Stealing Athena: Letter to the Reader

Dear Reader,

Although women of power and influence have always existed, history has not always recorded their contributions and achievements. It has been my ambition in each of my novels to retell the stories of strong and beguiling women who helped to change the world. I have a young daughter, and I found it disturbing that when she was in grade school, she and her friends could not identify any powerful women in history outside of Cleopatra—and that was because I was writing a book about the queen! I made it my goal at that time to reframe history from the female point of view, both to give women—and men—a different lens through which they might look at historical events, and to give women a sense of their own history.

My last novel, Leonardo’s Swans, explored the link between art and power, and the roles that powerful, influential women of the Renaissance played in the events of their day, and in the creation of some of the world’s precious pieces of art. Stealing Athena continues that theme.

Stealing Athena chronicles the amazing journey of the Elgin Marbles, those invaluable and controversial sculptures from the Parthenon removed by Lord Elgin in 1803 and subsequently placed in the British Museum. The book is told from the points of view of two of history’s more fascinating women: Aspasia, the philosopher and courtesan to Athens’ great statesman Pericles, who witnessed the construction of the Parthenon; and Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, the prominent Scottish heiress who made certain that her husband would fulfill his ambition to dismantle the great temple and spirit the remains back to England before Napoleon could claim them for France.

Both women stood boldly at the center of the power circles of their respective times impacting the course of history—but each paid dearly for her defiance of convention and insistence on defining the terms of her own life. Though we are living in more tolerant times, I think that women of all ages will strongly identify with these brave and progressive heroines.

I hope you enjoy Stealing Athena, and the fantastical journey of the storied Elgin Marbles.

With warm wishes,
Karen Essex