Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Simon Price, R.I.P.

An obit for Simon Price in the Telegraph:

Price was a central contributor to the remarkable recent revival of academic interest in ancient Roman religion, but his interests were much broader. He wrote the best short book on Greek religion, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (1999), as well as articles on such diverse topics as ancient and modern theories of dream-interpretation (From Freud to Artemidorus); the role of terracing in Greek agriculture; and early Christian apologetic literature.

The book of his thesis, Rituals and Power. The Roman Imperial cult in Asia Minor, was published in 1984 and caused a sensation. It was on the one hand a meticulous scholarly study of the extremely abundant evidence for the “who, when, where?” of the cults of Roman emperors in Asia Minor; but it also sought, with considerable success, to overturn previous understanding of this centrally important aspect of Roman rule.
Emperor worship had generally been understood as a form of flattery, more politely expressed as a “loyalty cult”, of no religious significance. Price argued, however, that it gave something in religious terms to those who practised it: treating the emperors as quasi-gods was a way of coming to terms with the godlike power that these individuals wielded from a distance over their subjects. It helped them to make sense of their world.
To the objection that nobody could really have believed the emperor, a mortal, to be a god, Price replied that ancient religion was not about belief but about ritual; to insist on belief was to treat pagan religion as though it were Christian. He remained a vigilant scourge of what he called “Christianising assumptions” throughout his career.

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