Monday, September 26, 2011

Five best books on religious cults in antiquity

Mary Beard is a classics professor at the University of Cambridge and author of The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found and The Roman Triumph.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on religious cults in antiquity.

One title on the list:
A World Full of Gods
by Keith Hopkins (1999)

The religious world of the Roman Empire, with its melting pot of cults, from Cybele (an import from the East that came complete with a retinue of self-castrated priests) to Christianity, is very distant. What did it feel like to offer sacrifice, to watch the wild dances or to join in religious ecstasy? After a lifetime of work on the politics and economy of the Roman world, Keith Hopkins in "A World Full of Gods" shares his puzzlement at the sheer strangeness of ancient religions. The book is written in an intentionally subversive style, with the first chapter following a pair of modern time-travelers to ancient Pompeii as they try (not very successfully) to make some sense of the religious world they find there. The next chapter features a group of filmmakers trying to recapture religious debates between pagans, Jews and early Christians. The whole book is interspersed with spoof letters from imaginary colleagues objecting to Hopkins's approach. Not a book for those who like their history "straight"; but a brilliant postmodern experiment.
Read about the other books on Beard's list.

The Page 99 Test: The Roman Triumph.

The Page 99 Test: The Fires of Vesuvius.

--Marshal Zeringue