Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.9.28

Justus Cobet, Heinrich Schliemann. Archaeologe und Abenteurer. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1997. Pp. 127, Abb. 15. ISBN 3-406-41057-X.

Reviewed by Edmund F. Bloedow, University of Ottawa.

Word Count: 4,000.

When Professor Korres published his Bibliographia Herrikou Sleman in 1974, he reached just over 2,000 entries. During the quarter of a century since then, almost certainly enough additional studies on Schliemann have appeared to furnish another 500 entries, especially in light of the various national and international conferences that were held in connection with the 100-year anniversary of Schliemann's death and the 175th anniversary of his birth, as well as in connection with the recent re-emergence of "Priam's Treasure". The books and articles keep rolling off the presses.

One could have thought (or hoped) that Traill's recent book might have become the definitive biography on Schliemann, at least for some decades.1 But not so -- at least it would seem that on the other side of the Atlantic, specifically in Germany, there is room for (or the need of) another treatment.

C., an ancient historian at the Universität-GH Essen, has long since made himself an authority on Schliemann, and here offers a highly compact volume, consisting of an Introduction and six chapters ("Childhood and Youth in Mecklenburg"; "Merchant and World Citizen"; "The Search for a Second Career"; "Excavation: the First Ten Years"; "Honourary Citizen and 'Hero'"; "The Critique of the Spade: Profession and Adventure"), followed by a Chronological Table, an Annotated Bibliography, a List of Illustrations and an Index. There are fifteen illustrations (two of these are maps), scattered throughout the text. The German style is simple, straightforward and easy to read.

C. has compressed a very great deal into this slender volume, and not infrequently includes details not found in Traill's much more voluminous study. It also contains nuances not in Traill. C. has done his research well -- for the most part. There are at the same time many instances where he does not present the results of his own first-hand assessment of the primary sources, but has recourse to secondary research.

C.'s book is in some ways very similar to that of Traill,2 but in other respects very different. It is similar in that he represents the same 'school' of interpretation, namely, the current hyper-critical trend. C., however, employs a technique that is significantly different from that of Traill. While Traill quotes primary sources directly, his study is also laced with his own direct interpretations, mostly in the form of conjectures. By contrast, C. almost never expresses his own opinion on any given issue (until the very last chapter). Instead, in large measure he allows the sources to speak -- primarily Schliemann -- ostensibly for, but in reality only of, himself, or others to speak of him. Interwoven with these is C.s own telling of the facts ('wie es eigentlich war'). And yet, C.'s view is there throughout, and vigorously asserted -- namely, by means of the selection, of evidence.

In Schliemann's case this is particularly significant because there is so much from which to choose. There is, e.g., his Nachlass, most of it in the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens -- consisting of over 60,000 letters, eighteen Diaries, 150 notebooks, a host of documents of one kind or another; the MSS of his books; newspaper clippings; there is also much similar material in various museums and libraries scattered throughout the world. Secondly, there are the now approximately 2,500 modern publications on Schliemann. selective. What is crucial is precisely what one selects. What kind of a picture can one present of Schliemann in a text of no more than 100 small pages from a selection of material that now amounts to hundreds of thousands of pages? Needless to say, it is a Herculean task.

To make his task somewhat easier, C. adopts another technique for a good part of the book. Schliemann wrote an autobiography, which has been republished in many editions. This does not by any means always tally with what one finds in his diaries and/or scholarly publications. In many instances C. proceeds as it were with two screens and two projectors, on one of which he projects in succession details from Schliemann's autobiography, while on the other, details from other sources. More particularly, he allows Schliemann to do this himself (i.e., by direct quotes from his Nachlass), but often with the help of some modern critic.

Who, then, is the Schliemann who emerges from C.'s study? Here there is only space to make a few points, and comment on a few details. First of all, there is a problem with the subtitle of C.s book. The implication is that Schliemann was first and foremost an archaeologist. That is of course how most people think of him. Here, however, he does not actually begin to dig until one reaches p. 72, but even then he is not a true archaeologist. In fact, in C.'s view he never becomes a true archaeologist at all,3 but ever remains the 'adventurer'. Consequently, if at all, the subtitle should read Adventurer and Archaeologist (or, more precisely, Adventurer and 'Archaeologist').

C. employs the first two thirds of his text to present Schliemann as a person. The Schliemann who emerges is an individual who is full of contradictions, and a master at deception and self-projection. In his autobiography, Schliemann made a great hero of himself and portrayed how he became a great success in many respects. Allowed under C.'s tutelage to select what he wants to say about himself, he condemns himself at just about every turn -- of course always only by inference -- i.e., by the selection of 'evidence'. The narrative between Schliemann's own words adds weight to them.

In the 'archaeological' section of the book, Schliemann also selects material from his Nachlass, but at the same time receives plenty of help from C. and other modern 'authorities,' with the result that he is made to look incompetent, often ridiculous and above all naive. For instance, to demonstrate just how great he is, three times within a few pages we encounter a comparison between him and Ibsen's Peer Gynt,4 the ridiculous quintessential dilettante:5 "When Peer Gynt broached the subject of archaeology, he exclaimed: 'Ah, now there's something for me! As an educated man I mounted the royal throne, not by means of money but by my brilliance'". Enter Schliemann in 1868 -- with a wonderful chance to launch into archaeology, but does so with a pseudo-doctoral Thesis! (65). Or: "'A man like you has never studied?,' Peer Gynt is asked in amazement. 'In terms of methodology, I haven't learnt anything, but I have reflected on many things and read quite a lot -- i.e., so far as I had the time. One must not simply drink in knowledge helter-skelter -- rather, one must select what one can use'. Enter Schliemann with his naive and pseudo-scholarly approach! (80). Or: "Mockingly, Ibsen portrays the adventurer Peer Gynt amidst the ruins of Egypt in the company of a scholar who admires him: 'I was always determined to be myself. Now there's this word -- which will provide the key to the riddle. Lo, here comes the long awaited king of interpreters! King? What -- does this mean that one knows me? Our king -- who is the completely self-made man!" (81). Enter the ridiculous Schliemann and the scholarly Calvert! (81).6 It is amazing just what Schliemann selects (or what is selected for him), in order to give a picture of Schliemann!

Now how might Schliemann end his first decade of excavation? To begin with, of course, the publication of his great (i.e., in his own eyes) book, Ilios. First of all, Schliemann takes us to Kissingen in Germany, so we can meet Bismarck, so that the latter can describe how pithoi were actually made -- but, of course, what does the 'Eisen-Kanzler' know about pottery manufacture? Then Schliemann is made to bring in Calvert and Sayce, because he himself knows nothing about stratigraphy. The book sells well, but, alas, "the newspapers are critical". Virchow, Burnouf and Sayce help to read the proofs, and in doing so, suggest numerous improvements; otherwise, it would have been a disaster (of course, only by inference). And last, but worst, Schliemann dwells at length on Homer, with his ridiculously naive literal approach. It is a great book that Schliemann is promoting!

Now if you were Schliemann, what would you select as the very last thing to close your first decade of excavation? Of course, a huge dinner with many eminent guests to celebrate, not the discovery of Troy nor the launching of a book reporting this, but the move into your new mansion: Iliou Melathron. And what is the most relevant scene on such an occasion? Of course, Schliemann introducing each of his guests, with ridiculous and often embarrassing comments -- not repeated this time by himself but by the German Ambassador, Joseph Maria Friedrich Wilhelm von Radowitz7 -- who (in this compressed volume) is allowed to go on for thirty lines describing the ridiculous scene.

Thus at the end of his first decade of excavation, Schliemann is not portrayed before the reader as having discovered anything important in the way of archaeology, nor of having written anything significant on the subject, but as a clumsy and ridiculous host at an event that has nothing whatever to do with archaeology.

The next chapter (6) begins with the most highly compressed four and a half pages of satirical parody in the book, in which Schliemann takes unremitting punch after unremitting punch -- by nothing more than the sustained 'sophistic' selection of the evidence (93-98). Here Virchow is also held up to ridicule, being as he was the main accomplice in what was nothing more than a charade: getting Schliemann to become, among other things, an honorary citizen of Berlin, in return for bringing to the capital and bequeathing to the German nation something as paltry as his Trojan Collection, including "Priam's Treasure". Even the University of Oxford is held up to ridicule: for giving Schliemann an honourary doctorate, in exchange for a few potsherds -- a gesture which is made even worse by the fact that at the same time elsewhere in England his Ilios was 'valued' as "ridiculous rubbish".8 The only party C. does not hold up to ridicule, it seems, are Michael Ventris and John Chadwick (how could they have escaped his net?), who hit upon the ridiculous idea of dedicating their Monuments in Mycenaean Greek.9 "To the memory of HEINRICH SCHLIEMANN (1822-1890): Father of Mycenaean Archaeology".

This puts the reader in the 'right' frame of mind for the remainder of Schliemann's 'archaeological' exploits: Orchomenus (1880), the Troad (1881), Hisarlik (1882), Troy. Results of the Latest Researches and Discoveries on the Site of Homer's Troy (1884), Tiryns (1884, 1885), Knossos (attempt) (1886), the German Archaeological School in Athens (1888), Egypt (1888) -- all in rapid succession, and 1,001 other unfocussed plans rattling around in his brain (98-103). And then, in even more rapid succession: "Troy, Halle, Leipzig, Berlin, Paris, Pompei, Naples and Athens" (by now a corpse) (1890) (103-112).

None of this, however, is straightforward. Take Hisarlik in 1882, for instance: here it is Dörpfeld to the rescue. He sweeps in fresh from Olympia, bringing with him "the experience and technique of a disciplined stratigraphy" (100) -- thus producing light where there had been darkness.

But wait a minute: in a letter to Virchow of 6 March, 1882: Schliemann writes: "I am working with all my strength at digging away the rest of the mound, layer by layer, starting at the top and going down to the burnt city."10 That is to say, before Dörpfeld arrived on the scene! And when Dörpfeld did arrive, he found enough to astound him: "Such an accumulation of débris as Schliemann has turned up here I had simply regarded as impossible: 50 feet high, and all in horizontal layers one upon the other!" Moreover, while his contribution in the area of architecture is readily acknowledged, "on the other hand, there was a lot that Dörpfeld was able to learn from Schliemann about the importance of sherds for stratigraphy, which he later readily acknowledged".11

When Virchow received an advance copy of Schuchhardt's book on Schliemann's excavations in 1890, and pointed out to Schliemann Schuchhardt's exaggeration about Dörpfeld also bringing with him from Olympia the ability to identify mud-brick walls, Schliemann wrote back: "Dörpfeld's sole contribution in the mud-brick walls which Burnouf took to be the eastern city wall, was to identify two palaces of the second city."12 Perhaps we should also bear in mind the complexity of the site: "In Troy II Dörpfeld's three phases are irreconcilable with Blegen's seven, and the only solution is a reshuffling against one another of the observed sequences" (Easton). Accordingly, the situation is not quite as simple as C.'s selection of the evidence makes it out to be.

At Tiryns, however, it was the same story. Once again it was Dörpfeld to the rescue! In fact, there Schliemann's mind was actually on other things (by inference), for hardly had the excavation finished but what we find him in Havana: "as I have 35,000 pounds sterling invested in two railroads and the current situation in Cuba makes me nervous" (written to [of course] Virchow: making them both look ridiculous). And then it was business in Berlin, and then business in Athens, where Schliemann initiated the building that was to become the German Archaeological School.13

What we have, then, is something like an almost unending series of single, very carefully produced, frames of a video film, with the very, but highly telling, minimum of accompanying 'voice'. 'Voice' is scarcely required -- the 'images' that are created speak for themselves.

How does Schliemann end his career -- his new biography/ 'autobiography,' as it were? What is selected to put everything into perspective at the end of his career, and at the end of his life? Well, he encounter Schliemann reflecting in a cemetery -- the cemetery in Athens, of course: namely, in a letter to Virchow, on 15 January, 1885):14

When I was in the cemetery yesterday, and saw how many educated men lie buried in simple graves, I was ashamed when I recalled that I have designated 70,000 fr. in my will for a family tomb. How would you react to the idea of scaling the figure down to 10,000 fr., and designating the rest for a student scholarship in Germany in Homeric archaeology?
As C. notes, Schliemann never followed up on the idea -- in other words, he never became a true archaeologist, never a truly educated man. Presumably, he could therefore only be an 'Abenteurer' -- to the very end.

In the last chapter C. finally steps forward to centre-stage, in order to give even more weight to his interpretation. For him, the issue is the relationship between the site explored by Schliemann and all subsequent excavators and Homer15 -- specifically, "how the ruins of Troy could have become the link for the legend" (108-9). Rephrased, is there any continuity between Bronze Age Hisarlik and the subsequent Greek settlement? Which raises another question: is there any cultural continuity between the Late Bronze Age and subsequent Greek culture? Between posing these two questions C. seizes the opportunity to launch yet another shaft at Schliemann -- this time accusing him of "this rhetorical modesty. In short, what is the connection, if any, between legend and history? If we take Schliemann as our guide, we will get nowhere. The notion that Schliemann is the "the Father of Archaeology" is a modern myth, created by none other than Schliemann himself, by means of his autobiography. This myth prevailed until the recent critical trend set in. It has been necessary to demythologise Schliemann. What we find in the new, 'delegendised' Schliemann is a half-educated man (if that), lumbered with Romantic naïveté, who thinks he can solve complex problems simply by means of his spade -- in the end, a Schliemann wandering about, lost in the plethora of his data.

There are four things wrong with C.s study. In the first place, one has to have the 'right' Schliemann to reach such a conclusion. C. gets his Schliemann by a highly arbitrary selection of the evidence. Secondly, he allows no development in Schliemann over the period of his archaeological career: rather, from beginning to end he is the same static individual.16 Thirdly, it is easy to reach the conclusion which C. does because Schliemann died when he did. If there is no categorical proof that he changed his mind about Troy II as Homer's Troy before he died, there is ample evidence that he was deeply absorbed in the questions posed by the discovery of Mycenaean pottery in 1890. One has only to look at his repeated statements in various letters about plans for an unprecedented campaign, up to nine months for 1891, (and in fact possibly for years). Anyone who is prepared to claim that, had Schliemann lived to the end of the 1894 campaign, he would still have persisted in regarding Troy II as Homer's Troy, either does not know Schliemann or is perverse. But that appears to be C.s assumption. Fourthly, C. views Schliemann exclusively by 1997 criteria. Like every other archaeologist, Schliemann should be seen also within the context of his times.

Let us try to end on a positive note. Probably no one has done more to further interest in archaeology than Schliemann, and not least amongst lay people. In his day Mortimer Wheeler in England recognised the importance of this latter aspect, and it was not least for his highly effective accomplishments in this respect that he was knighted. C. hales "Sir Mortimer Wheeler as a "pioneer of modern excavation techniques", but it was not so much for this that he became Sir Mortimer. Since the wider public (through taxes) pay for most of today's excavations, lay people have a major stake in archaeology. A minor omission in C.'s study of Schliemann!

Since Schliemann is allowed to speak so often in C.s book, it is only fitting that he should have the last word:

... my extensive, laborious, costly and altruistic excavations in Troy have created enormous enthusiasm for the critical tools of pick and shovel, and prompted the excavations at Olympia, at Pergamum and elsewhere, which have won honour, glory and renown for Germany, not to mention that my excavations have also kindled increasing love for all Greek literature.
For all his limitations, all his idiosyncracies, all his naivety and, yes, for all his (readily acknowledged) failings as a human being, Schliemann really did start something -- and it is still going on.

At the very end of his recent book, Traill makes a startling confession -- namely, that Schliemann is an "elusive personality". Indeed, the real Schliemann still seems to elude the 'Schliemanologists' -- on both sides of the Atlantic.


1. D.A. Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit (New York 1995).  

2. Indicated not least by the frequency with which one encounters the phrase "(in Traill's Biographie ...)".

3. This is of course never stated categorically. It does not need to be, for it is eloquently asserted by selection of the evidence.

4. Four times in the book (65, 80, 81). Earlier he is selected as "a key to an understanding of Schliemann's transition from merchant to scholar ... a semi-mythical, semi-legendary peasant-like figure of modern times (thus Ibsen in a letter of 5 January, 1867), and in Act IV, Part 1, presents himself: "You have money, lots of money. And so, what now? -- Well, first of all its off on some travels" (45).

5. A subject for which C. appears to have a predilection: J. Cobet, "Heinrich Schliemann nach hundert Jahren. Die Historisierung von Mythos und Ärgernis," in W. M. Calder III and J. Cobet (eds.), Heinrich Schliemann nach hundert Jahren. Symposion in der Werner-Reimers-Stiftung Bad Homburg im Dezember 1989 (Frankfurt am Main 1990), 14-21; cf. J. Mejer, "Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Heinrich Schliemann," ibid., 296-305.

6. Throughout the book, in all instances where Frank Calvert appears, he is allowed to appear in exclusively positive terms. Schliemann? Never!

7. In such a compact volume it is of course important for us to have his full name.  

8. Presumably referring to the review in the Saturday Review, which was the most critical, seizing upon several of his weakest arguments (e.g., the depas amphikypellon, glaukopis, boopis). A number of others were also critical, but most reviews were favourable. By singling out the most negative, C. advances an extreme view.  

9. What could be a more concrete, down-to-earth science that Linear B philology?  

10. Emphasis added.  

11. Indeed, as the following episode illustrates. When Jebb disagreed with Schliemann's interpretation of the chronology (JHS 3 [1882], 185-217), the latter called upon Virchow to lend his prestige, namely, by writing a response in the form of an Appendix for his new book (Troja [1884], 376-80). The matter was pressing as Schliemann wanted to send the MS off to New York as soon as possible. Principally at issue was the stratigraphy. But at the time Virchow was in Switzerland, far from any books or even his own notes. He is confident, however, that on the basis of what he had witnessed while at Hisarlik in March and April, 1879, he can write it up: "I can do it will all the greater confidence since at the time I paid particular attention to the pottery in its chronological sequence" (emphasis added). One can assume that Schliemann was also then present.  

12. Schliemann had already described clay bricks in Ilios, 305, 314. About the book written by the thirty year-old Schuchhardt, Schliemann added: "I have not given a single copy to any scholar", and the failure to provide an Index was "an elementary, unforgivable mistake". C. uses Schuchhardt as a source. On further comments on Dörpfeld by Virchow, cf. J. Herrmann and E. Maass (eds.), Die Korrespondenz zwischen Heinrich Schliemann und Rudolf Virchow 1876-1890 (Berlin 1990), 386.  

13. Chiefly for the benefit of Classical archaeologists, who generally hated him (the last point not made by C.).  

14. That is, almost five years to the day before he was to find his own final resting place there.  

15. He claims that all subsequent excavators have accepted not only that Hisarlik is Troy, but also that the Trojan War of Homer took place around the walls of this site. I am not sure that Professor Korfmann has been so categorical or that that is his primary object in carrying out the current excavations, but Professor Korfmann is still alive (Schliemann isn't), and I am sure is capable of answering for himself. Meanwhile, cf. M. Korfmann, in Heinrich Schliemann. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Troja in den Jahren 1871 bis 1873 (Munich and Zurich 1990), XVIII.

16. Much could be said on this point. Here it will suffice to note an observation by an eminent archaeologist: "It is remarkable that Schliemann, who was no archaeologist when he set out to fulfil his dream, became increasingly cautious in the course of his researches; by contrast, over time Dörpfeld tended more and more to romantic rather than scientific interpretations" (Ranucio Bianchi-Bandinelli).