Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.12.25
Stefanie Samida, Heinrich Schliemann. UTB Profile. Tübingen; Basel: A. Francke Verlag, 2012. Pp. 144. ISBN 9783825236502. €12.99 (pb).
Reviewed by Stefanie A. H. Kennell, Vancouver (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Table of Contents
Books about Heinrich Schliemann abound. A simple search for ‘Schliemann of Troy’ at Amazon.com produces over 500 results, while Amazon.de gives you nearly 1000 hits for ‘Schliemann’ (not all connected with the discoverer of Troy). But nearly all happily reproduce some variation on what has been written about the overachieving Mecklenburger since he publicized himself and his discoveries at Troy, Mycenae, and Tiryns so effectively in the 1870s and 1880s. After a century, some renderings became seasoned with disparagement gleaned from research by Calder and Traill, who sought to test as many of Schliemann’s assertions as possible, transforming the inspirational merchant-turned-archaeologist into a pathological liar while leaving his commercial and scientific accomplishments largely intact. I am therefore happy to report that this concise introduction to Schliemann makes a solid contribution, with new findings from Samida’s research into his use of and reception in the contemporary print media.1
The Introduction (“Why Schliemann?” 7-16) begins with comments on the media’s reaction to the death of Schliemann in December 1890, acknowledged as the foremost popularizer of “the science of excavation.” Samida calls Schliemann, assailed as “unscientific” by academic Classicists yet supported by scientific pioneers like Rudolf Virchow, “unquestionably one of the most fascinating and polarizing archaeologists” and welcomes the critical trends operating since the 1970s. Her argument for the existence of this book adduces the lack of an up-to-date biography, especially in view of the massive quantity of archival records that have become accessible in the last ten years through the cataloguing and digitization by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.2 She briefly outlines her planned work and provides a biographical sketch that swoops rapidly over Schliemann’s troubled childhood in Ankershagen and decades of business and travel to concentrate on the period when he strove to connect the Homeric epics with the archaeological record, years of acclaim and controversy which ended in his 1892 interment in Athens’ First Cemetery.
Chapter 1, “The Dreamer” (17-29), contemplates Schliemann’s many facets, his polarizing personality capable of both dogged determination and boundless hyperbole. The title shows fidelity to the German tradition, for Samida starts from the 1881 autobiographical vignette of his childhood dream of finding Troy, asserting that it is “central to the understanding of Schliemann” and quoting it at length, then comparing it to the preface to his Ithaque Péleponnèse Troie (1869). Citing recent critical research, she sees the dream as a product of Schliemann’s imagination, a sort of biographical mise en scène.3 Noting the autobiography’s popularity, Samida draws on studies that situate Schliemann firmly in the context of 19th-century Bildungsbürgertum and associates him with the figure of the sometimes delusional self- made man exemplified by Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. She regards his archaeological successes as inseparable from his belief in Homer, which worked simultaneously for and against him. This belief moved him on the one hand to seek empirical verification of Homeric texts and scholarly theories and on the other to interpret his own finds too hastily and definitively. This enthusiastic positivism provoked not only academic criticism but also popular satire, best represented in Germany by the Berlin weekly Kladderadatsch. Samida reproduces a cartoon from 1874, inspired by Schliemann’s breathless narrative of Sophia’s bundling-up of the “Treasure of Priam,” that shows the couple bustling off to seek the Rheingold, equipped with a copy of the Nibelungenlied and a shawl. Schliemann’s penchant for Homerizing as many aspects of his life as possible—children’s and servants’ names, the ornamentation of his mansion and mausoleum—is also scrutinized, culminating in Rudolf Virchow’s reminiscence of Heinrich and Sophia reading and reciting Homer together.4
Chapter 2 (“The Businessman” 30-41) presents Schliemann the entrepreneurial man of the world, stressing his will to achieve, work ethic, and cleverness, as well as his undeniable good luck and eye for making political and economic connections. Samida observes that his habits as a businessman carried over into his work as an archaeologist. Her resume of his career, from the shipwreck of 1841 to his retirement from active trade in 1864, is accurate enough, though brevity precludes fresh detail: Ernst Meyer’s edition of Schliemann’s letters (1953, 1958), the American diary (1942, German tr. 1958), and Calder’s 1972 discovery that Schliemann never met President Fillmore are cited. When Samida examines how the businessman became a famous archaeologist, her account of Schliemann’s interactions with the media makes for lively narrative. While his discovery of the “Treasure of Priam” generated worldwide publicity, he had smuggled the finds out of the Troad and so drew the attention of the Ottoman and Greek authorities, leading to well-publicized legal proceedings to recover the now-concealed antiquities. The resolution of these lawsuits enabled Schliemann to display the treasure publicly and to offer it to several museums in Europe and the U.S.A. before finally donating it to the German nation, expedited by his friend the eminent physician, politician, and anthropologist Rudolf Virchow, who also arranged to make him an honorary citizen of Berlin in 1881.
The 19th century’s technological progress, especially in transportation and communication, is featured in Chapter 3 (“The Cosmopolite” 42-53) together with Schliemann’s linguistic prowess. Samida duly notes his polyglot diaries and correspondence, as well as his frequent and far-flung travels—“he was undoubtedly a restless man”—but little new emerges beyond the fact that some diaries are available digitally. Her stage-setting remarks on the telegraph’s invention fail to mention that Schliemann was an early adopter of this technology, and she calls the Europe-Levant trip of 1858-59 Schliemann’s first great journey (despite diaries recording his 1846-7 travels around Britain and France and 1850-52 journey to California and back). The colorful description of his round-the-world trip ends with Schliemann’s early 1866 arrival in Paris, “where he settled for the next three years in order to devote himself entirely to the study of archaeology,” interrupted only by trips to America and the first expedition to Homeric sites, then married Sophia in 1869 and lived happily once they overcame a somewhat difficult “getting-acquainted phase” (48-49). This section follows Meyer’s account, which is demonstrably inaccurate. Schliemann went to Russia and back and became energetically involved in Parisian real estate investments and intellectual life before the end of 1866, while his relationship with Sophia and her family was more problematic than Samida lets on.5 Samida associates Schliemann’s “linguistic genius” with his urge to travel and to lift himself out of “misery” (understood in purely economic terms), observing that over the years he modified his expressed rationale for learning new languages. She reels off the languages he learned, describing Schliemann’s singular way of learning languages as well as his would-be emulators, some of whom managed to sell a great many how-to books under the title Methode Schliemann zur Selbsterlernung der …Sprache well into the 20th century, and mentioning a few of his learned international correspondents.
The longest section is Chapter 4, “The Archaeologist” (54-79), which surveys the archaeology and reception of Troy, Mycenae, Orchomenos, and Tiryns. Samida punctuates her exposition with useful observations, for instance that the search for Trojan War locales was already underway in the Archaic period, and that Troy’s successor city Novum Ilium exploited its Homeric associations for religious and political advantage. She contextualizes the discussion with illustrations and texts about key themes, individuals, and sites, among them prehistoric archaeology (the three-period system), Schliemann’s principal supporters and critics, and classical archaeology. The chapter concludes by recalling his many real contributions to archaeology; the mistakes that he made were those of a pioneer, not an amateur. Before Schliemann, the Bronze Age Aegean was essentially unknown, small finds (especially potsherds) and stratigraphy mostly disregarded, scientific techniques absent, and photography dismissed.
Chapter 5, “The PR-Strategist and Publicist” (80-103), foregrounds Samida’s own work on Schliemann and the media. Supplementing published sources with archival research, she follows him from 1870, when he asked the influential Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung to publish reports of his current (illegal) excavations at Hisarlik, down to 1879, when the paper refused to print his articles, bowing to the hostility of classical philologists and archaeologists. The British greeted Schliemann’s work more quickly and enthusiastically, not least because of the politician and passionate Homerist W. E. Gladstone’s support; his discoveries featured in numerous articles in The Times and other newspapers. The excitement surrounding the exhibition of the Troy treasure in London in 1877 and Berlin from 1881 on generated still greater media interest, positive and negative, the latter exemplified by the satire of Kladderadatsch. Besides his dealings with the popular press, Samida briefly discusses the two firms responsible for publishing Schliemann’s monographs, Brockhaus (Germany) and John Murray (Britain). Her final thoughts are about the nineteenth-century audience for scientific popularization, (also targeted by the publication of the Olympia excavations) and whether Schliemann was a “media star” sought after by content-hungry editors and publishers (yes).
Chapter 6, “The Confrontationalist” (104-115), returns to the adversarial figure whose “petty and mistrustful character… never made things easy, even among friends and acquaintances.” Samida samples Schliemann’s German-language opponents, the academics Rhousopoulos, Stark, Conze (with whom Schliemann later reconciled), and Furtwängler, along with the obsessive Hisarlik/Troy denier Captain Bötticher. The case of Rudolf Virchow is also instructive. That friendship began as a mutually respectful collaboration, foundered for a time because of misunderstandings on Schliemann’s part, was fully restored only through Sophia’s intervention, and gained immortality through Virchow’s posthumous tributes.
Chapter 7, “Schliemann’s Legacy” (116-129), situates him biographically. Samida leaps from Emil Ludwig’s document-based 1932 literary treatment to Ceram’s 1949 Gods, Graves and Scholars, a celebration of archaeology as adventure still in print, and Calder’s and Traill’s deconstruction of the Schliemann myth in the1970s and 80s. For her, Schliemann the excavator inspires and provides content for numerous television documentaries, while the places most closely linked to him (Troy, his childhood home in Ankershagen, and Athens, where his mansion the Iliou Melathron, mausoleum, and papers are) are lieux de mémoire. Samida’s finale looks ahead to future research drawing on new documents connected with Schliemann—his business and personal correspondence, ledgers, account books, and more—into hitherto unexamined aspects of this enduring magnet for controversy, thus new discussions. Indeed it will.
1. The well-illustrated text is nearly typo-free (38: for “Photidias” read “Photiades”).
2. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens contains pdf files of several scanned diaries and copying books of outgoing letters.
3. While the 1881 autobiography is essential to understanding how Schliemann was viewed by his contemporaries, the idea of Troy and the autobiographical urge go back decades earlier than Samida allows, as unpublished letters to his family and composition exercises in several languages show.
4. Ilios: The City and Country of the Trojans (London and Leipzig 1881). See J. Meijer and H.-W. Hahn in W. M. Calder and J. Cobet (eds.), Heinrich Schliemann nach hundert Jahren, (Frankfurt 1990), 296-325. The autobiography did impress the prehistorian Johanna Mestorf, among others: S. A. H. Kennell, “Schliemann’s Comparative Approach to European Prehistory: The Personal Element,” Aegaeum 27 (2007): 63-70.
5. E. Meyer, Heinrich Schliemann: Kaufmann und Forscher (Göttingen 1969), 216. The diaries and letters tell another story: S. A. H. Kennell, “Heinrich Schliemann und Frankreich,” Mitteilungen aus dem Heinrich-Schliemann-Museum Ankershagen 9 (2011): 175-188.