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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
by William B Irvine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars " More like wrestling than dancing", 26 May 2012
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"More like wrestling than dancing"

This was how Marcus Aurelius, one of the most famous stoic philosophers described life, and it was Stoicism he relied upon to face his own existence.

I have read Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and found some of his stoic comments puzzling and sometimes downright strange.

Like a lot of people I thought I knew what Stoicism meant and would never have considered Stoicism and joy in the same sentence. So I borrowed this book through the library, not knowing what to expect. It totally exceeded my expectations: for me it was an ideal introductory guide to some of the big names in Stoic philosophy, together with the techniques to apply it to modern life (as explained by other reviewers). I particularly liked the way he explained how it could still be used by those who did not believe any deity, classical or Christian; this made it seem a practice that has relevance today.

Some reviewers argue that Irvine has misinterpreted some aspects of the philosophy. In his defence, Irvine is not saying that his interpretation is the only one and he accepts that certain aspects have been omitted by him. In my view, this book is not a history of Stoicism but rather one man's interpretation of it and recommendations of the ways it can still be used now. He does also provide a "Stoic Reading Program" and recommends that anyone interested should read the original texts of Seneca, Epictetus and Musonius Rufus.

This is one of the best books I have read for some time; I enjoyed it so much that I downloaded it to my Kindle so that I can re-read it.

Thank you Mr Irvine for a lovely thoughtful book.

The Cults of the Roman Empire (Ancient World)
The Cults of the Roman Empire (Ancient World)
by Robert Turcan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.95

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and readable book, 16 May 2011
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Robert Turcan - The Cults of the Roman Empire

This is a fascinating introduction to the lesser known deities worshipped in Ancient Rome. This is not a book about the Olympian gods whom we usually associate with ancient pre-Christian Rome, but an introduction to such gods and goddesses as Isis of the Many Names; Cybele, known as the Great Mother; Mithras, the Unconquered Sun; and Dionysus and his bacchanalia, among many others.

Surprisingly these deities all originated to some extent in the east. Turcan describes them more accurately as being Graeco-Oriental but stresses that there has been a tendency to take "Oriental religions" en bloc and see them all as being religions with "mysteries" and which evolved towards "a doctrine of the soul freed after death from bodily ties and promoted to a happy celestial eternity".

This is not a generalisation that can be laid at the door of this author. He is at pains to explain the differences between the "respective peculiarities" of the different religions but also explains that, due to syncretism, various beliefs merge and combine as, for example, in the development of the cult of Serapis from Osiris Apis with the attributes of Pluto, god of the underworld.

For me, the most interesting aspect is Turcan's explanation of why there became a need for these cults. Briefly, they arose at times of uncertainty, when people in the Roman Empire felt insecure and rootless. These cults provided solidarity amongst their membership together with their promise of divine support in this world and the next. This was at a time when the worship of the Roman gods had become strictly formalist. By contrast, the cults offered "the attraction of strong feelings and emotions."

Equally interesting is their eventual defeat by Christianity. Turcan argues that it was their very diversity and disparity that finally failed to give believers a feeling of security. By contrast, "Christianity categorically and effectively ruled out theological and intellectual chopping and changing."

This is an excellent introduction to the various cults and I would recommend it to anyone who is a general reader with an interest in ancient religions, and not just for those who are students of the Roman Empire.

By Roman Hands: Inscriptions and Graffiti for Students of Latin
By Roman Hands: Inscriptions and Graffiti for Students of Latin
by Matthew Hartnett
Edition: Perfect Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real Latin!, 4 May 2011
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I have recently started to learn Latin, using the "Getting Started with Latin " by William Linney. Having got to the end of the book I decided I wanted to try my hand at some "real" Latin but lacked the confidence to try Caesar's Gallic Wars or anything too long and complicated. This book is just what I hoped it would be: a chance to read very short extracts which are from genuine Roman inscriptions. The author gives you plenty of guidance about the grammar as well as information about the source of the material - eg epitaphs, graffiti, and building inscriptions. He also explains any unusual spelling to avoid confusion. This is an ideal introduction to reading authentic Latin and I would recommend it to anyone who, like me, wants to improve their elementary knowledge of the language and learn about the people who wrote it, too.

The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun
The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun
by Roger Beck
Edition: Paperback
Price: £37.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive guide to the mysteries of the Mithras, 22 Mar. 2011
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Roger Beck is one of the foremost scholars of the Mithraic mysteries and this book is the culmination of years of study.

In dealing with the mysteries, Beck makes us aware that this is a religion which expresses itself through the medium of the visual arts. In this it is unlike Christianity, which expressed itself through the spoken and then the written word. In the absence of such "doctrines" how then do we learn more of the mysteries and what the initiate apprehended in the symbols of his religion?

From the icons, inscriptions and mithraea Beck establishes two religious axioms or "sacred postulates" . These are similar to the Christian axiom of "Christ is Lord." For the mysteries he proposes -

1. Deus Sol Invictus Mithras: that he is a god, that he is the Unconquered Sun and is Mithras. This is the normal formula for dedications.
2. The "harmony of tension in opposition." For this Beck returns to the seminal text of Porphyry's De Antro, which describes the fundamental opposites eg night and day, descent and ascent. (This was originally from a saying of Heraclitus.) As the book progresses it becomes clear how integral these polarities are to the mysteries.

Beck shows, in detail, how to "read" both the mithraeum which is an image of the cosmos, and the tauroctony icon, which is always central to the mithraeum, and represents the god as the unconquered sun.

He leads the reader by careful analysis through classical and Christian authorities who described the mysteries; and through a detailed description of "star talk" which combines the Graeco-Roman interpretation of astronomy, astrology, both linked to theology, whilst never losing sight of the context in which the mysteries developed.

In a short review it is not possible to do justice to the range of subjects covered by Beck in this impressive work. I was left with a sense of wonder at the many-layered levels of meaning that make up the symbols in the mysteries. Beck portrays a belief system that, to me showed a complexity beyond any I would have considered possible for nearly two thousand years ago. I was also left with the sense of an elegant religion that promised its believers a future beyond the stars and must have held great appeal to those living in times of such uncertainty.

I would recommend this book unreservedly to those who wish to learn more about the mysteries; but also to those who wish to learn how or why man turns to religion, as well as to anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of the complex "star talk" of the Graeco-Roman period.

Mithras and His Temples on the Wall
Mithras and His Temples on the Wall
by Charles Daniels
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A good little guide, 22 Mar. 2011
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This is a publication from the Museum of Antiquities of the University and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. This edition dates from 1967.

It provides a useful introduction to the background of the religion of Mithraism as well giving details of the temple at Brocolitia (Carrawburgh) and details of the objects on display. These are from Brocolitia, Housesteads and Rudchester and are now on view at the Great North Museum.

Inevitably a publication this old cannot reflect latest scholarship in the field of Mithraic studies. For example, the interpretation of the tauroctony (the bull-killing icon) favoured is that of the dying bull providing new forms of life. It does not mention the more recent interpretation of the icon as a "star map".

However, in my view, there is a need for an updated guide of this kind as the Great North Museum has some exceptional finds relating to Mithras. In addition, there appears to be no available guide to the mithraeum at Brocolitia, which is still accessible and well worth visiting.

Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age
Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age
by William E. Linney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.50

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book!!!, 21 Mar. 2011
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Like several of the other reviewers, I had decided it was time to re-visit my limited knowledge of Latin but I was undecided what book was right for someone without a teacher and was relevant for all ages of student.

I was interested to find a book that had so many glowing reviews and thought it could not, surely, be quite that effective....but it is just as good as others have said.It is so good that I have convinced a friend to buy it so we can learn together.

I like the slow pace, which makes me feel that I am not being overwhelmed by information, and, like hdd, I have to ration myself to a couple of lessons as day as it is so enjoyable.

I can also recommend the accompanying website, especially for the pronunciation. Having been only familiar with the ecclesiastical pronunciation I wanted to learn the classical version and now have a CD of it for reference. This was the first audio download I had ever done and it was very user friendly to do.

I just wish I had discovered the book and website earlier and my Latin knowledge would be that much greater!

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World
by David Ulansey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A good starting point...., 11 Feb. 2011
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Following recent visits to San Clemente in Rome and Carrawburgh on Hadrian's Wall, I became interested in the religion that linked these two parts of the Roman Empire ie the Mysteries of Mithras. The question was: where to start? If, like me, you are looking for a readable introduction to the Mysteries, this book is a good starting point. But this recommendation does come with a health warning: some of Ulansey's theories are not universally accepted by other scholars of the Mysteries. These include his theory that Mithras represents the constellation of Perseus and that the tauroctony (the sculpture of the bull-killing by Mithras) represents his victory as the power that shifts the world's axis (the precession of the equinoxes). Ulansey interprets the Mysteries as a religion based on this hypothesis.

His arguments are fascinating and by the conclusion I was convinced that I knew all there was to be known about the Mysteries, as all the arguments fell so neatly into place. But, although it is an excellent read, I would not recommend reading this work in isolation without considering other points of view.

For a contrasting view I would recommend the painstaking and cerebral work by Roger Beck: "The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire - Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun". He stresses that his investigations do not pretend to decipher Mithraic doctrine in a "definite and comprehensive" way and he warns the reader that he may find this disappointing. Personally, I like the way in which he never loses sight of the relevance of the ancient texts (eg Porphyry "De Antro Nympharum") and their description of the Mysteries, as well as the importance of the design of the Mithraeum (temple).

This is not an easy book to read and, for me, would probably have proved too complex as a starting point. I am still working through it and it is well worth the effort. If you are serious about learning about the religion of Mithras I would recommend reading both books to give a balanced view, but with Ulansey's work as a good starting point.

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