The Greek Treasure: A biographical novel

The Greek Treasure is biographical novel* by the 20th century’s master of that form, Irving Stone, whose books on Freud, Michelangelo, and Mary Todd Lincoln were top-10 bestsellers.

Photo of circular stone on The Greek Treasuredustjacket
The Greek Treasure lies under a dull lid.

In Greek Treasure, Stone tackles a less familiar subject: 19th century amateur archaeologists Heinrich and Sophia Schliemann.

Sophia has just graduated high school in Athens when her Uncle Vimpos recommends her as wife to a divorced, self-made millionaire twice her age.

Henry Schliemann says he wants a poor but well-educated woman who loves Homer and will assist him in digging with pick and shovel to prove that Homer’s Troy was a real place.

Sophia is young, flattered, and willing to marry her family’s choice, sure she will learn to love him after they’re married.

Greek Treasure suffers from the perennial problems of Stone’s extensively-researched novels: Much of the source material is dry-as-dust.

Readers get very few glimpses into the inner lives of the characters that little comes mainly from self-edited documents.

Stone is a skillful writer, but this particular book is probably not one that will attract many 21st century readers. Baby Boomers were the last generation to know where the Dardanelles are, and millennials know Homer only as a character on The Simpsons.

The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone
A Biographical Novel of Henry and Sophia Schliemann
Doubleday [1975] Book Club Edition 470 p.
1975 bestseller #7. My grade: B

*Stone used the term “bio-histories” instead of the publishers’ term “biographical novels.”

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Private Life of Helen of Troy, trophy wife

Menelaos was understandably upset after Paris violated the sacred laws of hospitality by running off with his wife, Helen.

The Private Life of Helen of Troy

by John Erskine

Bobbs-Merrill, 1925. 304 p. 1926 bestseller #1. My Grade: B.

Menelaos and his pals followed Paris to Troy, hell-bent on revenge. After a 20-year siege, they sacked the city.

Helen was still so beautiful Menelaos couldn’t bear to kill her.

All that happens before John Erskine’s story begins.

In The Private Life of Helen of Troy, Erskine explores what happens when this beautiful and maddeningly frank woman is back under her husband’s roof again.

Daughter Hermione, age 1 when Helen ran off with her lover, wants to marry her double-cousin Orestes.

The parents quarrel over what’s best for their child, forgetting that Hermione is no longer a child.

Meanwhile Orestes mother, who is Helen’s sister, murders his father, who is Menelaos’ brother.

Orestes and his sister murder their mother and her lover to avenge their father.

Hermione marries Orestes, leaving her parents to figure out what their attitude to the newlyweds will be.

All the sex and violence is off stage.

Erskine’s interest is not in what happens but in how people react.

Erskine makes Helen and Menelaos come alive—a remarkable feat since these people don’t do anything but talk about what they did years before.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni