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The story behind Stealing Athena

More coverage of Karen Essex’s new historical novel [1], much of which centres around the removal of the Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin, as seen through the eyes of his wife.

From:
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Virginia [2]

FIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
The Parthenon and its artifacts provide a rich background for ‘Stealing Athena’
Date published: 6/15/2008

AVISIT TO THE British Museum provides an awesome view of some of the most beautiful sculptures of ancient Greece, the controversial marble works of the Parthenon. To understand how this collection came into the hands of the British, one only has to read, “Stealing Athena,” the newest novel by Karen Essex, which centers on two fascinating women involved with the construction and destruction of the Parthenon.

Aspasia, female philosopher, infamous mistress of Pericles and friend of Socrates, used her intelligence and influence to ensure that the greatest ambition of her lover came to fruition. Together, they overcame stiff opposition to complete the most beautiful shrine and tribute to the goddess Athena in ancient Greece, the Parthenon.

Mary Nesbitt was Countess of Elgin and wife to the British ambassador to the Constantinople during the Napoleonic Wars. Using her beauty and wit, Mary helped her husband achieve his greatest ambition. The count was obsessed with ancient Greek sculptures, especially those found in the Parthenon. Mary managed to persuade the rulers of the Ottoman Empire to let her husband deconstruct the Parthenon and deliver the pieces to England.

The book is rich with detail and reflects the careful research that was done to provide the reader with descriptions of life in ancient Greece, its customs and rituals, the effort and creativity involved with the creation of the Parthenon along with the politics behind the scenes that almost halted its creation.

Equally rich in detail is the Napoleonic era and the Ottoman Empire, ranging from its power structure to life behind the walls of a harem. Essex provides a window to the inner structure of the British governmental structure and its operation in the days of its waning world supremacy.

The battle for what are now called the Elgin Marbles continues. The British government states the sculptures were obtained legally and belong in the British Museum. The Greek government thinks otherwise. As with many other works of ancient art found in museums around the world, it is difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong.

Karen Essex has creatively captured the essence of that continuing struggle between nations and cultures and introduced the reader to two influential and history-changing women little known today. For anyone interested in historical fiction, “Stealing Athena” is well worth the effort.

Kathy Habel is a freelance reviewer living in Spotsylvania.

STEALING ATHENABy Karen Essex(Doubleday, $22.95)
Date published: 6/15/2008