Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.06.02


William M. Calder III and Justus Cobet, Heinrich Schliemann nach hundert Jahren. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1990. Pp. 460; 31 black and white plates. DM 148.00. ISBN 3-465-02266-1.


Reviewed by A. A. Donohue, University of Pennsylvania.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) was a businessman turned archaeologist whose excavations of Troy and Mycenae transformed the study of Homer and of prehistoric Greece. It is not surprising that classical scholars of his own and succeeding generations should be interested in his activities. More remarkable is the degree to which Schliemann, while never inspiring quite the kind of obsessional attention focused on Winckelmann, captured and held the popular imagination. For example, in 1886 Louisa May Alcott, writing for a juvenile audience, rings down the curtain on the March family by confessing a wish to bury their fictional seat so deeply in the earth "that no youthful Schliemann could ever find a vestige of it." (Jo's Boys, ch. 22.) Events within scholarship do not often reverberate so clearly in the wider social matrix. That archaeologists are not the only claimants to Schliemann's legacy is demonstrated by the twenty-one papers printed here, which were presented in earlier form at the symposium of the same title held in December 1989 at the Werner-Reimers-Stiftung Bad Homburg. They range from the classical disciplines through modern history and literary criticism. The major focus is not archaeology but intellectual history, and the aim is to establish a context for Schliemann and his activities. The result is a highly interesting and useful book that, within the chosen areas of emphasis, fulfills its goal of furnishing an interim statement of the situation of research on Schliemann at the centenary of his death.

The essays are divided into four groups focusing on Homer, archaeology, and Troy before Schliemann; on Schliemann himself; on his era; and on his reception. These convenient divisions are by no means rigid; rather, from the diversity of subjects and approaches emerge surprising connections and mutual illumination. The volume as a whole demonstrates that only by taking into account the entire spectrum of social, political, economic, historical, and intellectual factors can we hope to attain any understanding of Schliemann and the world of scholarship into which he so rudely intruded. Justus Cobet's excellent introduction makes accessible the complex terrain on which Schliemann, in every sense a "self-made man", created himself in the image of his age. The scholarship by which we approach Schliemann is itself no simple ground to traverse, and here too Cobet is a helpful guide.

One of the conventions of formal archaeological exposition is the detailed rehearsal of previous scholarship; it is not uncommon to set the stage for a discovery or a new interpretation with backdrops over a century old. Yet the very practice that should heighten our historical sense has often served to blunt it. The focus on specific questions artificially levels the intellectual ground: we "correct" the errors and misconceptions of our predecessors; we supply new jigsaw pieces without checking the box to see if we are even working on the same puzzle. Because this narrow focus distorts, when it does not altogether eliminate, the contexts that made particular approaches and opinions possible, the wider focus afforded by historiographic studies is needed. The first four essays of the volume treat the background of archaeological, historical, and philological scholarship against which Schliemann's work must be viewed (Barbara Patzek; Wilfried Gawantka; Cobet; a summary is given of the contribution of Joachim Wohlleben, published in his expanded monograph Die Sonne Homers [Göttingen, 1990]). The 19th century is the focus of Patzek and Gawantka (who also takes some steps back to the 17th and 18th centuries). The evidence surveyed, largely but not exclusively German, is extensive, and many well-chosen quotations illustrate the clash of deeply felt convictions about matters that have yet to find consensus. The emergence of archaeology among philologically based studies raised questions about fundamental issues in the study and writing of history: the use of written versus physical evidence, for a start, and questions of purpose, of method, of interpretation and proof -- in short, the epistemological foundation of the entire historical undertaking could be made to balance on the question of a historical Troy. These papers, grounded in the traditions of classical scholarship, make an interesting contrast with different approaches to the historiography of archaeology, for instance, Bruce F. Trigger's A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge, 1989); the diverse views of what constitutes the development of this protean discipline reflect current debates over its methods and its mission. The first section of the book ends with Cobet's rapid, colorful, and sometimes hilarious survey of opinions on the location of Troy from antiquity up to Schliemann's work. On this point, at least, we have made progress.

Given the focus of the symposium, direct engagement with archaeological material -- indeed with objects or images at all -- is limited. Donald F. Easton, drawing on his intensive study of Schliemann's unpublished excavation notebooks, explores the possibility of synthesizing the results reported by the three excavators of Troy (Schliemann, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, and Carl Blegen) to yield workable archaeological conclusions. It is a heroic and unenviable task to reconstruct a site when the available documentation reflects not only changing methods and standards of excavation but also significantly different states of knowledge that affect how evidence is seen and interpreted in order to be recorded. Easton concludes that such synthesis is possible and that the resulting picture is compatible with the archaeology of the region as it is currently understood. Schliemann himself emerges as neither the angel of field archaeology nor its arch-demon, but as a figure whose attainments and failures can be evaluated within the context of the evolving discipline.

Geoffrey G. Munn's diverting essay examines the 19th-century craze for ancient jewelry (originals, replicas, and interpretations) in terms of fashion and business and actually manages to establish a credible context for the memorable image of the unfortunate Frau Schliemann decked in the gold of Troy. Anyone who has savored David Macaulay's travesty of that tableau of "Helen" in Motel of the Mysteries (Boston, 1979; pp. 36-37) will appreciate Munn's reproducing a drawing from Punch of 1859 satirizing the "High Classical Style of Ornament" (pl. 5; p. 327). Harold Hammer-Schenck juxtaposes works by Flaxman, Genelli, Schinkel, Feuerbach, and Böcklin to outline a progressive distancing from antique models in mid-19th century images of ancient Greece. He has little opportunity to do more than hint at the complexity of this process, for the subject here is Schliemann, upon whom the entire profound and far-reaching transformation of vision was apparently lost. The house Schliemann built in Athens, for example, took its architectural forms from the Italian Renaissance and its decoration from Pompeian wall painting. Fittingly, his tomb in the First Cemetery there could easily find a place in the engagingly peculiar cityscape of Schinkel's "Blick in Griechenlands Blüte" of 1836.

The volume offers many new documents relating to Schliemann as a child (Wilfried Bölke) and young man (Wolfgang Schindler) and in his mature dealings, pleasant and unpleasant, with well- and lesser-known figures. Among these are Wolfgang Helbig (Alexander Demandt); the pathologist, anthropologist, and politician Rudolf Virchow (Christian Andree; see now J. Herrmann and E. Maass, edd., Korrespondenz zwischen Heinrich Schliemann und Rudolf Virchow 1876-1890 [Berlin, 1990]); archaeologists Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Philip Smith, John Mahaffy, A. H. Sayce, François Lenormant (David A. Traill); his American publishers Scribner, Welford and Armstrong (Mortimer Chambers); and the amateur historian Nikolaj Kasimirowitsch Boguschewsky (Alexander Gavrilow). The last two contributions treat the broader question of the reception of Schliemann in America and Russia respectively; to this section of the book also belongs John Vaio's discussion of Schliemann's dealings with Gladstone and the response in England to Schliemann's early work.

None of Schliemann's social interactions seems to have absorbed him so completely as did that with his own persona. The questions raised by the shifting images he presents in his autobiographical writings are here approached from several directions (Schindler; Bölke; Stefan Goldmann; Helmut Scheuer). Like all autobiographies, Schliemann's are first and foremost literary artifacts, constructed texts belonging to a highly problematic genre. An autobiography may, for example, produce an appearance of artless candor through the use of devices -- precise dates, abundant circumstantial detail, authorial comment on the narration, and the like -- that guarantee authenticity but are determined by convention. The figure of Goethe looms over the symposium as it does over all 19th- and 20th-century German autobiography. The very title of his great account of his early life, Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit, states the principle of selective presentation and invites consideration of the unity of or the dichotomy between truth and art. Goethe's statement of the purpose of biography, quoted here more than once, provides a blueprint for representing reality: the individual should be shown as the product of the age. The symposium papers offer several ways to make sense of Schliemann's self-constructions. Every method has the faults of its virtues: psychoanalytic analyses are committed to flawed models, while literary typologies can be too rigid. The patterns of polarities outlined by Scheuer (subjectivity/objectivity, individual/milieu, etc.) are useful for analyzing biographical texts, and he is certainly right to insist on the importance of the relationship between past and present.

Taken together, the essays dealing with Schliemann's autobiographical work show that whatever charges of falsification can be laid at his door, the situation is very different from what Mary McCarthy alleged about Lillian Hellman, that every word she wrote was a lie, including "and" and "the". Schliemann's inventions and distortions are neither universal nor random, but are recognizably tied to their context, and therefore understandable. This conclusion is important, because part of the difficulty in working with Schliemann is that his fabrications can seem so senseless. This impression reflects, I think, a failure of imagination: however familiar Schliemann may be from the abundant documentation, he is not familiar as a type. What is lacking is an empathic context for the personality that spins the persona; there exists comparatively little in the way of literature that can furnish entree to the inner life of a businessman. It is quite otherwise with artists. Goethe charms with the dotty episode of his father's silkworms and his own losing battle with spoken French; Schliemann repels with his smug announcements of successive linguistic triumphs and his precise reckonings of wages and value delivered. Yet it may not be simply Goethe's comparatively agreeable persona that permits even his lapses from autobiographical accuracy to be lightly treated while Schliemann's are condemned. The poet's concerns are somehow universal in a way the businessman's are not; the difference lies not only in what each man sees in life but also in what literature has established as the common ground of human experience.

Among the most illuminating essays in this volume are those that supply the imaginative clue to Schliemann's repellent persona and the social context that made its construction possible. Jørgen Mejer develops Wohlleben's observation of the similarities between Schliemann and Ibsen's Peer Gynt, a resemblance that is especially striking in view of the absence of any direct connection between the living man and the dramatic character. Both are liars and self-aggrandizers who, having imposed themselves on the wide world, turn to conquer the past. What is lacking in literary antecedents is supplied by contemporary life, as Hans-Werner Hahn shows. Schliemann's was a world of profound political and social change and economic instability. Far from being unique, he was only one of many "self-made men" who retired from the strenuous speculation of the Gründerzeit to pursue culture. That Schliemann should have chosen this venue and that he should have been in a position to do so can stand as a summary of the century. His father may have failed dismally in fulfilling the traditional role of the Protestant clergy in fostering learning, but this is the context that explains why Schliemann felt such a driving need to manufacture the pretty story of his childhood dream of finding Troy. The Biedermeierzeit saw the cozy domestic appropriation of higher culture (one is reminded of Hans Ottomeyer's presentation "Biedermeier's Bliss and Decline" at the Stadtmuseum in Munich, which documents illustrated books intended for "little girls eager for knowledge"; see Kultur Chronik 2 [1989] pp. 24-27). The rise of the bourgeoisie was only one factor that influenced the development of learning and scholarship; nationalism was another, which strongly affected ideas of what the past was expected to yield in terms of validating the present. In an age when the masters of the globe sought to become the masters of history, Schliemann's attitudes were not altogether anomalous.

The symposium allows us to see Schliemann creating himself on several levels, responsive at each to the expectations of his age. He makes himself by his actions; his correspondence shows another level of self-presentation; and the autobiographies are the finished artifacts combining creation with interpretation. The merit of this volume lies not only in showing how much progress has been made in understanding the man and his work, but also in indicating directions for future study. It may be that we will never be able to lay over the intellectual terrain the kind of grid that permits Easton to fix the points of Schliemann's Troy on subsequent site plans, but it is worth the effort to understand what has changed, and why. Some of the issues raised are relevant to the current state of scholarship. In addition to internal matters such as the right, true ends of historical research, there is, for example, the question of professional versus amateur, touched on in several papers. Denigration of the professional did not end with the discovery of Troy by an amateur toting Homer and a spade: People (6/15/92: p. 3) recently trumpeted the fact that "archaeologists were stumped, but two rank amateurs ... used history and high tech to find the storied Lost City of Ubar in the Omani desert." Who needs specialized training?

It is a good sign that serious intellectual history has managed to emerge in spite of the recent climate surrounding Schliemann studies. Since 1972, Calder has promulgated a view of Schliemann as a clay-footed idol of archaeology badly in need of smashing as a lesson to its deluded worshippers. His contribution to this volume continues the program: "Apocolocyntosis. The Biographers and the Archaeologists" (however, "There is no time to discuss the role of the archaeologists," p. 376). The project has been somewhat puzzling to many archaeologists because Schliemann and his activities have never been entirely accepted within the field, as Calder himself has helped demonstrate. Criticism of Schliemann began early, owing partly to the resistance of an emerging professional group to an undisciplined amateur given to sensationalism, and partly to the fact that the practice of archaeology simply requires a continuous re-evaluation of previous work in the light of new material and new methods. The assertion that "the Bronze Age Archaeologists canonized a patron-saint" (p. 376) sets up a saint of straw. The mission of debunking a heroic figure appears to have arisen chiefly on account of the uncritical reports of Schliemann in popularizing writings, and it may also reflect the attitudes of a generation. In Myth, Scandal, and History (Detroit, 1986), Calder, whose date of birth is given as 1932, explains (p. 23) how he "had occasion to look critically at a life I had 'believed' since as a child I had first read C. W. Ceram's Gods, Graves and Scholars," the first edition of which appeared, in German, in 1949. Calder's may be the last generation for some time with a capacity for being wounded by the unworthiness of its heroes.

What is more troubling about the body of work debunking Schliemann is its tendency to equate a strong anti-Schliemann stance with good scholarship and anything else with bad. The result is a divisive rhetoric expressive of the worst kind of "tear-'em-to-shreds" pedantry that too often passes for authoritative scholarship. Its practitioners need to be extremely careful of their own accuracy lest any slip provide the pretext for questioning their competence and dismissing their work as flawed beyond hope. Perhaps a volunteer from this severe school will step forward to castigate its own members for their lapses. Traill, for instance, states (p. 237 n. 1) that "the childhood dream of excavating Troy and lifelong interest in archaeology were first suspected, in a seminal article, by Calder 1972, 350f."; the claim is repeated by Calder (p. 360 n. 3: "First doubts Calder 1972, 343f."). The reference is to Calder's discussion of the "life-long obsession with Homer and with Troy" in GRBS 13 (1972). There, while Calder makes reference elsewhere in the article to Shirley Howard Weber, ed., Schliemann's First Visit to America 1850-1851 (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), he does not mention Weber's remarks on p. vi: "Nothing is said in the present diary of his yearning to explore the ancient Homeric sites of which he makes so much in his Ilios, which appeared when he had reached the age of fifty-eight. When he wrote the autobiographical matter in the preface of that work, he viewed his youth covered with a rosy glow, and it is quite likely that his yearnings for archaeological research developed after his first visit to Greece."

In the present volume Calder asserts (p. 365) that "Theodor Mommsen did not win the first Nobel Prize for Literature because doctoral students and his colleagues read him." Indeed not. He did not win it because the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French poet Sully-Prudhomme in 1901; Mommsen's was the second, in 1902.