least considered, heliocentric views. But that’s just a hunch.

  25. Posted July 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Right, next bit of thread-fire putting out, because I’m becoming seriously irritated both with persistent thread hogging (I’m looking at you JG) and a failure to appreciate that I cannot include everything in a single post. It should be clear that — the odd personage apart, or the Stoics — that Roman paganism was not kindly. That’s why Christianity had to invent caritas, because (Stoics apart), no Roman pagan was going to do it for them.

    I have also made it clear that Roman persecution of the Christians was spotty, both briefly (in the post) and in considerable detail (in the thread). Mind you, when they got going, there was plenty enough persecution to go around, some of it eminently barbaric (in the modern sense of the word).

    Dave has also made it very clear that Christians were notorious post 313 for warring among themselves (once again, read the thread). Indeed, this exercised Julian the Apostate — he was fed up with them fighting running street battles over the Trinity, or whatever issue it was that week.

    If people are unwilling to read the thread through, then there is nothing I can do other than throw my hands up in despair and close the thread.

    Now, a few more comments:

    1. Everything I or you or Dave have said about this issue is hugely contested. Much of what you’ve produced there is arguable, but it also relies heavily on wikipedia, which (because I happen to know the Oxford classicist who has been trying to stamp out multiple fires over there ever since Agora was first flagged at Cannes) is a huge mess right now. I’d take everything on there with a huge pinch of salt — including the notion that Orestes was Christian.

    2. The same applies to the scholarship of Ronald Numbers, which I notice you rely on to try to credit the Puritans with the scientific revolution. That is hugely contested, and Numbers is a Christian Scientist, FFS. Now he may be right — I don’t know enough about the period — but I’ve seen enough stuff in his writing to suggest that he hasn’t thought the issue through. LE is more expert on Age of Reason/Scientific Revolution stuff, and I know she’s not happy either.

    3. I’m reasonably sure that the director is going to backdate Hypatia’s death to 391AD so he can get all his kicks in against Christianity in the one year, and also avoid an NC-17. I could be wrong on that (European directors can be a bit bolder than Hollywood), but that’s my suspicion.

    4. Until everyone calms down, and because I loathe thread-hogging (I won’t even do it on my own threads), I’m going to close this thread for a while. Normally you are an interesting and valuable contributor to this blog, JG, but today I have had an inkling as to why you have made yourself something of a Colonel Blimp figure elsewhere.