Book Review: 24 Hours in Ancient Athens, by Philip Matyszak

I’ve read a couple of Matyszak’s fictional-non-fiction works before, and I find his style refreshing. 24 Hours in Ancient Athens doesn’t disappoint, and delivers an excellent education resources – packaged in easy to consume storytelling.

What to Expect

This isn’t fiction in the normal sense – no plot and characters as such. Instead, Matyszak reconstructs daily life in ancient Athens from original sources into a collection of loosely-interconnected scenes. These bring to life the both the concerns of regular people and historical figures.

Original historical sources and modern works naturally concentrate on the grand personalities and events of the period. Matyszak flips this around, showing us everyone from Socrates to Alcibiades, from Aristophanes to Xenophon through their interactions with the common people. His Athens is a living, breathing, city, full of colourful characters with their quintessential human concerns.

What I liked

I love this way of learning and the subject matter. Covering the progress of history is one thing, but all too often one misses the experiences of the “man on the street”, what was life like during those times. Matyszak brings expert scholarship, quoting, referencing, and rewriting original sources, and the result is an easy-to-digest learning experience. Add a bit of chasing down rabbit holes, and this becomes a springboard to learning more about the period, providing a solid basis as you read more advanced works.

What to be aware of

This isn’t a book about the history of ancient Athens, in the sense of covering major events and the people behind it. Rather, it focuses on what daily life looked like, on the concerns of citizens (and metics, foreigners, and slaves) throughout their comings and goings.

Summary

This is an excellent resource to learn about daily life in Ancient Athens. If the subject intrigues you, if you like historical fiction set in antiquity, this is a must read.

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