From Publishers Weekly
Athens will host the Olympic Games in 2004, perhaps restoring some glory to a city that, according to Waterfield, has seen better days. In this fast-paced history, Waterfield, who has translated many works from ancient Greek, chronicles the rise and fall of Athens, from ancient days (the bulk of his narrative) to the political revolutions of the 19th century. Legend has it that the great Theseus, who killed the Minotaur, was one of the city's founders and fostered its democratic spirit. Athens's location near the coast (facilitating trade) and its fertile land attracted migrants from the Mediterranean world. For Waterfield, the period of Athens's greatest glory came in the fifth century B.C., when Pericles overturned its aristocratic rule and established a democracy. For 30 years (446-416 B.C.), Athens reached a glorious pinnacle during which philosophy, religion, art and architecture flourished. The grandest accomplishment was the building of the Parthenon, completed in just nine years. During its peak years, Athens also attempted to reign over neighboring states, and its increasingly arrogant imperialism and materialism eventually resulted in war with Sparta and other Greek states that destroyed Athens's splendor. As Waterfield observes, Athens would never again achieve such glory, and it became a territory ruled over the years by Persia, Rome and Turkey. Waterfield sandwiches his helpful history between an opening section on the ancient Olympics and a closing one on the forthcoming games, which jars readers out of their pleasant excursion though the ancient city. 8 pages of b&w photos, not seen by PW
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Timed for the 2004 Olympics, this historical narrative aspires to a broader focus than most books celebrating the meteoric rise and fall of classical democracy in fifth-century Athens. Opening significantly prior to Pericles and following Athens' decline through the Roman empire and beyond, it does manage to contextualize the glory days of Greece within a broad historical arc, even if somewhat unevenly: the 1,500 years from Byzantium to Lord Elgin are compressed somewhat uncomfortably into the same amount of space devoted to ancient Athens' leisure activities. Athens in the twentieth century--including the civil war leading to Greek independence--appears only in the epilogue. In spite of these unfortunate foreshortenings, however, Waterfield's study of the deep footprints of the classical era in general and the Olympic ideal in particular is honest, accessible, and enlightening. Its tour of daily life in classical Athens is excellent, and while it deals with modern Athens much less than its subtitle would imply, the modern political world looms present in Waterfield's analysis of Athens' downfall, the result of "shortsighted arrogance" and "overreaching." Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved