Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

Buy Used
$4.08
FREE Shipping on orders over $25.
Condition: Used: Acceptable
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens Paperback – July 7, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

See all 11 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Price
New from Used from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Paperback, July 7, 1999
$9.71 $0.01
Unknown Binding
"Please retry"
$35.00
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Best Books of the Month
See the Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.
click to open popover

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Desire is a dangerous thing, and the relationship between the citizens of ancient Athens and their desires was a complex and troubled one. James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes is a brilliant and kaleidoscopic examination of daily life in classical Athens, and the life he reveals is simultaneously more alien and more familiar than we might have imagined. From fish-guzzling gourmands to the ambiguous eroticism of vase paintings, the cradle of Western culture is artfully, and frequently amusingly, anatomized. Davidson believes that many historians, under the influence of Foucault, are guilty of imposing modern views of desire, and particularly sexuality, on Greek culture, resulting in a simplistic interpretation of what was an extremely complicated issue. He refutes the prevailing opinion that sex in Athens was a simple binary opposition of penetrator and penetrated, drawing on a remarkable number of sources to show how sexuality was a slippery commodity rooted in intricate social negotiations, a characteristic shared with many other objects of desire, from eels to undiluted wine. Davidson sometimes assumes a little too much knowledge on the part of his audience--some basic information about the size of the Athenian population would have been helpful--but in spite of this Courtesans and Fishcakes is both accessible and provocative, offering a fascinating portrait of the private and public lives of ancient Athenians. --Simon Leake --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

New York Times best sellers
Browse the New York Times best sellers in popular categories like Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Books and more. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060977663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060977665
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,573,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is about the best book I have ever read about classical antiquity. Davidson focusses on consumption habits, and the morality of eating, drinking, and sex. It is both very revealing about the lives of the Greeks, and an absolutely key step in understanding the origins of modern styles of consumer culture. This is by far the most theoretically sophisticated thing written about consumption in prehistory - Davidson brings some of the best of modern consumption theory to bear, but never in a pedantic way. The text remains lively, fun, and enlightening.
Comment 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
A marvelously written, intricate weave from an incredible array of sources that illuminates the significance of Greek appetites (especially for fish -- yes, fish -- and for sex, in multiple forms and layers) and attitudes toward them, and thus, on the way, as it were, what was regarded as virtuous, that the author convincingly shows were central to social, philosophical and poltical life in classical Athens. An extraordinary book offering amazing insights. One awaits the next set of revelations, if there are more to be delivered to us, by Mr. Davidson, with something resembling opsophagia. A tour de force!
Comment 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Hardcover
While I would grant that this is a scholarly work by a serious historian I found it an engaging read and quite fascinating. It is one of the few books I have read that really helps one get into the mindset (mentalite) of another civilization, far distant in time and space. I don't think one needs an encyclopaedic knowledge of ancient Greece to appreciate this book but some exposure to other studies of mentalites might be helpful.
Comment 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Hardcover
Although I think that the general reader may find some difficulty with the use of transcribed Greek words, the writing is both intelligent,articulate and amusing.
Davidson has delved into some of the lesser known aspects of Classical Athens, although perhaps has ignored the (already well documented) enthusiasms for theatre, war & politics that also engrossed the Greeks This gives the impression that all the Greeks were interested in was fish, wine and sex. Obviously, he has wanted to create an interesting and sale-able book, but no reader should forget that, as in the modern world, such pursuits formed only a part of most people's lives or indeed of the lives of a small section of society. And, as today, they are by far the most interesting things to read and write about, but they are only a part of the whole.
His arguments provide a neat counterbalance to the rather one-sided products of recent years. I could detect quite a few axes being ground, quietly, in the background against many of his scholarly contemporaries. Such disputes are always gratifying to the non-combatants.
I would recommend the book to any reader interested in a wider appreciation of Ancient Greek society or just for an amusing read.
Comment 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An amazing work of linguistic, historical and literary analysis that gives incredible insights into classical Athens. Instead of being one of those dry histories with a list of events, figures and dates – this one is lively and “organic”, rooted in the way Athenians actually conducted their lives. It takes an incredible amount of skill and a great eye to capture attitudes from the language used in texts where there are no direct historical references. Davidson seems to do that effortlessly, capturing hints from a whole range of sources – and forming a beautiful picture using those fragments.

The way he describes a drinking party – you might just feel that you're sitting right there...with images from which cups were used, how much wine was poured to what was done between eating and the drinking part like hand-washing and applying perfume. But its not too much about the actual parties, courtesans (“hetairai”) and fish – its about the symbolism and cultural norms associated with the enjoyment of those pleasures. Take, for instance, that the very sign of an urbanity in Athens was knowing which fish to prefer in the marketplace.

The words and divisions they employed tell us about what they held to be important – on top of drinks, there wasn't just food, but two foods, the staple bread (“sitos”) and what you ate with it (“opson”). The staple was eating with the left hand, the 'opson' from the right. The specifics of eating go down to the very fingers used to eat - children were taught to use one finger for kept fish and two for fresh fish.

When it came to fish, it went to the extent of having marine metaphors as a tradition to describe the atmosphere created by men in the Symposium.
Read more ›
Comment One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes is a marvelously complex book that is at times fun, at times dull, but always filled with new insights strung through as pearls in the verbiage. The book is not as accessible as it is claimed by some to be. I have a bit of background in classical studies and I needed every scrape of it to plow through this book. The historical framework necessary to understand what the Athenians were passionate about was never given and would have been a help for the non-classical studies buff. In the end, this book is definately worth the ride and the reader will appreciate the struggle. A very intelligent book that requires much from the reader but will also deliver even more back.
Comment 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews


Pages with Related Products. See and discover other items: history of greece