Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

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9780060977665: Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

The luxury of the ancient world is legendary, but the Athenian reputation is sober because this wealthy, successful city-state spent all its money on the conspicuous consumption of ephemeral things. Their consuming passions for food, wine and sex drove their society, as well as generating the rich web of privilege, transgression, guilt and taboo for which they are remembered today. Using pamphlets, comic satires, forensic speeches - from authors as illustrious as Plato and as ignored as Philaenis - as source material - this study combines a traditional classicist's rigour with an appreciation of the new analytical techniques pioneered in gender and cultural studies to provide an alternative view of ancient Athenian culture and to bring its reality into a focus easier on the modern eye.

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A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex. Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style. This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights -- especially fish -- fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians' careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes. James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented Europe, democracy and art.

Review:

Desire is a dangerous thing, and the relationship between the citizens of ancient Athens and their desires was a complex and troubled one. James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes is a brilliant and kaleidoscopic examination of daily life in classical Athens, and the life he reveals is simultaneously more alien and more familiar than we might have imagined. From fish-guzzling gourmands to the ambiguous eroticism of vase paintings, the cradle of Western culture is artfully, and frequently amusingly, anatomized. Davidson believes that many historians, under the influence of Foucault, are guilty of imposing modern views of desire, and particularly sexuality, on Greek culture, resulting in a simplistic interpretation of what was an extremely complicated issue. He refutes the prevailing opinion that sex in Athens was a simple binary opposition of penetrator and penetrated, drawing on a remarkable number of sources to show how sexuality was a slippery commodity rooted in intricate social negotiations, a characteristic shared with many other objects of desire, from eels to undiluted wine. Davidson sometimes assumes a little too much knowledge on the part of his audience--some basic information about the size of the Athenian population would have been helpful--but in spite of this Courtesans and Fishcakes is both accessible and provocative, offering a fascinating portrait of the private and public lives of ancient Athenians. --Simon Leake

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Book Description Harper Perennial, 1999. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Part OneEatingThere was a banquet and people were talking and, as so often in accounts of banquets at this period, Socrates was there. The topic was language: the origin of words and their true meanings, their relationships with other words. In particular, according to Xenophon, who describes the scene in his "Memoirs of Socrates," they were talking about the labels applied to people according to their behaviour.' This was not in itself an uninteresting subject, but failed nevertheless to absorb Socrates' complete attention. What distracted him was the table-manners of another guest, a young man who was taking no part in the discussion, too much engrossed in the food in front of him. Something about the way the boy was eating fascinated Socrates. He decided to shift the debate in a new direction: 'And can we say, my friends, ' he began, 'for what kind of behaviour a man is called an "opsophagos?'"FishIf Plutarch had been present (and Plutarch would have given anything to be presenthad five centuries not intervened) the question might have been a non-starter. For Plutarch is quite categorical: 'and in fact, we don't say that those, like Hercules, who love beef are "opsophagoi" . . . nor those who, like Plato, love figs, or, like Arcesilaus, grapes, but those who peel back their ears for the market-bell and spring up on each occasion around the fish-mongers." An "opsophagos," according to this ancient authority at any rate, was someone with a distinc. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0060977663

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