Spend 24 hours with the ancient Athenians. See the city through their eyes as it teeters on the edge of the fateful war that would end its golden age.
Athens, 416 BC. A tenuous peace holds. The city-state’s political and military might are feared throughout the ancient world; it pushes the boundaries of social, literary and philosophical experimentation in an era when it has a greater concentration of geniuses per capita than at any other time in human history. Yet even geniuses go to the bathroom, argue with their spouse and enjoy a drink with friends.
Few of the city’s other inhabitants enjoy the benefits of such a civilized society, though – as multicultural and progressive as Athens can be, many are barred from citizenship. No, for the average person, life is about making ends meet, whether that be selling fish, guarding the temple or smuggling lucrative Greek figs.
During the course of a day we meet 24 Athenians from all strata of society – from the slave-girl to the councilman, the vase painter to the naval commander, the housewife to the hoplite – and get to know what the real Athens was like by spending an hour in their company. We encounter a different one of these characters every chapter, with each chapter forming an hour in the life of the ancient city. We also get to spy on the daily doings of notable Athenians through the eyes of regular people as the city hovers on the brink of the fateful war that will destroy its golden age.
Author: Phillip Matyszak
Publisher: Michael O’Mara
Release Date: 18/04/2019
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Series: 24 Hours in Ancient History #3
My Chosen Format: Kindle
My Rating of ’24 Hours in Ancient Athens’: 4 out of 5
This book was prefaced by the author saying how, unlike most books on ancient history, he did not want to focus on the famous people of the time. Instead he wanted to give the regular people of Athens the chance to shine and the famous citizens would only be glimpsed from the average Joe’s eyes.
That was a key selling point for me. It wasn’t the most highly placed selling point (I’m an ancient history lover), but the fact that it wasn’t going to be revolving around Socrates, Hippocrates, Alcibiades, etc … and was going to focus on the daily grind of the average Athenian citizen excited me.
So, imagine my annoyance when EVERY chapter starts out with your average citizen, only for ninety percent of said chapter to focus on a different famous person. ‘Oh, such and such was walking along and, would you believe it, they encountered Socrates.’ from then on in any given chapter it was all about the famous person, and the commoner we were promised to live the hour alongside was simply there as a vehicle to introduce you to said famous Athenian. It frustrated me no end and it was pretty much the only aspect of the book that I absolutely hated. I just felt as though the author had not only lied to me, but assumed I, and any other reader, wouldn’t be clever enough to realise they were being lied to.
I know what you’re thinking ‘why give it nearly top marks if the book was essentially clickbait?’. Once you get past the fact you were sold snake oil, the book is incredibly enjoyable. If you don’t know much about the famous citizens of Athens then the above gripe will not even bother you. There truly is a wealth of information inside the book and it’s enjoyable to read and discover new titbits from one of history’s greatest cities.
As with all books in this series, it is set into twenty-four chapters, each focusing on the daily life of a different person within Athenian society … and how they have miraculous connections to a famous person each chapter 😉
This book, although very enjoyable, felt like it was a bit of a different path from the books on Rome and Egypt which, to their credit, focused more on the daily lives of average people. 24 Hours in Ancient Athens is a marked improvement, writing-wise, on the Egypt book. Unlike in the Egypt book, the tense doesn’t change from paragraph to paragraph.
In short; I really enjoyed it but felt let down by what were essentially false promises in the preface. Had the author have kept quiet on that front, or simply said ‘I plan to intermingle the more famous citizenry of Athens along with the average daily grind of the common men and women’ I’d have loved it and given it the full five stars.