Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

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9780312185596: Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Crammed with intriguing details, this illuminating appraisal of vice and excess in the cradle of democracy delivers a fascinating and engagingly written study of the hedonism that ruled Athens. of photos.

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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

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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