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The Ancient World


Works of Anaxagoras.  We often think--or at least are often taught--that the Athenian age was a time of intellectual openness and respect for new ideas.  Well, not quite.  In ancient Greece, around the 5th century, B.C., the works of the philosopher, Anaxagoras, were destroyed and he was exiled from Athens for subverting established religious beliefs by recording his hypotheses regarding the nature of celestial bodies.




Works of Protagoras
.  Another, philosopher, Protagoras also found his books burned and himself chased from Athens for his impious assertions that 1) man is the measure of all things, 2) weak arguments often contain truths and are better than seemingly stronger arguments, and 3) it is impossible to tell if gods exist.  Apparently, it was his declaration in a now lost work, On the Gods, that "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life," that most upset the Athenian hierarchy.  Very few scraps of Protagoras's works remain, and most of what we know about them comes from the writings of Plato.


Analects, the Sayings of Confucius and his Disciples.  While Emperor Shi Huang began to consolidate power as he established his Qin dynasty, he came to the belief that the doubts and questions raised by the works of Confucius were hindering his attempt to bring order out of chaos.  To remedy this problem, he executed all of the 460 Confucian scholars that he could find by burying them alive, and his prime minister, Li Si burned every Confucian work that could be located.






Ars Amatoria.  In 8 A.D. the Roman Emperor, Augustus, banished the poet, Ovid, exiling him to the Black Sea colony of Tomis in what is now Romania.  Although Augustus, never provided an explanation for his action, Ovid recorded that his expulsion was the result of carmen et error, a poem and a mistake.  Ovid's mistake may well have been an indiscrete romantic liaison with a member of the imperial household.  The poem was Ars Amatoria, a poetic how-to manual on the art of seduction, which was at odds with the emperor's attempt to reverse the decline of Rome by establishing a number of moral reforms--including the criminalization of adultery--that were intended to strengthen Roman families.  (Ovid's work was also burned by Savonarola in Florence in 1497 and banned by U.S. Customs in 1928.)




The Odyssey
.  In 35 A.D. the Roman Emperor, Caligula, basing his decision on Plato's attack on the works of Homer, determined that the epic poem expressed Greek ideas of city-state independence and democracy that were unhealthy to his autocratic rule.  His effort to ban the work and suppress its reading, however, were unsuccessful.

To 100 -1500 A.D.