An atheist guide to ancient Rome

While hunting around for material on the Septizodium, I came across a genuine curiosity, here.  The title is “Walking tours of ancient Rome: a secular guidebook to the Eternal City” by a certain Gary M. Devore.  The blurb reads:

This guidebook is designed for tourists and scholars who are interested in exploring first-hand the grandeur and magnificence that was ancient Rome through a Humanist, secular, and freethinking lens. Twelve walking tours are designed around districts of the city. Two appendices also describe day trips that are possible from the city center: the ruins of Rome’s port city of Ostia and the remains of the emperor Hadrian’s splendid villa at Tivoli. (emphasis mine)

I have sometimes thought that atheism is merely a final extreme protestantism.  I’m thinking of the kind of protestantism is that used to demonstrate in hatred of the Pope, whose denials are far more central than anything positive that it affirms.  Atheism is just this kind of protestantism taken one step further still; and echoes the hatred of ‘papists’ by using the same slogans against all Christians.

The section on the Septizonium was actually quite vivid and well written.  I wouldn’t mind doing a walking tour of ancient Rome following this author; except that I might end up laughing.  Such extreme solemnity, such eager care not to speak well of the church, can only be absurd.

There is quite an irony in subtitling an atheist guide as a “guidebook to the eternal city”.  I wish it were cheaper.  I might buy a copy.

6 thoughts on “An atheist guide to ancient Rome

  1. So… does he rip on the blindness of paganism? Decry the waste of human potential represented by synagogues and Masonic halls? In short, is this a didactic text about how to think about religious monuments?

    Or are we talking a man ignoring most of Rome as boring to everyone but dupes, and only interested in Roman infrastructure, bar the odd statue to the goddess of the sewers? That doesn’t sound too comprehensive.

    I mean, it doesn’t really explain anything about the Septizodium except that it’s a “monument”. Why would a real secularist be interested in a monument any more than a “swineherd turned pope” would be?

    And heck, wouldn’t a secularist get behind the social mobility and freedom of a swineherd becoming a ruler, however religious? Shouldn’t Sixtus be portrayed in the guidebook as a wonderfully realist hero, interested in the Septizodium for its utility as a quarry, and freeing useful goods from a dead man’s tyranny?

    Man, I gotta say that neither neopagans nor atheist secular humanists really exploit the possibilities of their positions. No fun, them.

  2. I doubt it criticises Roman paganism, however superstitious. Much atheism is merely hatred of Christianity. But yes, it is odd how little they make of their own positions!

  3. Hello, I’m an atheist. I’m going to rome to see the splendor that was ancient rome. I will be enthralled by what is left of their remarkable architectural acheivements and the grandure of the ancient capital. I have had an interest in classics since I was a child and can’t wait to go. I care not for religion, but it does not mean my emotions will not be stirred by what I see or its significance to ancient rome or modern times. I do not ‘hate’ any religious person I love history. I just do not have faith.

  4. Enjoy your trip to Rome! Someone once said that Rome does not feel like a city; more like a village, and I think I can see what he meant.

    The baroque materials of the counter-reformation are everywhere, and do tend to distract from ancient Rome. But it is wonderful what survives! Apparently Ostia is also wonderful, but I haven’t been there.

  5. Thanks Roger,

    I’m really looking forward to it. Not only the sights but the culture, the sublime food and great Italian wines. I contacted Mary Beard the well known classicist recently and she recommended Ostia as well so it is definitely on the agenda! I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Best Regards


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