Matyszak, Philip. Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day.

NY: Thames & Hudson, 2008.

I recently read the author’s similar “travel guide” to ancient Rome, and I found this one, for Athens of about 431 BC, just as informative and entertaining. That period probably was the peak of Attic culture, just before the long and destructive and war with Sparta and also, Matyszak says, before the city had lost what remained of its innocence.

He assumes the traveler will be hiking down from the north, which gives him the opportunity to tell you a little something about recent history at Thermopylae and Marathon, as well as including a stopover at Delphi. (Greece is not a big place.) Orienting the tourist in how to get along in Athens means descriptions of everyday life and society, the Athenian love of argument and politics (a national sport), and how religious belief cohabits so easily with rational attitudes. Of course, “Athens” really means Attica, but even so, it’s amazing how many great minds actually lived within a few miles of each other at the same moment in the city’s history. As in the Roman guide, the reader is also directed on a series of walking tours, from the Parthenon on the Acropolis, to the Painted Stoa, to the Academy outside the walls, with descriptions of sights along the way. And keep a careful eye out for Socrates — he’ll bend your ear off if you let him. A terrific book.

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