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Before Forgiveness
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Table of Contents

1. What is forgiveness?; 2. Before forgiveness: Greeks and Romans on guilt and innocence; 3. Did they forgive? Greek and Roman narratives of reconciliation; 4. Divine absolution: the Hebrew and Christian bibles; 5. Humility and repentance: the church fathers; 6. Enter forgiveness: the self transformed.

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David Konstan argues that the modern concept of interpersonal forgiveness, in the full sense of the term, did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome.

About the Author

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University and is John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Among his most recent books are Friendship in the Classical World (1997), Pity Transformed (2001), The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006) and 'A Life Worthy of the Gods': The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (2008). He has served as president of the American Philological Association and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Reviews

Reviews of the hardback: 'Konstan's book is one of those studies that increases the reader's puzzlement and thus makes one seriously reflect on the subject-matter in question ... Konstan's book is an indispensable survey for anyone dealing with ancient ethics, not least because of the wide range of texts it introduces and discusses. It can be seen as both an interesting and challenging contribution to contemporary discussion of the ancient inspiration for modern forms of virtue ethics.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review
'This volume makes for fascinating reading and is a remarkable scholarly achievement.' Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
'... this is a thought-provoking work. The author is at his best in summarizing contemporary philosophical analysis of forgiveness as a concept, and in disabusing modern readers of reading 'forgiveness' into ancient texts.' Choice
'This book is nothing less than brilliant. Every one of its chapters contains a startlingly unexpected message, and the range of the book as a whole is enormous. At every point, David Konstan makes one think philosophically about different concepts and hence about the concept of forgiveness itself. The philosophical insight he provides is based on his perceptivity about an incredible range of texts.' Richard Sorabji, University of Oxford
'Konstan's magisterial grasp of the relevant texts and thinkers from the ancient Greek and Roman periods through early Christian and Judaic sources to the Church Fathers is extraordinary. Contemporary discussions of forgiveness often make a number of unexamined assumptions about the historical sources of this crucial moral idea ... It turns out, in Konstan's view, that the modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness - and with it a supporting web of ideas about morality, the emotions, and the self - is of quite recent vintage. Konstan also sheds light on crucial modern treatments of the idea such as those found in Shakespeare, Moliere, Butler, Kant, and Derrida, among others. His remarkable book will challenge readers to rethink their assumptions, and therefore to sharpen their answer to the much-debated question - what is forgiveness? - that lies at the heart of his inquiry.' Charles L. Griswold, Boston University
"David Konstan's superb book is the first comprehensive and critical examination of the early history of Western ideas of forgiveness. Konstan's magisterial grasp of the relevant texts and thinkers from the ancient Greek and Roman periods through early Christian and Judaic sources to the Church Fathers is extraordinary. Contemporary discussions of forgiveness often make a number of unexamined assumptions about the historical sources of this crucial moral idea, and these influence how it is understood. It turns out, in Konstan's view, that the modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness - and with it a supporting web of ideas about morality, the emotions, and the self - is of quite recent vintage. Konstan also sheds light on crucial modern treatments of the idea such as those found in Shakespeare, Moliere, Butler, Kant, and Derrida, among others. His remarkable book will challenge readers to rethink their assumptions, and therefore to sharpen their answer to the much-debated question - what is forgiveness? - that lies at the heart of his inquiry." - Charles L. Griswold, Boston University
"This book is nothing less than brilliant. Every one of its chapters contains a startlingly unexpected message, and the range of the book as a whole is enormous. At every point, David Konstan makes one think philosophically about different concepts and hence about the concept of forgiveness itself. The philosophical insight he provides is based on his perceptivity about an incredible range of texts." --Richard Sorabji, King's College, London and New York University
"...this is a thought-provoking work. The author is at his best in summarizing contemporary philosophical analysis of forgiveness as a concept, and in disabusing modern readers of reading "forgiveness" into ancient texts." --Choice
"The main point made in this fine monograph is that the modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness, which is quite important today in religion, law, politics, and psychotherapy, was altogether absent from the classical world, both Greek and Roman. What is more, it seems to have not been fully developed in the Bible, ancient Judaism, or early Christianity either, where the focus was more on God's forgiveness than on human, interpersonal forgiveness. In fact, according to the author, the birth of the modern concept of forgiveness should be traced back just to the past three or four centuries. ....This volume makes for fascinating reading and is a remarkable scholarly achievement. -- Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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