Socrates and his society come to life in The Hemlock Cup

by

Published: August 7,2011

Tags: Bettany Hughes, Book Biz, The Hemlock Cup

How do we examine the life of the man who told us the unexamined life is not worth living? British historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes does just that by bringing to life the social, political, economic, literary and military realities of Socrates’ society.

“I mainly did it by describing the sights, sounds, mores and facts that surrounded him,” Hughes said. “He’s a doughnut subject; a rich and tasty topic with a big hole right in the middle where the main character should be.”

A large part of the book is devoted to the trial and forced suicide of the great philosopher, events which communicated the Socratic humor mixed with courage. The book was chosen as a Book of the Week by BBC Radio 4 and has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

Hughes’ book also has a fan in Mississippi. Emily Gatlin, manager of Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo, advises readers not to be afraid of the book’s intimidating subject matter. “This book provides a fascinating look into the lives of ancient Greeks and Socrates,” she said. “It is by no means boring and long winded. Hughes does a brilliant job of painting a picture of what life was like in the days of Socrates. I found myself engrossed in her narrative style of writing.”

Gatlin says that as a bookseller she sometimes must embrace her inner nerd for the sake of customers who want non-fiction when she would prefer more of a story. “Non-fiction tends to be a tricky area as some readers want to be loaded with scholarly facts, while others prefer more of a story,” she said. “‘The Hemlock Cup’ scores on both counts.”

In the BBC History Magazine, Dr. Michael Scott writes, “‘The Hemlock Cup’ is another vibrant and atmospheric work from this well-known promoter of the ancient world. This is an exciting book that puts the reader into the footsteps of Athenians of the 5th Century B.C.”

Hughes was reared in West London by theatrical parents. She won a scholarship to read ancient and modern history at Oxford University. She continued post-graduate research while traveling through the Balkans and Asia Minor. She has lectured throughout the world and is a research fellow of King’s College in London. Her earlier book, “Helen of Troy,” was the first serious and wide-ranging book ever written about Helen, described by Hughes as “goddess, princess, whore.” It was published in 2005 and is now out in paperback.

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