Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

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9780007329601: Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

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.

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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:

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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