James Davidson

James Davidson is a professor of ancient history at the University of Warwick. His first book, Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, was published in 1997 and was followed in 2010 by The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. His subjects for the LRB have included Bosie, Merce Cunningham, Greek first names, frightening children, Nureyev and Alexander the Great.

Theproblem presented by Troy: Myth and Reality at the British Museum is not so much the myth as the reality (until 8 March). Troy was a tiny city in what is now the northwestern corner of Turkey. In the course of the first millennium bc, its sparse population fell under the successive control of Lesbos, Athens, Persia, Alexander, Alexander’s successors and then Rome. Straddling these...

At the Ashmolean: Antinouses

James Davidson, 7 February 2019

In December​ 362 ce, Julian the Apostate wrote a short satire on the occasion of the Bacchanalia. It took the form of a commentary whispered to Bacchus by the old satyr Silenus as each former Caesar arrived at a banquet of the gods. After Augustus, Tiberius, Nero and Caesar himself, Hadrian appeared, ‘an austere-looking man with a long beard, an adept in all the arts … always...

New Man from Nowhere: Cicero

James Davidson, 4 February 2016

From​ any imaginable perspective the middle of the first century BC was an interesting time in Rome. More and more people and resources were coming more and more under the control of one single city, while that one single city was coming, not coincidentally, more and more under the control of fewer and fewer men. It is one of the great turning points in history, when you can hear the gears...

Laugh as long as you can: Roman Jokes

James Davidson, 16 July 2015

The oldest​ joke I know, the oldest joke that a real person quite probably told on a quite probably actual occasion, is one ascribed to Sophocles. Ion of Chios, a lesser poet, claimed he witnessed the great man at a symposium or drinking party in 440 BC when Sophocles was en route to assist with a campaign to crush a revolt on the nearby island of Samos. As the evening wore on Sophocles...

Big in Ephesus: The Olympians

James Davidson, 4 December 2014

When​ I imagine the Greek gods on Olympus I conjure up a lofty polished marble palace with colonnades and porticos open to the air, its Ionic and Corinthian capitals picked out in gold, rather like the Athenian Acropolis redecorated by Catherine the Great. Its dozen or so denizens pose listlessly in gaps between columns, dressed in fine white robes rather flimsier than the high altitude...

No one reading James Davidson’s enormous and impassioned book, which barely acknowledges the existence, much less the vast numerical superiority, of Greek heterosexual society, would get...

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Eels Tomorrow, but Sprats Today

Peter Parsons, 18 September 1997

‘He made money by selling his country; he went around spending it on prostitutes and fish.’ So Demosthenes vilified a political opponent, as publicly corrupt and privately depraved....

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