Alexandros Papadiamantis, one of the greatest European short story writers, started out as a novelist. The Merchants of Nations (1882) is the second of the three novels he wrote. It is set between 1199 and 1207, i.e. just before and just after the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade.
Is it a historical novel about the conflict between Venetians and Greeks in the Aegean? Or is it a "novel that takes a stand", defending the Greek Orthodox East against the Roman Catholic West? Above all, it is a discerning and penetrating study of sexual passion and the desire of the flesh. Augusta leaves her husband, Ioannis Mouchras, and follows the Venetian Marco Sanuto, not because she is unhappy with the former and wishes to be happy with the latter, but because she is held captive by an overpowering, literally deadly sexual desire. Lacking the spiritual strength to do otherwise, Augusta will follow the course of her passion to the end, to death. She will be burned alive, alone, on her lover’s flagship.