Book Review on Athens: City of Wisdom by Bruce Clark — written April 21, 2023
I would recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in Greek history. If I could summarize the book in a sentence: it is that Athens has been a microcosm of the entire Greek world since ancient times, and represents what has been going on all over the ancient Greek world.
It’s interesting to note that it’s a microcosm of the ancient Greek world, but it really hasn’t always been that way. And that’s where the book begins at sort of begins in prehistory were Mycenae was more of a central focus of the Greek world, but then things shifted over to Attica. Thucydides, a tribute to the rise of Athens, due to the sparse farming climate. Thucydides basically says that given that it wasn’t really a fertile region, people had to cooperate with each other quite a bit and had to be innovative. Then he goes into the historical attic right before the golden age and then he talks about extensively the golden age, and how the acropolis was built by funding from Pericles. He also spent quite a bit of time with Socrates, walking through Athens, and then build up his time through the Roman. And then the Hellenistic era, and then the Byzantine empire. There’s a lot of detail that’s covered, and I actually learned quite a bit that I did not know previously.
It’s interesting that Athens went between the nation and Ottoman control for several centuries. Evidently Athens had a special place in the Ottoman Empire, because they provided honey to the Sultan, and he gave special autonomy to the region, because he really liked the honey from the region. As time progressed read, ended up being one of the central focuses of the Greek revolution and ultimately became the capital.
I would say it was more the capital because of how the west viewed it rather than it being one of the biggest cities in Greece, because many islands had higher populations at the time, and then the king came from Bavaria and many German architects, came to revitalize the city and create neoclassical architecture. They said that the reason the Greeks wanted to have a foreign king was because they were so much squabbling amongst the Greeks that they would rather have a foreigner rule them then another faction that they did not trust, and the European powers really wanted to have another monarchy so that they wouldn’t be supporting a republic at the time. The latter half of the 19th century is characterized by Greece wanting to expand its regions and retake classical Greek land and the sort of culminate into the 1920s when they have a catastrophe in Anatolia and turkey.
Basically the population of Athens goes from 700,000 to 1.2 million in a few years so it has dramatic changes. In fact there were more Greeks living in Smyrna prior to 1922 than we’re living in Athens but then the population basically went to zero in Smyrna, 1922 then the book continues on talking about the events leading up to World War II and what happened during the Greek Civil War. It also talked about the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s. And then it focuses a lot on modern issues that Athens itself is facing. In fact the book ends off with no problems that were occurring under the Covid situation.
It focuses on modern characters — not just ancient characters such as Socrates — but character such as Varoufakis.
On a personal note, I find it very intriguing to look into Greek history. Especially the history of the 20th century because I can map out the events as they correlate to what my family was going through in Greece and where Greeks lived. My grandmother’s mother was in fact from Princes Island in Constantinople. She and her family were part of the forced population exchange in 1922. So, reading about the events that led them to go to Athens from a political perspective fascinated me.
While reading the book, I underlined and wrote notes all over it.
Having completed, it I shared my thoughts of the book with my mom and girlfriend. Having completed it also makes me long to go to Greece. And perhaps even live there.
© Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV