ATHENS by James H.S. McGregor



McGregor (Emeritus, Comparative Literature/Univ. of Georgia; Paris from the Ground Up, 2009, etc.) describes the great city of Athens in solid detail as it spirals out from its core on the Acropolis.

As the author demonstrates, the Parthenon wasn’t the only building, nor was it the first temple. The Erechtheum, named for the founder and first king of Athens, honors the dual guardianship of Poseidon and Athena. The Propylaia, more than a temple, was a gateway for the Panathenaic procession and a boundary between the city and the sacred place. With buildings atop ruins, walls, additions and conversions, the Acropolis has been a confused space since its very beginning. Democracy is surely the most important bequest of ancient Athens, but her architecture and the classical light and movement captured in the art of drapery influenced cultures well into the 19th century. The author not only starts at the top of the Acropolis; he also dives into the geology of the place itself, noting how the limestone base ends in a solid surface, which produces the many water sources for the city. Then it’s on to the agora, which was much more than a crossword answer and a market; it was the seat of the council of Areopagus and home of the Theatre of Dionysus. Throughout Greece’s history, invasion and occupation scattered the Greek people from the time of Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father) and the Roman Empire, up through the Ottoman Empire and World War II. The Allies’ great carve-up after the war set the physical boundaries of the country, but Greece will always be the larger part of our world that is philosophy, rhetoric, music, literature and art.

A concise, useful history of “the hometown of Western thought, the birthplace of democracy, and the starting block for the modern Olympics.”

Pub Date: March 24th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-674-04772-3
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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