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The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life Paperback – 1 Sep 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099554054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099554059
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Hughes cleverly extracts the man from the dramatic scene-setting... This intelligent, bright-eyed vigorous book [has] a life as vibrant and provocative as that lived by its subject" (The Times)

"In The Hemlock Cup Bettany Hughes does a very good job of recreating the material world in which Socrates lived...she is up to date on recent archaeological discoveries... She writes frankly of the nastiness of the world in which Socrates grew up and lived" (Mary Beard Sunday Times)

"No physical aspect of life as experienced by an Athenian man is left out...Hughes's expert attempts to make him flesh and blood, to fill in the gaps...teach us about the value of the real as well as the philosophical" (Lesley McDowell Scotsman)

"Terrific and passionate writing about a philosopher whose heroism is unquestionable (though that heroism resides in a constant questioning); and as lively and learned an introduction to classical Athens as you could want" (Tom Payne Daily Telegraph)

"Hughes's prose is the literary equivalent of CGI, re-creating for the reader a sense of the clamour and dazzle of the classical city that has rarely been bettered" (Observer)

Book Description

A riveting, lively and brilliantly researched biography of Socrates by the author of the acclaimed bestseller Helen of Troy.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Richard D. L. Sargent on 26 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a highly readable and thoroughly researched book whose subject matter might best be described as "the Life and Times of Socrates".

Anyone who has already studied Socrates will know that we have very little biographical information regarding this self-appointed gadfly, this stinger of the conscience of the Athenians. Some would even argue he never really existed, but was a type of Robin Hood or King Arthur figure from literary legend.

Bettany Hughes has exhaustively mined the extant archives. The usual suspects of Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes naturally feature prominently, as do Aristotle and Diogenes Laertius, as well as numerous other Greek and Roman authors whose writings are either directly or indirectly relevant.

We are given an exquisitely atmospheric rendering of Athenian life at the time of Socrates, and a most useful potted history of contemporary events - most notably the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath. Athenian attitudes towards love, religion, politics and philosophy are examined with some eye-opening or eye-watering descriptions.

For the more academically inclined, there are more than adequate footnotes, references and bibliographical citations, pp 388 to 472 (hardback copy).

And of Socrates himself? Don't expect to be informed of his innermost secrets or his most intimate life story. Unfortunately the extant contemporary writings simply do not contain these details. Although, who knows that one day, some dusty scroll in a classical collection may shed some more light?

This book has instilled in me a feeling of deeper admiration for Socrates. I admit that I have been strongly inspired by his approach to knowledge for some time, and may therefore be somewhat biased.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J on 24 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Having read earlier excellent reviews I would like to add this. As someone who is coming to classical studies via fiction, (Mary Renault et al), I was slightly daunted by the scholarly introductions, but having read Bettany Hughes' unforgettable Helen of Troy I pressed on and was rewarded beyond my expectations! So much has been written, televised, and generally assumed about this period of history. This book brings together new and old research and opinions to weave a story better than any fiction.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Dalgety on 4 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bettany Hughes is one of the best British historians of the classical world. Socrates is the founder of western thought and philosophy- Bettany Hughes more than does him justice here.The book is scholarly but the narrative flows easily and the analysis is first class.I particularly liked the way Bettany Hughes built the description of recent archaeological discoveries into the text to better illustrate the society of classical Athens from which Socrates came.Your money will not be wasted if you buy this excellent book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mary Eckstein on 12 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully rich and humane book. Bettany Hughes brings Socrates and his world vividly to life. As well as a fantastic account of classical Athens in both its grime and glory Hughes delivers an impressive study of Socrates' philosophy - not as a dry academic exercise but as, what seems, a genuine attempt to get inside the mind of the man and understand how he thought human beings could live 'good' lives. As relevant now as then. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER on 26 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

As so little is known of Socrates from sources from his lifetime - the main sources we have on Socrates are from writers such as Plato and Xenophone - and as Socrates apparently never wrote any of his own works down, the recreation of his life in this book is centred in the life of Athens.

The story of Athens itself during the "Golden Age" of its democracy, the Peloponnesian War, the Thirty, and all the political, philosophical, social, economic and military growth and development during this time, is fascinating in and of itself. Through the life of Athens, you catch glimpses of the life of Socrates himself - in the street, in conversation with friends, mixing with the young, the powerful - and always behaving just a little out of the way of Athenian expectations. Questioning, probing, not following the way of `democracy' as Athens would have its citizens.

And it was this way of behaviour - his own idiosyncracies, that got Socrates into trouble in the end.

Because when Athens is beaten, bloody, bowed into humility by Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians turn in on each other. Democracy, the Athenian Empire, had grown, flourished, then fought long and hard for its existence - and in the end, when the Spartans stood triumphant and Athens' allies had all but deserted them - what did it stand for? And wasn't that what Socrates had been questioning all along?

There's a lot we don't know about Socrates - but there's a lot we do know about Athens, and about others of its citizens during the Golden Age, and about its enemies, its allies, its battles and its struggles to birth and give life to a new way of living.
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55 of 63 people found the following review helpful By John McVittie on 9 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is, genuinely, a MUST READ book. I had heard of Socrates but knew very little about him or his life. Now I realise how central he is to both Western and Eastern thought, and also more importantly I feel as though I care about him and his work. Bettany Hughes has clearly spent many years deeply researching this rich subject. As far as I can tell she is the first historian brave enough to jigsaw-puzzle together all the scattered evidence for Socrates' Golden Age and to allow him to play his part as a real man the heady world of fifth century Greece. The pages bring him to life and, what's more, it's a great read. Thoroughly recommended.
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