New Book | Auld Greekie: Edinburgh as the Athens of the North

Posted in books by Editor on December 5, 2022

From Fonthill Media:

Iain Gordon Brown, Auld Greekie: Edinburgh as the Athens of the North (Fonthill Media, 2022), 368 pages, ISBN: ‎978-1781558928, £30.

Around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and especially in the years between about 1810 and 1840, Edinburgh—long and affectionately known as ‘Auld Reekie’—came to think of itself and to be widely regarded as something else. The city became ‘Modern Athens’, an epithet later turned to ‘the Athens of the North’. The latter phrase is very well-known. It is also much used by those who have little understanding of the often confused and contradictory messages hidden within the apparent convenience of a trite or hackneyed term that actually conceals a myriad of nuanced meanings.

This book examines the circumstances underlying a remarkable change in perception of a place and an age. It looks in detail at the ‘when’, the ‘by whom’, the ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the ‘with what consequences’ (for good or ill) of this most interesting, and extremely complex, transformation of one city into an image—whether physical or spiritual, or both—of another. A very broad range of evidence is drawn upon, the story having not only topographical, artistic and architectural dimensions, but also social, cerebral and philosophical ones. Edinburgh may well have been considered, for one reason or another, as ‘Athenian’. But, in essence, it remained what it had always been. Maybe, however, for a brief period it was really a sort of hybrid city: ‘Auld Greekie’.

Iain Gordon Brown FSA FRSE, whose academic career began as a student of ancient history and classical archaeology, was principal curator of manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, where he is now honorary fellow. He has held the office of curator of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy, and has also been president of the Old Edinburgh Club and a trustee of Edinburgh World Heritage. He is consultant to the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

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