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Athens: who, where, when

The past is present in Athens. Perhaps it’s because the Parthenon looks down like a benevolent schoolmaster, prompting questions..who, where, when.. ??  If your Greek history is now only a faint memory, why not brush up before you get there?  A good place to start is with Edith Hall’s  book – Introducing the Ancient Greeks.

It’s Professor Hall’s  theory that the Greeks exhibited ten specific character traits that supported the miracle that was Greece. The character traits were: an appreciation of the sea, being wary of authority, highly individualistic, of an enquiring mind, receptive to new ideas, witty, competitive, prepared to pursue excellence, elaborately articulate, and addicted to pleasure of all kinds. The book is organised into ten chapters each pairing one of these traits with the country’s unfolding history from 1600 BC to 400 AD. Interesting and informative, the paperback  earns its place in your carry on luggage or can be downloaded to your Kindle app.

The Rise of Athens: the story of the world’s greatest civilisation by Anthony Everitt is another good source.  The author says he asked himself  ‘How was it that this tiny community of 200,000 souls or so (in other words, no more populous than, say, York in England or Little Rock in Arkansas) managed to give birth to towering geniuses across the range of human endeavour and to create one of the greatest civilisations in history? ‘ His answer forms the basis of this highly readable book.  Anthony Everitt is a British academic whose previous works are on Roman history. The Rise of Athens is available as a Kindle book, in hardback and paperback. Published by Random House, 2016.

if you’re a bit shaky on Greek mythology, now’s the time to remind yourself who was Pandora’s brother -in- law and how long was Odysseus away travelling. There’s a bit of a vogue for retelling the stories in breezy modern dialogue;  one example of this approach  is  Stephen Fry’s book ‘Mythos’ and another is Robin Waterford’s  The Greek Myths, Stories of the Greek Gods and Heroes Vividly Retold.  Traditionalists might prefer the classic version by Robert Graves: The Greek Myths, the complete and definitive edition (Penguin, 2017) . Available both in paperback and on Kindle.

And if you’d rather catch up ‘on screen’, try The Greeks: Crucible of Civilizationthe story of Greek democracy from 500 BC  . Narrated by Liam Neeson and with beautiful photography of ancient sites the 180 minute long documentary was produced by PBS.

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