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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review and analysis of all the juicier aspects of Athens, 1 Jan 2000
By 
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy from cover to cover!, 20 Oct 2009
By 
Stromata (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Athens brought brilliantly back to life, 13 May 2011
By 
A. Warmington (Hampton, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (Paperback)
I thought I knew most of what was worth knowing about Classical Greece. Wrong. In this lucid, intelligent and briliant - if sometimes quite hard to read - book, James Davidson comes up with far, far more. From their passion for eating fish and the reasons behind it to the role of the female hetaerae, he comes up with new insights all the time, debunking many of the misperceptions overlaid on an ancient era with so much resonance in the modern world, particularly those by Michel Foucault and Kenneth Dover.

It probably takes a gay man like Davidson to debunk the exaggerated focus that has been placed on homosexuality in the Greek world. Whilst this was possibly the first known human society to encourage such relationships, you come away aware that it was always a minority pursuit, largely among an aristocratic elite. Female prositution in all its forms, from a knee-trembler with a slave girl by the city wall to ruining yourself to win over a top hetaera, was still the norm.

What also made me sit up and re-examine my views was Davidson's brilliant insight into Athenian democracy. This was not the result of class struggle but the systematic weakening of ties to kin and the land in favour of the polis. And, among adult male citizens, it was truly democratic - in some ways rather totalitarian - in ways that went way beyond participation in debate: the relatively rich were corraled into funding state activity and even the suspicion that they might be hiding their wealth away or flaunting it too much could lead to rapid ruin.

Not easy going for someone with no previous knowledge of the period, but a quite superb book that I will come back to again and again. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty History, 16 Jan 2011
By 
The Emperor (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
A stylish and well written look at the more seamy side of Ancient Greece.
It was interesting to learn that they didn't just give the world great philosophy, maths and science but also the type of behaviour and gossiping that you get on reality shows.

I was surprised to read that eating too much fish was so frowned upon and it was considered a terrible vice.
There are numerous fascinating and often very amusing anecdotes throughout but he also provides plenty of scholarly analysis.

After reading this book I am never going to look at radishes in the same way again.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every dog has four thoughts, one for each paw: food, food, sex and food, 30 Jun 2008
By 
The above quote comes from Katharine Whitehorn's iconic Cooking in a Bedsitter, but it could be applied to this excellent book, the best thing I've ever read on the ancient world. It is witty, informative and scholarly, with never a dull moment. And not least, he explodes the (frankly absurd) myth that heterosex in ancient Greece was solely for procreation. As Davidson himself is gay, his stressing of this point is all the more credible and creditable.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not _just_ for classics scholars and dilettantes, 17 Mar 2014
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Beautifully written, humorous book that wears deep learning very well and explains extremely well. This is a book of it's time - the crossover of academic history/sociology/women's studies is self-consciously evident - but it remains a cracking good read and a very good introduction indeed to classical period Athens. It was recommended by Prof. Mary Beard in her blog A Don's Life as part of a general reading list and I can see why - this isn't a beefed up essay/dissertation proposal but a work of profound scholarship accessible to the general reader with a modicum of background.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully done, 22 Feb 2013
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Witty History, 16 Jan 2011
By 
The Emperor (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (Paperback)
A stylish and well written look at the more seamy side of Ancient Greece.
It was interesting to learn that they didn't just give the world great philosophy, maths and science but also the type of behaviour and gossiping that you get on reality shows.

I was surprised to read that eating too much fish was so frowned upon and it was considered a terrible vice.
There are numerous fascinating and often very amusing anecdotes throughout but he also provides plenty of scholarly analysis.

After reading this book I am never going to look at radishes in the same way again.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for both the amateur and professional classicist, 22 Dec 2006
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully done, 22 Feb 2013
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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