Friday, 18 February 2011

Books, books, books…

The more books I want to read, the slower it goes. It so hard to find time for reading these days – in the evenings I feel so tired that I can manage just a few sentences and in the mornings the dog puts her head next to me as soon as she can hear that I’m awake. So the list and an actual pile of books keep growing!

I feel helpless as finishing one book I can already name a few more that would be an interesting sequence to the previous one… What’s on the list? Anything you can think of: Biography of Charles Dickens, "Girl in a Blue Dress" by Gaynor Arnold (that's based on C.Dickens' life), "House Rules" by Jodi Piccoult (been sitting on my desk since last December, although I love J.Piccout's books), "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (need to fill in the holes in my education), "Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray (one more hole I guess), "The Child Called It" by Dave Pelzer (another glimpse at a story I read a month ago) and so on... And as if all of these weren’t putting enough pressure I sometimes stumble upon books that look like worth giving a try.

One of such “accidental” ones was “Stealing Athena” by Karen Essex. I knew nothing about the author and I guess if I had seen something like this “Essex’s articles, essays and profiles have been published in Vogue, Playboy, The L. A. Weekly, L. A. Style, and many other periodicals“, I wouldn‘t have „wasted“ my time.

In reality it turned out that Karen Essex is "an award-winning novelist and journalist and a screenwriter. She is the author of the national and international best-selling novel, "Leonardo’s Swans", about the rivalries among the powerful women painted by the great master when he was employed by the Duke of Milan." (This book has also been added to the growing list.) Well, she is definately capable of writing interesting books that reveal historical facts that I have never heard before. And what’s even more exciting - in some cases this depicted history can still be witnessed these days!

“Stealing Athena” chronicles the story of the controversial Elgin Marbles.

"Elgin or Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799–1803, had obtained a controversial permission from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Acropolis.

From 1801 to 1812 Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some, while other critics compared Elgin's actions to vandalism or looting.

Following a public debate in Parliament and subsequent exoneration of Elgin's actions, the marbles were purchased by the British government in 1816 and placed on display in the British Museum, where they stand now on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery. The debate continues as to whether the Marbles should remain in the British Museum or be returned to Athens."

The book is actually told from the points of view of two fascinating women, Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin (image above), and Aspasia, mistress to Pericles. You get too see two periods - when the temple was being built and when its treasures were being removed and shipped to England. Periods when women had no rights, when men ruled the world. And once you know more about Mary's and Aspasia's lifes, you begin to realise the real price that had to be paid for the fame, which blinded Pericles and Elgin.

I've never been to the British Museum in London, although it was always on my "need to see" list (I must be mad about lists). I'm sure that next time I'm there, I will make a special efford and hopefully this will happen some time soon, before the Elgin Marbles are decided to be returned to Athens.

By the way, what would be your answer: "If there were a referendum on whether or not the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, how would you vote?"

In 1998 the results were as follows:
40% in favour of returning the marbles to Greece
15% in favour of keeping them at the British Museum
18% would not vote
27% had no opinion

In 2002 the results were very similar.

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