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Stealing Athena: A Novelby Karen Essex
Synopses & Reviews
Aboard the Phaeton, 1799
Mary hit the floor of the ship's squalid cabin with a dull thud, jolting her awake and sending a pain so sharp up her spine that Zeus might as well have hurtled a thunderbolt into her backside. She tried to breathe, but the fetid odors-dank wood; stale, trapped air; foul clothing; and the urine and excrement of humans and animals-were unbearable partners with the sickness that went along with the early stages of pregnancy. The stench she'd briefly escaped during her nap came rushing back in to claim space in her nostrils, and she gagged. Her head spun like scum swirling under a bridge, but that was nothing compared to the sick feeling in her stomach. On this voyage, sleep--when one could come by it through a good dose of laudanum mixed with iron salts, all dissolved with strong liquor in a syrupy elixir-was her only respite from the miseries of sea travel.
She reached up for the glass in which the good doctor had mixed the medicine, drained it, then stuck her tongue in deep enough that her face formed a suction as she licked up the last of the -metallic-tasting liquid.
Her illness had been so relentless that Dr. MacLean-sober when on call during the day--had insisted that the captain dock at ports along the way to Constantinople. But the few times they had gone ashore, Mary had to walk through the cities with -ammonia-soaked rags covering her nose and mouth, her only protection from the plague that raged through Europe's ports. The disease had been carried into the towns, the radical doctors of the day now professed (and Dr. MacLean concurred), on little rat feet. Apparently, as human passengers disembarked, so did the rodents, whose fur housed the fleas that transmitted the pestilence. These risky shore excursions were not even worth the temporary relief from the discomforts of the ship. The flea-and-lice-infested inns, replete with greasy, rancid food and the most inhospitable hosts, in which Mary and her party slept made conditions on board seem almost luxurious. Mary told herself daily (hourly, truth be known) that retaining her good cheer despite the horrible conditions boded well for her ability to meet the challenges she would undoubtedly face as a diplomat's wife in the strange and exotic land of the Turks.
These inconveniences were a small price to pay for the glorious life that awaited her. She was married to Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, the handsomest aristocrat ever to emerge from Scotland, who at the early age of two and thirty had been appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty to the Sublime Porte of Selim III, Sultan of Turkey. At this crucial juncture of history, when England's alliance with the Ottomans against Napoleon and the French was in its infancy, her Elgin had been charged with nurturing the delicate relationship with the Sultan. Elgin's mission was to reassure the Sultan that the alliance with England would hasten Napoleon's defeat in the Ottoman territories, particularly Egypt. Everyone knew that Napoleon had invaded Egypt to gain a stronghold from which to take India away from the English. And that, His Majesty King George III had told Elgin, simply would not do.
Oh yes, Mary reiterated to herself for the hundredth time, it was the king himself who had suggested to Elgin that he apply for the ambassadorship to Constantinople. Which was why Mary now found herself-p
The dramatic and complex history of the Elgin Marbles, the sculptures from the Athenian Parthenon, is viewed through the lives of two very different women--Aspasia, an ancient Greek female philosopher and mistress of Pericles, and Mary Nisbet, wife of the Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to Constantinople, who played a key role in bringing the artworks to England. 35,000 first printing.
Chronicles of the Marbles' amazing journey through the dynamic narratives of Mary Nisbet, wife of the Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to Constantinople, and Aspasia, the mistress of Perikles, the most powerful man in Athens during that city's Golden Age.
About the Author
KAREN ESSEX is the author of Kleopatra, Pharaoh, and the international bestseller Leonardo’s Swans, which won Italy’s prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction. An award-winning journalist and a screenwriter, she lives in Los Angeles, California.
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