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Enhance your trip to Athens with some timely background reading

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2019

The past is present in Athens. Perhaps it’s because the Parthenon looks down like a benevolent schoolmaster, prompting questions – who, where, when?? If your Greek history is now only a faint memory, why not brush up before you get there for the 23rd Winter Meeting of the ESCRS? A good place to start is with Edith Hall’s book Introducing the Ancient Greeks.

It’s Professor Hall’s theory that the Greeks exhibited 10 specific character traits that supported the miracle that was Greece. The character traits were: an appreciation of the sea, being wary of authority, highly individualistic, of an inquiring mind, receptive to new ideas, witty, competitive, prepared to pursue excellence, elaborately articulate and addicted to pleasure of all kinds. The book is organised into 10 chapters, each pairing one of these traits with the country’s unfolding history from 1600 BC to 400 AD. Interesting and informative, the paperback earns its place in your carry-on luggage or can be downloaded to your Kindle app.

If a visit to Asklepios is on your Greek agenda, or even if it’s not, consider Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-Century Greece: Between Craft and Cult. It’s a hardback, so both weighty and expensive, but it’s an engrossing examination and comparison of the practices at Asklepios and those of Hippocratic medicine of the same period. The author, Professor Bronwen Wickkiser, is a specialist in ancient Greek history and culture, especially the intersection between religion and medicine. In a subsequent book, The Thymele at Epidaurosshe looks at performance, architecture and acoustics in a Greek healing sanctuary as they relate to music therapy .

If you’re a bit shaky on Greek mythology, now’s the time to remind yourself who was Pandora’s brother-in-law and how long Odysseus was away travelling. There’s a bit of a vogue for retelling the stories in breezy modern dialogue; one example of this approach is Stephen Fry’s book Mythosanother is Robin Waterford’s The Greek Myths: Stories of the Greek Gods and Heroes Vividly Retold. Traditionalists might prefer the classic version by Robert Graves: The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition (Penguin, 2017). Available both in paperback and on Kindle.

And if you’d rather catch up ‘on screen’, try The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization.

Narrated by Liam Neeson and with beautiful photography of ancient sites, the 180-minute long documentary was produced by PBS.

The 23rd Winter Meeting of the ESCRS will take place in Athens on February 15-17.