By Mireille M. Lee
CUP (2015) h/b 379pp £65 (ISBN 9781107055360)
Until recently Greek clothing was the poor relation of classical studies, for many years largely ignored by male academics and shunned by feminist scholars. L.’s is the first general monograph on the subject in English to be published in over a century. Focusing on the period, 600-323 BC, it makes for a fascinating and compelling read.
Having first outlined existing scholarship and considered dress theory, L. tackles the subject from the inside out, beginning with Greek ideas of the body itself, something to be honed and occasionally pampered, but never willingly subjected to permanent modifications such as tattoos, which were considered the mark of a barbarian. There follows a survey not only of Greek garments male and female from under- to outer-wear and of (albeit slow) changes in fashion from the archaic to the late classical period, but of the ways in which different age and social groups wore their clothing. Barbarian imports, too, appear, but while Thracian cloaks and Persian jackets were adopted on mainland Greece, bifurcated trousers were always beyond the pale.
Next, accessories are considered from shoes and slippers to women’s belts and jewellery to walking sticks, symbolic of the leisured male elite, and kunodesmai (foreskin attachments). Social context is always to the fore, and L.’s final chapter is a brief survey of the use of clothing and adornment—as well as attitudes to nakedness and nudity—from the cradle to the grave, with a nod to much between, including religion and ritual (for example, at Athens’ Panathenaic festival and the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron) and symposia.
To illustrate her survey L. draws on a wealth of classical literature and (still more evocatively) Greek vase paintings and sculpture. Sadly, the quality of the (black and white) photographs lets the book down—many are too small and indistinct (at least to this reviewer’s eye) to show much of the detail discussed, and their distribution throughout the text means that trying to locate them when they are referenced in later chapters is often frustrating. Illustrations apart, however, this is an extremely worthwhile book, crisply and lucidly written, which manages not just to cover its stated subject but to throw real light on many of the everyday realities of ancient Greek society which can so easily be overlooked or taken for granted. As such, it will sit well on the shelves of anyone interested in the classical world.