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Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece Hardcover – February 8, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0300094312 ISBN-10: 0300094310

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300094310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300094312
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,153,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"This clearly written, entertaining, and well-informed book is a wonderful means of entering the world of fourth-century Athens." Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College "Debra Hamel has written a marvelous account of a fascinating series of events in the life of a Greek woman of the fourth century B.C. She tells the tale with clarity and verve and, along the way, she teaches the reader a vast amount about Athenian society in the most interesting and entertaining way." Donald Kagan, Yale University

From the Back Cover

"This clearly written, entertaining, and well-informed book is a wonderful means of entering the world of fourth-century Athens."—Mary R. Lefkowitz, Wellesley College; "Debra Hamel has written a marvelous account of a fascinating series of events in the life of a Greek woman of the fourth century B.C. She tells the tale with clarity and verve and, along the way, she teaches the reader a vast amount about Athenian society in the most interesting and entertaining way."—Donald Kagan, Yale University

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Adrienne Brown on July 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book which is written in a very delightful and readable style is, unfortunately, mislabeled. A more accurate title would be "Defending Neaira." Even more important is the subtitle, which should read, "Placing Apollodoros' speech 'Against Neaira' (Demosthenes 59) in its proper context." Adding to the misleading nature of the publisher's public presentation of this work is the use of a painting of the trial another hetaira, Phryne, who was tried at a much younger age than was Neaira when she was used by Apollodorus in an effort to destroy the political life of Neaira's lover.

If one chooses to read this book in an effort to discover what the everyday life of a Greek hetaira was like, one is most likely to be seriously disappointed. One may gain a better appreciation of that subject by working one's way through James Davidson's "Courtesans and Fishcakes."

However, this text is highly recommended to anyone who has read (or is required to read) the very biased speech of Apollodoros (catalogued as Demosthenes 59) in the prosecution of Neaira that was undertaken to undermine her lover's political life in Athens. What is most frustrating about all aspects of studying ancient Greek society is the almost total lack of women's voices speaking about women's lives. Debra Hamel's little text is one successful effort to shed light on the way in which surviving literature distorts the reality of women in Ancient Greece. It does that, in my opinion, quite well. However, it does not tell "the true story of a courtesan's scandalous life in Ancient Greece."
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Gypsi Phillips Bates VINE VOICE on September 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Trying Neaira is just what one would NOT expect an historical nonfiction book to be: witty and easy to read, with little bizarre bits that one just MUST read out loud! Furthermore, her writing style is light and makes a normal dry subject (the ancient Athenian judicial system) interesting and comprehensible.

Neaira was a prostitute in the 4th century, who grew up in Corinth and eventually found herself in a stable relationship as the long-time mistress of an influential Athenian, Stephanos. Unfortunately, Stephanos had an equally influential enemy (or at least rival) Apollodoros. They battled back and forth in the courts, and eventually Apollodoros hit on a different way to attack Stephanos--through Neaira.

Athenian laws were quite strict about foreigners and allowed no intermarriage. Apollodoros set out to prove that Neaira was living with Stephanos as his wife, instead of as his mistress, and that their children were being given the rights of Athenian citizens--which, as Neaira's children, they never could be.

Using Apollodoros speech to the jury, Hamel recreates Neaira's life, while using other sources to fill out the story with interesting details about prostitution, jury duty, social customs and Athenian law.*

Hamel approaches Neaira's life (via the speech) as a detective would, piecing together bits, shifting out obvious falsehoods, and in the end presenting a surprising full picture of one woman's life.

This is an excellent book for anyone who is, or who is NOT, interested in ancient Athenian law. I, myself, had not the least curiosity in said subject and yet found myself fascinated, all the while being constantly entertained by her sly wit and bizarre trivia.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jon Torodash on December 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Trying Neaira" is a fine example of the type of popular scholarship that will effectively and properly bring classics into the 21st century: accessible to the novice, factually correct, and not overly interpretive. Hamel takes us on a whirlwind tour through ancient Attica not only through Neaira's eyes, but makes several stops along the way to explain customs and historical highlights of mid-late 5th and early 4th century Greece necessary to understanding the story. She crafts a satisfying introduction to ancient Greek social history

I felt that the book was somewhat overhyped in the summary, as I was expecting to be treated to a climactic judicial clash, except that Hamel has all but exhausted the details of the court room drama in constructing Neaira's past, with little left for a grand finale. The verdict of the case is, alas, lost to the sands of time as well. I remember the book's dust jacket having printed on it something to the effect of "the author takes a sympathetic eye towards the protagonist." This comes across strongly at times and when Hamel made arguments from seemingly disparate, or lack of contrary evidence. But I suppose the occasional author bias is unavoidable when delving into specialized subject matter and drawing together so many tidbits of information into such a wonderful narrative. Most leanings are minor and forgivable

A terrific book on a formerly too obscure character in antiquity.
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