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Courtesans and Fishcakes
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James Davidson lectures in ancient history and the classical languages at the University of Warwick. He was previously a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

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Eating, drinking, and sex: the three consuming passions delineated by Plato and Aristotle are the focuses of British historian Davidson's work. The ancient Athenians, he regrets, have been given little credit for the depth of their decadence in these three areas. Davidson's research into the cultural role of fish and fishmongers is a fascinating theme. He explores the absence of fish in sacrifices (and in the Iliad) and contrasts it with the unchallenged importance of fish in the Greek diet. Also significant is the archaeology of the drinking cup, in conjunction with what Davidson calls the axis of drinking and how depth (both of the cup and the drinker's appetite) was key to the drinking ritual. This work probes the mysteries of sexual desire in Athens and discusses the various terms for women outside the domestic sphere. Davidson tries to define their cultural roles and here and elsewhere challenges even Foucault and Freud. Highly recommended for academic collections and large public libraries.‘Claibourne G. Williams, Ferris State Univ., Big Rapids, MI

`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

British historian Davidson takes us inside classical Greece's brothels, bedrooms, drinking parties and banquets in this rarefied scholarly inquiry. His aim is not merely to depict Athenians as pleasure seekers but to overturn the current notion, purveyed by Michel Foucault and others, that Athens was a "phallocratic" society permeated with an ethos of penetration and domination, a homosexual-leaning culture polarized between adult male citizens and all others‘slaves, women, boys, foreigners. He largely succeeds on all counts, bringing to convivial life a predominantly heterosexual society where classes mingled easily; cultured courtesans bedded leading figures like Pericles and Alcibiades; and wives participated fully in sexual pleasures. Drawing on ancient treatises, pamphlets, comic plays, poems and speeches, Davidson investigates the classical Greeks' indulgences, including their mania for eating fish‘a luxury viewed as hedonistic‘and their tolerance for booze and sex (though sex addicts were considered to have a lower capacity to resist the natural pleasures). His intriguing study serves up a banquet of arcane lore. Illustrations. (Aug.)

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