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Stealing Athena

A new historical novel by Karen Essex looks at the Parthenon Marbles through the eyes of two different people at different times, contrasting their views.

Library Journal [1]

Xpress Reviews—First Look at New Books
— Library Journal, 5/27/2008 10:30:00 AM



Essex, Karen
Stealing Athena
Doubleday. Jun. 2008. c.400p. ISBN 978-0-385-51971-7. $22.95. F

Verdict: Essex (Kleopatra; Leonardo’s Swans) excels at well-researched historical fiction based on the lives of real women. Her latest is sure to have broad appeal among individual readers and book discussion groups. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/08.]

Background: Ever since Lord Elgin, the English ambassador to the Ottoman court during the Napoleonic era, stripped the Parthenon of its magnificent sculptures, the display of the Elgin marbles in the British Museum continues to stir controversy. While their survival during the Ottoman occupation of Athens was by no means a certainty, Greece has a rather obvious ethical right to them in the present day. In parallel story lines, Essex’s new historical novel explores the creation of these sculptures in the fifth century B.C.E. through the eyes of Aspasia, a female philosopher and courtesan to the great Athenian politician Pericles, and the saga of their removal through Lord Elgin’s wife, Mary, who used her beauty and charm to convince Ottoman authorities to give her husband permission to remove the marbles. Essex extends the parallels between the two women through the story of their respective prosecutions; Aspasia for impiety and sexual offenses and Mary for adultery. Both Pericles and Lord Elgin, likewise, were obsessed with the artwork as their legacy, but the contrasts between the two stories are also quite striking.—Mary K. Bird-Guilliam, Wichita P.L., KS