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Level 6

6AACTL30 Becoming like God in Greek & Roman Philosophy 1: from the Presocratics to Aristotle

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Shaul Tor
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour lecture (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,500 words (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

How can we become like god? From the early beginnings of Greek philosophy and up to late antiquity, ancient thinkers have continuously posed this question as a matter of the utmost urgency. In this module, we will introduce and explore a range of ancient philosophical systems, asking in particular how different philosophers understood the divine, what they thought it would mean to become like the divine, and how they thought this might be achieved. We will see how diverse notions and models of becoming like god play pivotal roles as the purpose and ultimate aspiration of the ideal life. We will consider how different models of becoming like god were both similar and dissimilar, and how divergences among them reflect and illuminate broader philosophical, theological and ethical differences.

Our focus in this module will be on the early Pythagoreans, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Plato and Aristotle. In addition, we will place and study these philosophers in their cultural and religious context: we will explore the theology of godlikeness in archaic Greek poetry (especially in Homer and Hesiod); hero cults; mystery initiations, and the ancient figure of the ‘divine man’ (theios anêr).

This 15-Credit module is the first part of two related but independent modules (see ‘Becoming like God in Greek & Roman Philosophy 2: Stoics, Epicureans, Platonists & Church Fathers’). Students are certainly welcome to take this module without the second part and will not be disadvantaged by doing so. At the same time, students who take both modules will be better able to appreciate how they combine to form parts of a unified, interrelated and fascinating historical and philosophical development.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • J. Pollini, “Man or god: divine assimilation in the late Republic and early Principate”, in K.A. Raaflaub, M. Toher (eds.), Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his Principate (Berkeley, 1990), 334-363.
  • I. Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford, 2002).
  • H.S. Versnel, Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology (Leiden, 2011), ch.6: “Playing (the) God: did (the) Greeks believe in the divinity of their rulers?”
  • K. Algra, “Stoic theology”, in B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (Cambridge, 2003), 153-78.
  • M. Erler, “Epicurus as deus mortalis, homoiosis theoi and Epicurean self-cultivation”, in D. Frede and A. Laks (eds.), Traditions of Theology. Studies in Hellenistic Theology, its Background and Aftermath (Leiden, 2002), 159-182.
  • A.A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life (Oxford, 2002), esp. 142-179: “Natures: Divine, Human, Animal”.
  • A.A. Long, “Carneades and the Stoic telos”, Phronesis 12 (1967), 59-90.
  • D. Russell, “Virtue as ‘likeness to god’ in Plato and Seneca”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 42 (2004), 241-60.
  • R. Salles (ed.), God and Cosmos in Stoicism (Oxford, 2009).
  • J. Warren, “Epicurean immortality”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 18 (2000), 231-261.
  • D. Baltzly, “The virtues and ‘becoming like god’: Alcinous to Proclus”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 26 (2004), 297-322.
  • J. Dillon, The Middle Platonists (London, 1977).
  • A.A. Long, “Plotinus Ennead 1.4 as critique of earlier eudaimonism”, in R. Kamtekar (ed.), Virtue and Happpiness: Essays in Honour of Julia Annas, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 2012, supplementary volume, 245-263.
  • K. McGroarty, Plotinus on Eudaimonia: a Commentary on Ennead I.4 (Oxford, 2006).
  • M.J. Christensen and J.A. Wittung (eds.), Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions (Madison, NJ, 2007).
  • G. van Kooten, Paul’s Anthropology in Context (Tübingen, 2008), ch.2: “The ‘image of god’ and ‘being made like god’ in Graeco-Roman Paganism”.
  • S. Lilla, Clement of Alexandria (Oxford, 1971).
  • N. Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford, 2006).
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