Revered as the birthplace of Western thought and democracy, Athens is much more than an open-air museum filled with crumbling monuments to ancient glory. Athens takes readers on a journey from the classical city-state to today's contemporary capital, revealing a world-famous metropolis that has been resurrected and redefined time and again.

Although the Acropolis remains the city's anchor, Athens' vibrant culture extends far beyond the Greek city's antique boundaries. James H. ...

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Revered as the birthplace of Western thought and democracy, Athens is much more than an open-air museum filled with crumbling monuments to ancient glory. Athens takes readers on a journey from the classical city-state to today's contemporary capital, revealing a world-famous metropolis that has been resurrected and redefined time and again.

Although the Acropolis remains the city's anchor, Athens' vibrant culture extends far beyond the Greek city's antique boundaries. James H. S. McGregor points out how the cityscape preserves signs of the many actors who have crossed its historical stage. Alexander the Great incorporated Athens into his empire, as did the Romans. Byzantine Christians repurposed Greek temples, the Parthenon included, into churches. From the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, the city's language changed from French to Spanish to Italian, as Crusaders and adventurers from different parts of Western Europe took turns sacking and administering the city. An Islamic Athens took root following the Ottoman conquest of 1456 and remained in place for nearly four hundred years, until Greek patriots finally won independence in a blood-drenched revolution.

Since then, Athenians have endured many hardships, from Nazi occupation and military coups to famine and economic crisis. Yet, as McGregor shows, the history of Athens is closer to a heroic epic than a Greek tragedy. Richly supplemented with maps and illustrations, Athens paints a portrait of one of the world's great cities, designed for travelers as well as armchair students of urban history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McGregor (Paris from the Ground Up), emeritus professor of comparative literature at the University of Georgia, takes readers through centuries of Greek history, art, and architecture to provide both “a coherent narrative” and a travel guide. He focuses primarily on the Athenian Acropolis, “home to the city gods,” and the Agora, locus of political and public life. McGregor describes the Parthenon as it once was, serving as both place of worship and treasury, with its ornate statue of Athena, carved metopes, and frieze depicting the Panathenaian processional. On the Agora, McGregor explains architectural features, living structures, and its restoration at the height of Hellenism. Peripherally, readers visit the Theater of Dionysos, birthplace of Greek theater, and the Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. Medieval Athens found its monuments appropriated into Christian places of worship and the construction of the grand monastery of Daphni. McGregor traces Greek political and military history from the fourth century B.C.E. conflict with Macedonian forces to Roman occupation and 19th-century war for independence. In the 20th century, liberals and monarchists clashed for years of civil war, while also disastrously invading Turkey. Despite a whiff of tedium, McGregor condenses a massive history into a relatively slim volume and provides rich descriptions of architectural details. Maps & photos. (Apr.)
Mathematical Association of America Reviews - Peter Ruane
[An] interesting history of mathematics at Harvard…The book starts from the mid-19th century, when mathematics came into being as an area of study at Harvard University. It reveals a myriad of personalities who have contributed to its prestige as a centre of mathematical research. It portrays life at Harvard from around 1825 to times of the great depression and the years following the 2nd World War. More importantly, it provides meaningful insight into all sorts of mathematical topics.
Booklist - Jay Freeman
McGregor uses a chronological approach to paint a vivid and engaging portrait of the city and its inhabitants from the preclassical period to the development of Athens as a modern metropolis. McGregor pays the necessary tribute to the classical heritage, but he also sheds light on aspects of the Byzantine, Ottoman, and modern periods, and he deftly shows both the elements of continuity and the breaks with the past. The result is a well-deserved tribute to a great city.
John Chioles
What is remarkable about McGregor’s Athens is its uncanny clarity: not only the author’s eloquence in exploring an archaic, classical, Hellenistic, and modern Greek world but the wisdom that has gone into reconstructing that world from its first settlers to the vast and sprawling metropolis that is now contemporary Athens. McGregor has truly captured the pulse of the city.
Kirkus Reviews
McGregor (Emeritus, Comparative Literature/Univ. of Georgia; Paris from the Ground Up, 2009, etc.) describes the great city of Athens in solid detail as it spirals out from its core on the Acropolis. As the author demonstrates, the Parthenon wasn't the only building, nor was it the first temple. The Erechtheum, named for the founder and first king of Athens, honors the dual guardianship of Poseidon and Athena. The Propylaia, more than a temple, was a gateway for the Panathenaic procession and a boundary between the city and the sacred place. With buildings atop ruins, walls, additions and conversions, the Acropolis has been a confused space since its very beginning. Democracy is surely the most important bequest of ancient Athens, but her architecture and the classical light and movement captured in the art of drapery influenced cultures well into the 19th century. The author not only starts at the top of the Acropolis; he also dives into the geology of the place itself, noting how the limestone base ends in a solid surface, which produces the many water sources for the city. Then it's on to the agora, which was much more than a crossword answer and a market; it was the seat of the council of Areopagus and home of the Theatre of Dionysus. Throughout Greece's history, invasion and occupation scattered the Greek people from the time of Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great's father) and the Roman Empire, up through the Ottoman Empire and World War II. The Allies' great carve-up after the war set the physical boundaries of the country, but Greece will always be the larger part of our world that is philosophy, rhetoric, music, literature and art. A concise, useful history of "the hometown of Western thought, the birthplace of democracy, and the starting block for the modern Olympics."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674047723
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 4/7/2014
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 816,769
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.
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