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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Women in books - "Thais of Athens" by Ivan Yefremov, translated by Maria K.

Russian paleontologist and writer Ivan Yefremov was known for his reverent attitude toward women. It is no great surprise that his books are full to the brim with strong female characters.

This excerpt from Thais of Athens describes the first meeting between Ptolemy - a close friend and associate of Alexander the Great (who is but an exiled Macedonian prince at this point in the book) - and the Greek hetaera Thais, already an Athenian celebrity at seventeen.

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The wave scattered with a deafening roar, tossing him farther onto the sand than an ordinary wave would have. Temporarily blinded and deafened, Ptolemy wiggled and crawled a few pekises, carefully struggled to his knees, then finally stood. He rocked back and forth on unsteady legs and rubbed his aching head. The waves seemed to pummel him even here on earth.

He stood straighter, hearing a sound that did not belong. He listened carefully and heard a brief giggle needle through the noise of the surf. Ptolemy turned around so quickly that he lost his balance and fell to his knees again. The laughter rang again, quite nearby.

He looked up and saw a slender young girl of no great height standing before him. She had obviously just emerged from the sea. Water still sluiced down her smooth body, dark with a coppery tan, running in rivers off the mass of her raven black hair. The swimmer tipped her head to the side as she squeezed water out of her wavy tresses.

Ptolemy rose to his full height and set his feet firmly in the sand. He looked the girl straight in her brave and merry gray eyes, which appeared dark blue in reflection of the sea and the sky. Her long black lashes did not lower or flutter under the passionate and imperious gaze of the son of Lag, even though, at only twenty-four years of age, he was already a well known heartbreaker in Pella, the capital of Macedonia.

Ptolemy could not take his eyes off the girl. She had appeared from the foam and thunder of the sea like a goddess and her coppery face, gray eyes and raven black hair were unusual for an Athenian. Later he realized the girl’s copper skin meant she did not fear the sun, the rays of which were the bane of so many Athenian ladies of fashion. Athenian women tanned too thickly, turning purplish bronze like the Ethiopians. For that reason they avoided appearing outdoors without cover. But this girl was like the copper-bodied Circe, or one of the legendary daughters of Minos with blood of sunlight, and she stood before him with all the dignity of a priestess.

No, of course she was not a goddess or a priestess, this small, young girl. In Attica, as in most of Hellas, priestesses were chosen from the tallest, fair-haired beauties. But from where did this girl’s calm assurance come? She stood regally, as if she were in a temple and not standing naked before him on an empty shore. He wondered vaguely if she, too, had left her clothing at the distant Phoont Cape. Kharitas, who bestowed magical allure upon women, frequently appeared as girls, but they were an inseparable threesome. This girl was alone.

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