Courtesans and Fishcakes

“Most of the time we forget the strangeness of reading.”

Peter Schwenger

Now, this has been on my TBR (at the Book Repository) for about four years, so I think it probably qualifies for the TBR Reading Challenge at Bookish. I won it at school as a prize for Latin, which is a bit of a puzzler since it’s actually a book about Ancient Greece. But hey ho. Never turn your nose up at free books.

I was slightly (well, very) worried that it might be rather dull and dry, being a 300-page history book with extremely small, dense type. Actually, it’s surprisingly engaging: an account of attitudes to food and drink and sex in classical Athens. I personally find social history much more interesting than political history – Greece is alien enough to make reading about it a little like reading about a really well-built fantasy world – and books about food are always good.

(Mmmm. Food.)

It helps, of course, that Davidson has a nicely accessible prose style, conversational without being unacademic, and amusingly sardonic in places, as when he’s criticizing Foucault and Freud. (It’s about time someone argued with Foucault, after all). I actually found the first half of the book, in which Davidson extrapolates specific details about Greek pleasures from textual evidence, more interesting than the second half, which discusses these details in the political context of Greek democracy (overindulgence being, apparently, an early-warning sign for tyranny); but that’s a personal preference, and certainly doesn’t reflect on the quality of the second half.

Of course, I don’t read enough history to say anything about the factual accuracy of any of this, but, certainly, it’s well-written and quite fascinating; great for the casual reader.

(Those Greeks were seriously weird, though.)

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