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Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens Hardcover – 12 Jun 1997

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 406 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st Edition edition (12 Jun. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002555913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002555913
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 608,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

The lifestyle of the classical Greeks often seems disappointingly modest. Where are the marbled floors, the pillared halls, the gilded rooms? Even the Athenians, the richest and most powerful of the Greeks, were said by one contemporary to dress no better than slaves.

Athenians, however, were as skilled at spending as their tragedians were at tragedy. Vast estates disappeared overnight, squandered not on material luxury, but on eating, drinking and sex, ephemeral pleasures that left no monuments but are remembered in numerous ancient texts.

Much of what they describe seems familiar – the pleasures of wine, the dangers of seduction, a mouth-watering plate of squid – but some stories are more puzzling: savages on the shores of the Persian Gulf who live off bread made from fish-flour; Alexander the Great drinks a toast that kills him; Socrates interrogates a beautiful woman who lives in luxury with no obvious means of support.

By unravelling these strange anecdotes James Davidson throws new light not only on ancient pleasures but on the Ancient World in general, unearthing surprising insights into Athenian society and the politics of the world's first democracy.

James Davidson lectures in Ancient History at the University of Warwick. He was previously Research Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. 'Courtesans and Fishcakes' is his first book.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Paperback
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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