Two lovers crest the wave of the golden age of Athens: Pericles, statesman, general, and great visionary of democracy, and Aspasia, his courtesan, a philosopher’s daughter and an brilliant woman in her own right. In a world of hierarchies, he is at the top when she arrives as little more than flotsam cast up on Athenian shores. Their story brings to life the arts, archaeology and history of a brilliant classical world.
The novel unfolds against the background of the arts and history of the Golden Age seen through the eyes of two individuals who lent their luster to make it “golden,” Pericles, the great orator and visionary of democracy and its most influential woman, Aspasia. Their story takes them from the Agora—Athens’ marketplace—to the Acropolis, from the mercantile, raunchy Athenian Port Piraeus across the Aegean Sea to East Greece. Pericles and Aspasia—together and apart—navigate treacherous paths from venal calculations to impassioned philosophical inquiry, from high-stakes sea battles to the passions of family life.
Pericles and Aspasia engages issues that are vital today—the paradoxes of democracy, the tensions of hierarchy, the ironies of gender, and others—but this novel is immersed in classical Athens: the city, its sunshine, its physical presence, its people and their struggles and aspirations.
Plot/Idea: The novel centers on the growth and change of Aspasia and Pericles against the backdrop Greek politics. Their relationship develops quickly, through private scenes that allow readers intimate glimpses of their love affair—an affair brimming with as much sexual tension as intellectual appreciation. Aspasia's desire to feel at home in Athens and Pericles's drive to build a strong Athenian government are related authentically, and Korshak is clearly knowledgeable when it comes to Greek history.
Prose: Readers will appreciate Korshak's deft balancing of contemporary language with Greek diction, though the story has a myriad of unfamiliar names and political jargon. Korshak's technique is quite original, particularly in the choice to spark imagination over detail for the novel's more important scenes.
Originality: Aspasia's position as a literate prostitute fighting for an independent life alongside a renowned government official (who is hiding a birth defect from the public) is unique, as is their central love story.
Character/Execution: Aspasia is what many readers will recognize as an obvious survivor. Her intellect is comforting, and readers will cheer for her success. Pericles holds many similarities in his constant fighting to rise politically and in his desire to see Aspasia grow—while still wanting her all to himself. Supporting characters capably motivate the main characters' ambitions.
Date Submitted: July 31, 2023
Epic-length as well as the kick-off to a longer series, Pericles and Aspasia offers rousing speeches, naval battles, passionate embraces, rebellion, and political intrigue as Pericles strives to hold together the allied cities of the Athenian League. But Korshak sets her novel apart through its lively evocation of the civic life, art, culture, and gossip that make cities great. The pages pulse with talk that’s alternately philosophical, lofty, witty, and dishy. Early on, flirting with Aspasia, Pericles ruminates on how a recent comic play called him “our cucumber-headed Zeus.” Much later, he’ll ask “So, Aspasia, since you’ve read Antigone, do you think Sophocles means the autocratic Creon to be me?”
This immersion in Athenian life will thrill readers fascinated with the grain of lives far removed from our own—but still concerned with similar pressing issues of justice and governance. Historic notables (Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippodamus) never make mere cameos: they inveigh, debate, even—especially in the case of that ol’ gadfly Socrates—joke. “I could prove you’re more expert, but by winning the argument, I’d lose it,” he says, drawing a clear line from 5th century B.C. to Shakespeare’s clowns to Groucho Marx.
Takeaway: A stellar, epic-length evocation of the golden age of Athens, rich with historical insight.
Great for fans of: Christian Meier’s Athens: A Portrait of the City in its Golden Age, Mary Renault.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A