Courtesans and Fishcakes

By James Davidson,

Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Book description

A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex.

Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style.

This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights - especially fish - fine…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked Courtesans and Fishcakes as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

This is a thoroughly readable introduction to the strange and marvelous daily life of the Athenians, a compendium of intriguing details about their drinking habits, banquet behavior, and complex attitudes to homosexuality and prostitution. (One great poem cited by Eubulus describes a wine-fueled symposium: “the fourth libation belongs to Hubris; the fifth to Shouting; the Sixth to Revel; the seventh to Black Eyes; the eighth to Summonses; the Ninth to Bile; and the tenth to Madness.”)

Attic comedy is full of shopping lists, menus, and recipes for fish dishes. But any historian looking for information about everyday eating habits in the texts of the classical world knows to tread warily. There is always the danger of ‘taking in earnest what their sources clearly meant in joke’. And the Greeks’ many weird fish stories were clearly supposed to be funny. However, it is difficult to see what was so amusing. Philemon’s comic chef shrieks with laughter at the sight of a group of soldiers chasing a bold soldier who has snatched the chef’s perfectly-cooked fish as it…

From Lizzie's list on food and history.

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