Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review - Athens: A History by Robin Waterfield

This is a nonfiction book that I read in relation to a paper I'm working on. It's a history of the city of Athens, from its founding to the modern day, published in 2004, 362 pages long including end material, and written by a man who lives in Greece and has translated about 20 texts from the Greek. I'll also mention that I'm learning to read New Testament Greek this year, so Greek history is that much more interesting.

I've read (relatively) widely about Athens and classical Greece; this stands out mostly for its modernity. It addresses issues that are most of interest to modern issues and the modern mind, and perhaps ascribes too much of that mindset to the Athenians themselves. Written for laymen, the prose is usually plain and clear, but with the occasional strange lapse into a conversational tone, and the author sometimes injects too much of his own opinion. He is very judgemental toward the treatment of women in classical Athens, but applauds the open homoeroticism contained in the games and symposia. Personally I'm a lot more interested in what the Athenians might have thought about those things that what the author thinks is politically correct today. (The currently accepted spellings, notation, research, and dates were also used, which was sometimes confusing to me but on the whole was helpful as an update.)

The writing is usually quickly paced, touching on the significant more than the detailed, and looks at the whole of Athenian history, not focusing only on the classical age. Each time period is approached from several angles and from a global perspective, which makes it easier to remember what happened when and tie it into the rest of world history. It's very apparent that Waterfield loves Athens, and his enthusiasm is part of what keeps the book fresh.

Overall this was a very interesting and helpful book, especially where recent discoveries are concerned, but I'd suggest reading it along with other books to get a more rounded picture of Athens. Here's a nice list provided by LibraryThing, if you're looking. Also, a good book of Greek mythology helps immensely -- try this one -- and some primary texts never go amiss.

Buy Athens: A History

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