Monday, July 14, 2008

"Stealing Athena"

Karen Essex, an award-winning journalist and a screenwriter, is the author of Kleopatra, Pharaoh, and the international bestseller Leonardo’s Swans, which won Italy’s prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Stealing Athena, and reported the following:
From Page 69:

Everywhere, dozens of carts filled with rubble sat incongruously beside fluted white columns and stacks of tiles and other new materials.

Perikles turned to see that I had lagged behind. He noticed that I was shivering. “What is the matter? Are you cold?”

“Yes,” I replied, though it was the eerie feeling of being atop the Akropolis, where the great gods were worshipped, in the silent stillness of the night. “I feel as if the gods are here, watching us, as if we might be disturbing their peace.”

Perikles held out his arms for me, and I went to him. He put his arm around me, and I was grateful for the warmth and the protection. Surely the formidable Athena would not harm me if I was in the company of one who was building these mighty structure to honor her.

Pheidias took a torch from one of the slaves. “I shall show you what we intend, Aspasia, ad you will decide for yourself if our endeavor is worthy…

“Cities are always developments in progress. We build the new atop the old, but here I have integrated the ruins of the Akropolis into the new construction as much as possible so that our history—and the sacredness that lives in the very stones of the old temples—will be preserved.”

In writing a book about the journey of the Elgin Marbles—the controversial sculptures that Lord and Lady Elgin moved from Athens to the British Museum in the early 1800s—I knew that I needed to convey to the reader what the sculptures and the Parthenon, the great temple from which they were taken, meant to the ancient Greeks. But how to do this without making the reader slog through a Classical Studies lesson? One day it dawned on me—I would put the reader right there in the action, telling half the story from the point of view of Aspasia, the philosopher, courtesan, and mistress to the great Perikles, under whose leadership the Parthenon was constructed. I would then tell the other half of the story from the point of view of the formidable and fascinating Lady Elgin, whose brains, charm, and fortune were greatly instrumental in getting permission to take the ancient treasures in the first place. Thus we have one notorious woman, Aspasia, watch the construction of the Parthenon , while 2300 years later, we have another woman of infamy participate in its deconstruction.

Page 69 is representative in that its scene takes place late at night when Perikles, obsessed with his project, and Pheidias, the designer and sculptor who carried out Perikles’ ambitions, take Aspasia to the Akropolis to look at the nascent structure. But it only tells half the story! The journey of the sculptures continues two millennia later, and, as the Greeks are still trying to get their treasures back, carries on to this day.
Read excerpts from Stealing Athena, and learn more about the author and her work at Karen Essex's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue