The Final Pagan Generation

Over the Thanksgiving break last week, I found a few minutes to harvest a few of the thousands of unread Google alert emails about Corinthiaka. No promises that I’ll make my back through all or most of this vast collection of emails, but I have begun to update the Corinthian Studies Zotero Library as I’ve discovered relevant works (you can filter by CSM_2014_November or “CSM_2014_December, or sort the Library by “Date Added”). I’ll push out a few of these in the next couple of weeks as I recover from the semester.

One little gem turned up in my box yesterday. This new forthcoming book by Edward Watts on fourth century pagans and Christians looks like a great read. Not sure why the keyword Corinth triggered the book, but it may have had something to do with the well-known case of Aristophanes, the Corinthian elite in the imperial service who was accused of astrology, defended by Libanius, and eventually pardoned by the emperor Julian. That case is common to fourth century discussions of Paganism and Corinth, and is most fully discussed in Richard Rothaus’ Corinth: First City of Greece.

The book looks interesting and should contribute significantly to our knowledge of the fourth century, an period of transformation for the Corinthia as for other regions of the Roman world.

Here are the details:

Watts, Edward J. The Final Pagan Generation. Univ of California Press, 2015.

Front CoverThe Final Pagan Generation recounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Edward J. Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century’s dramatic religious and political changes, when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and temples. The emperors who issued these laws, the imperial officials charged with implementing them, and the Christian perpetrators of religious violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation, who shared neither their juniors’ interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for violent conflict. Watts examines why the “final pagan generation”—born to the old ways and the old world in which it seemed to everyone that religious practices would continue as they had for the past two thousand years—proved both unable to anticipate the changes that imperially sponsored Christianity produced and unwilling to resist them. A compelling and provocative read, suitable for the general reader as well as students and scholars of the ancient world.”

A couple of pre-reviews from the publisher page:

“Edward Watts has produced a scintillating portrait of the transformative fourth century of the Roman Empire. He employs the creative device of looking at the history of an era through the eyes of its own generation—like our Woodstock generation or Gen X—to show how its men and women witnessed, experienced, and engaged with the big and little events of their day. The results are variously quotidian and startling, ordinary and surprising, but never banal or entirely as expected. Understanding the oceanic changes in belief and behavior of the ‘last pagan generation’ in real time helps readers see that world from the perspective of the persons who lived it and not, as we often do, as if in some cosmic rear-view mirror. A real page turner!”—Brent D. Shaw, Andrew Fleming West Professor in Classics at Princeton University

“Edward Watts is a leading authority on the intellectual history of the later Roman Empire. Deeply nuanced and profoundly humane, this book shows what it meant to live through the Roman Empire’s initial transition to Christianity. In clear and eloquent prose, Watts introduces us to a wide range of persons who responded to the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in widely different ways, from hostility or distaste to excitement and profound life changes. Watts provides a fresh and exciting vision of one the great generations of Mediterranean history, whose choices shaped the legacy of antiquity and the future of Christianity. This is a book that should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the rich variety of religious experience.”—David Potter, Francis W. Kelsey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History at the University of Michigan

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Categories: Books and Articles, Late Antiquity, Religion, Churches, Religion, Post-Pauline, Religion, Roman

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