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Half Snake, Half Panther

James Davidson: Nijinsky, 26 September 2013

by Lucy Moore.
Profile, 324 pp., £25, May 2013, 978 1 84668 618 4
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... His sister hadn’t seen him for seven years. She had been trapped in Kiev during the war that followed the Russian Revolution. Eventually, in 1921, she managed to escape with her elderly mother and two small children and made her way to Vienna. When we entered his room Vaslav was sitting in an armchair; he did not get up to greet us. Mother rushed to embrace him, but Vaslav showed no emotional reaction on seeing his mother ...

Laugh as long as you can

James Davidson: Roman Jokes, 16 July 2015

Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up 
by Mary Beard.
California, 319 pp., £19.95, June 2014, 978 0 520 27716 8
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... 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 ...

No Beast More Refined

James Davidson: How Good Was Nureyev?, 29 November 2007

Rudolf Nureyev: The Life 
by Julie Kavanagh.
Fig Tree, 787 pp., £25, September 2007, 978 1 905490 15 8
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... Factory and to Stavros Niarchos’s yacht with its Degas, Delacroix and Toulouse-Lautrecs, its ‘James Bond’ features and 17th-century olive-wood panelling? Who else was an object of some interest to Mick Jagger, François Mitterrand and Greta Garbo, to Gorbachev, Judy Garland – ‘Rudi’, ‘Judy’, ‘Rudi’, ‘Judy’ – and François ...

Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs

James Davidson: Why would a guy want to marry a guy?, 2 June 2005

The Friend 
by Alan Bray.
Chicago, 380 pp., £28, September 2003, 0 226 07180 4
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... In 1913, Turkish workmen restoring the Mosque of the Arabs in Istanbul uncovered the floor of a Dominican church. Among the gravestones was a particularly striking one in grey-white marble with pink and blue veins. Two helmets with slits for eyes faced each other, like a pair of beaky dolphins about, clangingly, to kiss: ‘Tomb Slab of an English Couple’, the label in Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum says ...

History as a Bunch of Flowers

James Davidson: Jacob Burckhardt, 20 August 1998

The Greeks and Greek Civilisation 
by Jacob Burckhardt, edited by Oswyn Murray, translated by Sheila Stern.
HarperCollins, 449 pp., £24.99, May 1998, 0 00 255855 6
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... Some classicists were, I suspect, completely unaware that the author of The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy had written anything at all on the Greeks, and many (myself included) knew not much more than that. In the unlikely event that an allusion to his work is used to ambush you at a conference or a seminar, look nonplussed, mutter a sentence or two from which only the words ‘bourgeois individualism’, ‘Curiosity Shop’ and ‘Spirit of the Age!’ can be clearly heard and move on to the next question ...

I told you so!

James Davidson: Oracles, 2 December 2004

The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles 
by Michael Wood.
Chatto, 271 pp., £17.99, January 2004, 0 7011 6546 4
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... Hebrew words relating to these various messages from the god as ‘oracles’, although the King James Version avoids the term, except in one or two special instances. Prophets such as Samuel, Elijah and Elisha seem to belong to groups or schools, like the Iamids. Some seem to have lain in the dust, like the seers of the pediment at Olympia. Some, like ...

Eels Tomorrow, but Sprats Today

Peter Parsons, 18 September 1997

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens 
by James Davidson.
HarperCollins, 372 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 00 255591 3
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... fish.’ So Demosthenes vilified a political opponent, as publicly corrupt and privately depraved. James Davidson’s concern is with those ancient appetites: food, drink and sex in classical Athens. At one level, he provides a guided tour from bordello to Billingsgate; at another, an essay on the politics of consumption. Social historians of antiquity ...


Peter Green: Love in Ancient Greece, 8 May 2008

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece 
by James Davidson.
Weidenfeld, 634 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 297 81997 4
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... 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 the impression that Greek homoeroticism was anything less than the central principle determining the varied cultural patterns of all those obstinately independent and idiosyncratic city-states ...

Rainy Days

Gabriele Annan, 18 September 1997

The File on H 
by Ismail Kadare, translated by David Bellos.
Harvill, 169 pp., £8.99, June 1997, 9781860462573
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... Western academics roamed around Greece and the Balkans seeking out the last surviving bards, as James Davidson described recently in the LRB. Bill and Max investigate their technique and language; the similarities between the ballads they sing and episodes in the Iliad; the role of memory and oblivion in the development of the epics; and also the ...

Beware the Ides of Mogg

Will Hutton, 9 April 1992

The Great Reckoning: How the world will change in the depression of the Nineties 
by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg.
Sidgwick, 531 pp., £20, January 1992, 0 283 06116 2
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... thing from the aggregated reflections of a pair of intellectual magpies, and while Rees-Mogg and Davidson have a case, they are far too hyperbolic. Their pessimism rests on a paradox: that the market system they revere is about to break down, but that governments neither can nor should act to save it. If they were more prepared to accept that the events of ...

Conversations with Rorty

Paul Seabright, 16 June 1983

Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays 1972-1980 
by Richard Rorty.
Harvester, 237 pp., £22.50, February 1983, 0 7108 0403 2
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... those who loom large in this pantheon are Hegel, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Dewey, Cavell, James, Davidson and Derrida. At its best, Rorty’s writing has energy, humour, great tolerance, an exemplary clarity that can illuminate even the darker reaches of Heidegger, and above all a rare ability to communicate ...

Dream on

Alexander Nehamas, 17 July 1997

Dinner with Persephone 
by Patricia Storace.
Granta, 398 pp., £17.99, February 1997, 1 86207 033 4
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... centuries earlier – uncontaminated by later, particularly foreign, intrusions. ‘The Romans,’ James Davidson wrote recently in these pages, ‘were so thorough in forestalling the possibility of any actual heroics that might disturb the Roman peace that the dream-world of discourse was the only space left to the Greeks for great deeds’ (LRB, 23 ...


Christopher Peacocke, 18 December 1986

Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson 
edited by Ernest LePore.
Blackwell, 520 pp., £29.50, April 1986, 0 631 14811 6
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... philosophy, has edited the proceedings of the 1984 Rutgers conference on the philosophy of Donald Davidson. The scale of that conference is reflected in the size of this volume, which contains 28 substantial papers. And this is but half the story: a companion volume of similar size, drawn from the same conference, and dealing with ...

Yearning for Polar Seas

James Hamilton-Paterson: North, 1 September 2005

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule 
by Joanna Kavenna.
Viking, 334 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 0 670 91395 2
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The Idea of North 
by Peter Davidson.
Reaktion, 271 pp., £16.95, January 2005, 1 86189 230 6
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... exercised over me little of the magic it has for so many others, including Kavenna and Peter Davidson. ‘The Idea of North’ was the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s phrase and the title of a radio documentary he made. ‘I have an enormous compulsion to look upon the polar seas,’ he wrote to a friend in 1965, ‘and I find that this is growing apace ...

The Contingency of Language

Richard Rorty, 17 April 1986

... used to describe a variety of topics. More specifically, I shall be describing the work of Donald Davidson in philosophy of language, and of Nietzsche, Freud and Harold Bloom in moral psychology, as so many manifestations of a willingness to drop the idea of ‘intrinsic nature’, a willingness to face up to the contingency of the language we use. I shall ...

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