Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece

by Paul Cartledge

Hardcover, 2020



Call number



Picador (2020), Edition: Main Market, 336 pages


" Among the extensive writing available about the history of ancient Greece, there is precious little about the city-state of Thebes. At one point the most powerful city in ancient Greece, Thebes has been long overshadowed by its better-known rivals, Athens and Sparta. In Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, acclaimed classicist and historian Paul Cartledge brings the city vividly to life and argues that it is central to our understanding of the ancient Greeks' achievements--whether politically or culturally--and thus to the wider politico-cultural traditions of western Europe, the Americas, and indeed the world. From its role as an ancient political power, to its destruction at the hands of Alexander the Great as punishment for a failed revolt, to its eventual restoration by Alexander's successor, Cartledge deftly chronicles the rise and fall of the ancient city. He recounts the history with deep clarity and mastery for the subject and makes clear both the differences and the interconnections between the Thebes of myth and the Thebes of history. Written in clear prose and illustrated with images in two color inserts, Thebes is a gripping read for students of ancient history and those looking to experience the real city behind the myths of Cadmus, Hercules, and Oedipus."--Amazon.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Shrike58
When it's all said and done I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book, flirting at one point for giving it top marks. That I did not do so is a commentary on how hard it is to say anything coherent about Classical Thebes, on the basis of the sources that have come down to us. That Cartledge
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goes to some lengths to explain what we know about the city, and how, is one of the things that makes this a fairly hard read, while making me respect the author as a historian. Still, Cartledge does have enough to work with to give the reader a sense of how, over time, Thebes evolved from being one of the more conservative Grecian polities, and prepared to ally themselves with the Persians, to being a great defender of Greek freedom under the leadership of Epaminondas, the man most responsible for breaking Spartan hegemony.

Perhaps the ultimate irony in all this, and this ties into heroic Theban legend still being a vital metaphor in modern culture, is that the Classical Greeks were just as fascinated and worked the stories of Oedipus and Antigone and the like into their literature. Though much of this might have boiled down to the great Athenian dramatists enjoying nothing more than wallowing in the misfortunes of a great political rival!
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LibraryThing member ritaer
Only read about a third--not well written or well organized. Seemed to skip around from topic to topic and too many side comments. For example, if describing a battle near Eleusis, is it relevant that the playwright, Aeschylus, was born there? In the section on the political organization of the
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polis of Thebes I never got a clear picture of the composition, duties or accomplishments of the assembly. Maybe there is insufficient information, but say so. Similarly, labeling cities on the map as very large population, large population and so on is not helpful if large is undefined. In one era 3000 might be a very large population for an urban area, in another era 3000 might be only a large village. And so on. Thebes sounds interesting, I look forward to a better book about it.
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LibraryThing member Keith.94928
Just flat out hated it.
LibraryThing member Paul_S
Didn't like the "modern" colloquial language the book is written in. Gives the impression that even the author doesn't expect this book to have any lasting appeal as nothing else will date a book more quickly. The book is a slow ramble across Thebes' history, gives the impression there isn't much
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material as it strays far and wide in the process across all of Greece (and beyond).
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Original language


Physical description

9.53 inches


1509873163 / 9781509873166

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