Using this rather biased source and incidental evidence in others, Debra Hamel has written what is effectively a biography of Neaira. Though not as salacious as the subtitle might suggest, it is a lively account, staying close to its subject and the feud in which she was caught up. Hamel does speculate about the details of Neaira's life in places, but always makes it clear when she's doing so.
Woven into this story are explorations of classical Athenian society. Hamel explains the background to Neaira's status — she was prosecuted for having illegally married a citizen — the marriages of Stephanos' daughter, and other aspects of their family life. And she gives an outline of the Athenian legal system and the workings of its courts and juries. Some things seem rather foreign — anal penetration with a radish as a punishment for adultery?! — but others seem startlingly modern — the use of the legal system to further political ends, for example. None of this social history is dumped on the reader in the abstract: it is always given substance through its connection to the central story.
Trying Neaira is written for the non-specialist — no knowledge at all of Greek history or literature is assumed — but endnotes provide references for the cognoscenti. It's a lot of fun to read, but Hamel's biggest service is in providing a radically different entry point to classical Athens, one that doesn't involve triremes or tragedies.
- External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- information from Debra Hamel
- share this review on Facebook or Twitter