In a broader and more thorough, though less lively, treatment of classical Athens than James Davidson's Courtesans and...


ATHENS: A Portrait of the City in Its Golden Age

In a broader and more thorough, though less lively, treatment of classical Athens than James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes (see p. 943), Meier (Ancient History/Univ. of Munich) methodically examines the brief flash of brilliance that was Athens, from its victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C. through the death of Socrates four generations later. Athens during its Golden Age gave birth to Western traditions of democracy, philosophy, natural science, and literary and fine arts. During much of this period, it was an important Mediterranean political power as well. Meier presents a complete picture of the rise and fall of this extraordinary phenomenon. Blessed with a vigorous political culture and brilliant leaders like Militiades, the victor of Marathon, and Pericles, who led the city-state through its most powerful period, Athens developed a naval power unmatched by any in Greece, including Sparta, the dominant military power and Athens' rival. Athenian naval might was instrumental in the defeat of the Persian fleet off Salamis in 480 B.C., and after the defeat of the Persians Greece divided into Athenian and Spartan spheres of influence. Athenian democracy made possible the astonishing cultural achievements of the period that followed Salamis; Athenian imperialism and overreaching in the Aegean led to a vicious, protracted war between Athens and Sparta that ultimately involved the entire Greek mainland and exhausted the Athenian state. Athenian democracy declined with its military fortunes: the war ended in disaster and the democracy was temporarily overthrown in 411 B.C., then restored, then it devolved into a sort of anarchy. Though minutely chronicling the mercurial political and military career of Periclean Athens, Meier doesn't neglect intellectual and social history: he describes the festivals, buildings, sacred sites, and politics of Athens in a way that brings the ancient city alive. Meticulously researched and engrossing, this is likely to become a standard popular history of Athens during its century of greatness.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998


Page Count: 640

Publisher: Metropolitan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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