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The Ancient City: A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome (Dover Books on History, Political and Social Science) Paperback – October 27, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Books on History, Political and Social Science
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (October 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486447308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486447308
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #700,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Leslie H. Higgins on April 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
FROM LATE ANTIQUITY on, pious critics and irrelevant admirers of the institutions of Greece and Rome have claimed that the religions of antiquity were, in essence, civic religions, crafted by founders of cities, and tailored by magistrates for political expediency and social control. As Coulanges shows, the city was actually the creation of religion, for its ends.

The popular view of classical religion as a tool of social control, as Coulanges hints, is more or less modern man catching a glimpse of himself in the looking-glass of his reflections (St. Augustine, on the other hand, frequently insinuated the mercenary nature of Roman paganism, but could hardly have known better given the misinformed historians from whom he himself drew). Forcefully apolitical, Coulanges refrains open commentary on contemporary statecraft, but noticeably inserts references to Rousseau, and the French Revolution, from time to time. When he takes time to refute the assumption that classical religion was simply an instrument of control, I cannot help but think of the Cult of the Supreme Being, that most cynical of worships, established for the use of the Revolutionary state.

Coulanges' study constantly emphasizes the cultic origins of organic social organization. As he demonstrates, political bodies assumed even by later Greeks and Romans to be basically secular were religious in origin, often joining several families in a united worship. The stern forms of ancient patriarchy, too, were born of religious prerogative. The Ancient City is indeed a lesson in the total nature of primitive religiosity in the earliest days of the West.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Molinarius on October 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I write this review of the Ancient City by Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges for those who approach the topic of ancient religion without prior in-depth study. Is this book worth reading as an introduction to the topic of ancient pre-Christian Mediterranean religion? It dates, after all, from the nineteenth century.

Because this book is based on a close reading of ancient sources, this nineteenth century account of the ancient pre-Christian religions of the Mediterranean remains accurate in many details. Because the author had a compelling insight that remains true -- namely, that ancient religion was an intimate part of all aspects of life in the ancient world from the family hearth to public assemblies as well as a crucial factor in ancient law and institutions -- and because the author's literary style is clear and compelling, the book remains well worth reading as a comprehensive introduction to ancient religion. With this single book as one's guide (and I do not advocate resting content with this book), one will be able to read and better understand such classics as Homer, Greek tragedy, Plato's Socrates, Caesar, Vergil, Livy, not to mention the New Testament, which was, of course, composed in a world run by "pagans" (a derogatory term, by the way, applied by Christians to their religious opponents). In what sense is the Ancient City outdated? Because its insights were arrestingly new at the time, they are overstated. The author's comparative approach -- while fascinating and frequently convincing -- ignores difference and nuance. The work relies primarily on literary evidence. Our sources are far richer than one would know from Fustel de Coulanges, especially our archaeological and epigraphical sources. The author also ignores chronology with too much confidence.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A great read, giving a remarkable insight into the pre-Socratic/Platonic world. Helps one to understand why Greek democracy and the notion of liberty are so remarkably different than the manner later Western thinkers interpreted these notions.
Any understanding of the Classical era of Greek thought is lacking, especially for the interested layman, without the remarkable insights offered by this book..
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