Auld Greekie: Edinburgh as the Athens of the North

Author(s): Iain Gordon Brown 

ISBN: 9781781558928
£21.00 £30.00
A pioneering study of the remarkable phenomenon of how a modern British city came to imagine itself heir to an ancient city.
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  • Uses a great deal of new material and a wide range of evidence, ranging from architectural drawings and contemporary paintings and prints to novels and polemical journalism

  • Will appeal to anyone interested in the history of Edinburgh in nineteenth-century social and cultural life, in architecture and in the history of British taste

  • Richly illustrated with an impressive range of 119 images, grouped in thematic sections and accompanied by substantial and informative captions

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’.

BOOK ISBN 9781781558928
FORMAT 234 x 156 mm
BINDING Hardback
PAGES 368 pages
PUBLICATION DATE 27 October 2022
ILLUSTRATIONS 119 b/w and colour illustrations



Dr Iain Gordon Brown was formerly Principal Curator of Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland and has held the honorary office of Curator of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy. A widely published scholarly author, he has edited two books on Walter Scott, and written numerous essays on the man and his world. A past President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, he is a member of the Curatorial Expert Advisory Panel of the Abbotsford Trust.