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Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens Paperback – 1 Jun 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Fontana Press; New Ed edition (1 Jun. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006863434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006863434
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 213,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘Davidson is the best thing to happen to ancient history writing for decades’
Andrew Roberts, Mail on Sunday

‘There are pleasures and authors who lie dormant for a century or more until a new kind of vividness, a super-freshness descends on them. James Davidson has that skill.’
Spectator

‘If little boys are still being made to learn dead languages, and expected to enjoy them, I hope their Greek master reads Davidson’s fascinating and witty book, and tells them the best stories from it. This certainly ought to wake them up at the back of the class.’
Sunday Times

From the Back Cover

“A most enjoyable book about enjoyment.”
PETER STOTHARD,'The Times'

“James Davidson’s concern is with ancient appetites: food, drink and sex in classical Athens. At one level, he provides a guided tour from bordello to Billingsgate; at another, an essay on the politics of consumption. Fish did loom large: it was the gourmet food, and therefore the social indicator. Literary critics found it extraordinary that the heroes of the Iliad lived on kebabs, though they were camped near the rich fishing grounds of the Dardanelles. This is a book of many pleasures, both in analysis and in anecdote. You can meet heroes of hedonism and martyrs of sensuality: Melanthios, who prayed for a neck like a heron’s, so that he could linger long on the delicious mouthfuls; Philoxenos, who consumed a three foot octopus (except for the head), and nearly died of dyspepsia; the anonymous alcoholic immortalised by Aristotle, who put eggs under his mat and sat on them and drank continuously until they hatched. Davidson presents a superior class of hedonist … His invigorating book paints the scene with polished scholarship and fine Hellenic gusto.”
PETER PARSONS'London Review of Books'

“Davidson blows away a whole heap of cobwebs, and at the same time shows up with merciless clarity the dissimulation and hypocrisy at the heart of some modern attitudes. We learn about where tarts took their clients, their tarifs and repertoire of sexual positions (the one called ‘lion on the cheesegrater’ is a puzzler); about the quaint games of kottabos (flicking the remains of one’s wine at a target) and quail tapping (you rapped a quail on the head and bet on whether it stood its ground or backed off); about the price of fresh eels and barracuda; about plonk and best vintage Chian wine. All students of antiquity will have to have this book.”
CHRISTOPHER STACE, 'Daily Telegraph'

“If little boys are still being made to learn dead languages, and expected to enjoy 'Everyday Life in Ancient Greece', I hope their Greek master reads James Davidson’s fascinating and witty book, and tells them the best stories from it. This certainly ought to wake them up at the back of the class.”
HUMPHREY CARPENTER,'Sunday Times'

“An excellent and learned exploration of a subject which for 50 years has crumbled to dust whenever touched. There are pleasures and authors who lie dormant for a century or more until a new kind of vividness, a super – freshness descends on them. James Davidson has that skill.”
PETER LEVI, 'Spectator'


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stromata VINE VOICE on 20 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
Erudite, well written and shockingly funny, James Davidson's book on ancient Greek consumption is a joy to read. This is, I feel, a much better work than his latest offering 'The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reapprasial of homosexuality in Ancient Greece'. which I found rather hard going.

'Courtesans and Fishcakes' would interest a lot of readers, regardless of any previous knowledge of the period.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By scottie934@aol.com on 1 Jan. 2000
Format: Paperback
As a classics undergraduate, I understand the importance of a classics book which grabs and maintains interest from the beginning. The author, James Davidson, appears to have the ability to write such a book as this in spades. Admittedly, Davidson is not hindered by the subject matter, which mainly centres upon sex and alcohol, as well as other forms of depravity. However, this is not to say that it is as easy to read as a bodice-ripper. Although it is very entertaining, this is not an easy read and a good deal of concentration has to be dedicated to it. If you have any interest in classics or ancient history, then this book is a must.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Boyd Hone on 22 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover
James Davidson's COURTESANS AND FISHCAKES relates eating, drinking and lovemaking in the Athens of Pericles (or thereabouts). I'm the rare Frenchman who doesn't care all that much for food and drink, which leaves what we call un cinq à sept. Davidson plays down the role of boys, certain that the Greeks were far more portés sur le sexe faible. Even so, he does describe the act of love between men as - for the receiver - a kind of itching of incredible pleasure which just goes on and on until the strength of the giver abandons him. Although I personally fear even a thermometer, one has to wonder, when one hears the animal cries on the Web - begging for the giver to go faster and deeper - if one hasn't wasted a part of one's life. All this to say that Davidson is no prude, he clearly and engrossingly describes what may well have gone on, and that if you are ALSO interested in eating and drinking, this book is for you. My own books can be found on Amazon, in English and French, under Michael Hone.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 22 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
Davidson, in this fascinating, elegantly written, amusing and yet academically-rigorous book, gives the perfect object lesson in how to write for both the professional classicist and the amateur historian without ever losing credibility or talking down to his audience. Whatever your interest, he surveys fifth century Athens and takes you from the aristocratic male environment of the symposium, to the back lanes of the city via pottery shops, food stalls and brothels. Exposing the Athenian discourse on appetite in all its variety, he tackles the perennially- fascinating subjects of food, drink and sex - and succeeds in making us feel that the classical Athenians are both just like us and yet simultaneously utterly alien.

Forget Rubicon, Persian Fire and all the other 'pseudo-history books' - this is the real thing and an excellent read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Boyd Hone on 22 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback
James Davidson's COURTESANS AND FISHCAKES relates eating, drinking and lovemaking in the Athens of Pericles (or thereabouts). I'm the rare Frenchman who doesn't care all that much for food and drink, which leaves what we call un cinq à sept. Davidson plays down the role of boys, certain that the Greeks were far more portés sur le sexe faible. Even so, he does describe the act of love between men as - for the receiver - a kind of itching of incredible pleasure which just goes on and on until the strength of the giver abandons him. Although I personally fear even a thermometer, one has to wonder, when one hears the animal cries on the Web - begging for the giver to go faster and deeper - if one hasn't wasted a part of one's life. All this to say that Davidson is no prude, he clearly and engrossingly describes what may well have gone on, and that if you are ALSO interested in eating and drinking, this book is for you. My own books can be found on Amazon, in English and French, under Michael Hone.
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