Monday, March 17, 2008

Trying Neaira

If ever I had the idea that I wasn't boring, surely a book like this disabuses me of it.

Honestly, I loved it. I have to re-read the section about ancient Athenian jury pools, which sort of required you to build your own Greek Jury Poll-O-Matic device for selecting jurors (they numbered in the hundreds to the thousands per case! 30% of the population was on jury duty!) to follow along.

I'm just not that handy.

Anyway, this book is ostensibly about a non-Athenian prostitute on trial for being married to an Athenian. Along the way, we learn about Greek brothels, how slavery and freedom from slavery were negotiated in the ancient world, how trials used to work, how women--decent women, that is--were expected not to associated with any men other than their guardians, what happened when women who were supposed to be decent were found with men other than their guardians, why you shouldn't cross Apollodoros, and how the Athenians valued their citizenship.

Above all, we learn that the ancient Athenians may have been even more litigious than modern men.

The author Debra Hamel has a lively writing style that keeps the story interesting, particularly if you have some interest in the time (which I do, as I mention). She's up-front about what we know and what we don't know, and what can probably conclude given the somewhat sketchy nature of the surviving data. (A big portion of the data comes from the prosecuting attorney, Apollodoros, and it has to studied for negative implications as well as what was asserted to make the case.)

Definitely a fun read.

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