BMCR 1996.03.09

1996.3.9, Traill, Schliemann of Troy

, Schliemann of Troy : treasure and deceit. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995. xiv, 365 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780312140427. $24.95.

After twenty-one separate studies on S., 1 Schliemann of Troy presumably represents T.’s definitive statement on the subject. In light of his previous research, one will not expect to find many major surprises here. There are, however, many points which call for comment, far more than can be made here. One is therefore compelled to be highly selective.

There are indeed many details in this book that are highly interesting and useful, but which are at the same time also incidental—if one regards the sub-title as constituting the main thrust of the work.

In respect of the sub-title, already this calls for comment. It gives the impression that ‘treasure’ and ‘deceit’ will constitute the bulk of the discussion. Upon proceeding through the text, however, one discovers that this is not really so—namely, that ‘treasure’ comprises only about 8% of the whole, and ‘deceit’ probably no more than 6%. The sub-title is therefore more than a little deceptive. 2

Chap. 2 (“The Making of a Self-Made Man 1822-67”) is particularly important, for it is here that T. attempts to indicate S.’s essential character. Upon the basis of examining two-thirds of an individual’s life, one would expect a picture of S. that offers both breadth and (especially) depth. The reader is, however, disappointed, chiefly because of the method which T. adopts. Instead of extracting a portrait from the evidence, T. moves rather abruptly from one phase of S.’s life to another. For the most part he concentrates on details which can be made to reflect negatively on S., often emphasised by his own negative comments. Seldom are positive aspects mentioned, and when they are, one gains the impression that this is done grudgingly. E.g., when the Senate in St. Petersburg ruled in S.’s favor in 1861 in the lawsuit involving Solovieff, and S. was also appointed as a judge of the Commercial Court, this is reported without comment. Arguably, to offset the positive impression created by this development, T. points out, in the same context, that early in 1863, when S.’s wife and children were absent, he “used the nursery as a tea-tasting room” (28).

T.’s principal aim in this chapter appears to be the attempt, yet again, to undermine S.’s claim about his boyhood dream to excavate Troy. S.’s claim may well be the result of later embroidery, but the chief argument which T. advances here assumes a most curious character. In his view, S. never had serious intentions about becoming involved in either the ancient Classics or in archaeology—rather, he more or less stumbled upon this as a result of his allegedly disastrous first marriage to Katerina Lyshin. Accordingly, T. can find only negative things to say about this marriage. 3 A crucial decision to travel in 1866 is seen within the context that “his relations with his wife had probably in the meantime taken a turn for the worse” (30). The climax, however, came in Paris, from where he wrote a letter to her on 14/II/1866. He was at the time intensely involved in cultural pursuits. According to T., “given that his cultural activities were designed to meet with Katerina’s approval, it seems likely that his sudden interest in cultural improvement in 1856 was also intended to please her”. 4 This leads T. to argue: “if so, then the crucial conversion from merchant to archaeologist that was effected between 1856 and 1870 may have found its original impetus in the impossible task of pleasing a woman who despised him. It is in this tragic irony, not in the trumper of the ‘childhood dream,’ that the real romance of Schliemann’s life resides” (31). Until one can cite direct statements by Katerina herself to back up such assertions, one may regard them as little more than malevolent speculation. 5 Although T. cites from a letter by S. to his aunt Magdalena, dated 31/XII/1856, to the effect that he was operating a literary Salon as a means of “cultural self-improvement,” he completely overlooks the following statement: “for years this passion 6 has been a bloody struggle with my two other passions, avarice and acquisitiveness …” (27).

Thus, in place of an in-depth assessment over the first, and very important, 45 years of S.’s life, one is given a specific selection of events, inorganically strung together, and punctuated for the most part by negative comments. Nor is this restricted to this chapter. Moreover, one of the most important features of T.’s study is that almost all his comments, specific or implied, are made from a late 20th century perspective, with virtually no attempt to assess S. from the perspective of his own age. The result is a distinctly one-sided impression.

Even after embarking on Chap. 3 (“From Grand Tour to Archaeological Survey: 1868”), T. is still preoccupied with the question of precisely when S. became interested in archaeology. One is not clear just what the point of this insistence is, because no explanation is offered of just what bearing this had on S.’s excavations. By contrast, it seems important to give the names and ages of all 9 children of the owner of the hotel in Capri, of how many bottles of wine were consumed at dinner, how S. danced with the girls, that the chamber pot stank and that S. had diarrhea—without any explanation as to why this affected his turning to archaeology (the subject under discussion).

On the latter question, when S. was in Rome, T. maintains that he was not yet interested in archaeological ruins—rather, only in those monuments of general tourist interest. The same would have been the case in the south of Italy, had it not been for the fact that “the main tourist attractions there are more emphatically archaeological than at Rome” (38). By the time S. reaches Greece he will of course have no choice but to concentrate on archaeological material. In the end, therefore, S.’s interest in archaeology came about, not by reason of any prior interest or conscious decision—rather, because he was a tourist. His first stops in Greece were Corfu and Ithaca. While T. can infer that S. per force became metamorphosed from a tourist into an archaeologist, he owes his readers an explanation why, after arguing hitherto that S. had no interest whatsoever in Homer, on Corfu and Ithaca his only interest appears to have been archaeological evidence related to Homer. The reader is owed such an explanation even more so in light of T.’s later statement that S. “no doubt … genuinely had a greater interest in sites that could be linked to the Homeric poems” (140).

Even interest in Homer, however, would, it seems, have waned, 7 had it not been for the fact that in Athens S. met the German architect Ernst Ziller. “It was this meeting with Ziller, in the context of his growing interest in archaeology, that appears to have determined the course of the last twenty years of Schliemann’s life. From this point on, Homeric archaeology was his major preoccupation” (47). 8 But once again the reader is owed an explanation as to why S., who had ostensibly hitherto shown no interest in Homer, now allegedly turns precisely to Homer. While reflecting on this problem, it may be noted that even when S. is en route to the Hellespont, although he is “in heaven,” it is “not because he was on his way to Troy … but because he relished the luxury of the French steamer’s food and accommodation” (51).

Thus S. is seldom, if ever, allowed to embark on an enterprise on his own initiative. Take another example. In the summer of 1865, S. for four weeks visited numerous museums in Europe, comparing their different collections. T. recognises the great importance of this tour, but attributes to others its significance—i.e., whereby S. turned into one of the very first comparative archaeologists in the Mediterranean: “Schliemann’s conversations with the scholars who had seen his Trojan Collection had taught him that much could be learned about the date and function of the strange objects he found in the prehistoric collections of many European museums” (136). No source is, however, cited to support this claim. On another occasion T. cites part of a letter by S. to Burnouf which reveals important information about S.’s attitude towards archaeology: ‘The minister is very anxious that I should undertake excavations at the vast cemeteries of Chiusi (Clusium), but I cannot bring myself to decide to do it, for there are no problems to solve and I would only be able to find there what every museum already possesses’. T. acknowledges that “this passage reveals, or purports to reveal, 9 that Schliemann’s interest in excavating a site hinged on whether there was a particular problem to solve rather than its potential for producing works of art”. T. also recognises the great importance of this as “a comparatively advanced view of the role of the archaeologist in 1875,” but, of course, S. could not have hit upon this idea by himself: “I suspect 10 Schliemann had learned [it] from Beule or perhaps from Burnouf himself” (139). And whatever credit is to be given to S., this must be further reduced because “there were any number of unresolved problems at each” of the sites in Italy. The fact is that “what Schliemann meant, of course, was that there was no glamorous problem such as ‘Where was Troy?'” (139-40). By contrast, T. could have quoted from S.’s letter to Safvet Pasha (Minister of Public Instruction) from 1871: “My present research enterprise has absolutely nothing to do with the study of ancient works of art concealed beneath the soil. No, this customary aim of research by excavators is completely foreign to the historical work with which I am occupied … my sole and only aim is to be able to establish a historical fact, on which I disagree with some eminent historians and geographers”. Indeed, from the approximately 66,000 letters in the S. correspondence alone, there is much more that T. leaves out than what he includes.

When it comes to assessing archaeological evidence within the wider context of such things as topography, climate, drainage, flora and fauna, “it is undoubtedly to” Virchow’s “influence that Schliemann’s new vision of archaeology is to be attributed” (208). When it comes to “the increasing awareness of the value of photography in archaeology,” this (without citing any evidence) “was almost certainly due to Dörpfeld” (285).

Nor can S. do anything out of a straightforward motive. Within the context of describing the acceptance which he enjoyed in England following his excavation of Mycenae, T. points out that the Germans had since 1875 been carrying out excavations at Olympia with great success—and then goes on to report how in a letter to Virchow in August 1876 11 S. complained about the negative attitude of the German press and that henceforth he would write in English. This prompts from T. the following comment: “Clearly, Schliemann began his excavations at Mycenae determined to regain the spotlight of the world’s press” (166). Earlier, however, T. implied a fundamentally different motivation—describing how early in 1876 S., having obtained a new firman to excavate at Hisarlik, had gone there and resumed work, only to be frustrated by the obstructionist tactics of Ibrahim Pasha, and so returned to Greece, where he fell back on Plan B: to excavate Tiryns, Mycenae and Orchomenus (141-43).

Then there are the aspects which T. selects to emphasise. E.g., while T. does not give the specific date of Schliemann’s arrival at the Dardanelles in 1868, 12 it seems important to report that in the village of Yenishehir, when his host of the evening was about to kill a chicken for dinner, Schliemann wrote: ‘the poor creature seemed to suspect the dirty trick that they were going to play and it began to make such loud cries that I had compassion for it and I offered to pay its value if they set it free”. Moreover, within the context of a two-day visit to Troy by Dom Pedro II (Emperor of Brazil), T. regards it as pertinent to cite the opinion of de Gobineau (who accompanied Pedro). Although he could, on the basis of only two days, have gained only the most superficial appreciation of S., “Gobineau … reserved a special contempt for Schliemann, whom he considered an ‘impudent charlatan, a liar and an imbecile'” (154). Since T. does not offer any comment to this blistering denigration, 13 a strong suspicion is created that the reader is invited to accept de Gobineau’s judgement.

There is also T.’s rhetorical technique. E.g., he records the extensive enthusiastic international reception of S.’s Mycenae in 1878, ending with an excerpt from his publishers in New York: ‘Your Mycenae has met with the most flattering reception both by the press and public, and is, and bids fair to remain, the leading publication of the year’ (178). In order that the reader will not share too long in S.’s success, however, T. abruptly reports Borlase’s article in Fraser’s Magazine which allegedly contained evidence of the most damning deceit by S. at Troy in 1873, followed by other despicable conduct, including bad relations with Sophia. There are many such examples.

There are also innumerable cases of negative insinuation. One example will suffice. In 1878 “Schliemann wrestled with the Turkish authorities over the time, place and manner of the division of the finds. He wanted it to be at Hisarlik rather than at Constantinople, on 20 rather than 27 November and with Kadry Bey … rather than another official”. Why? “Kadry Bey was the Turkish overseer of the excavations, whose salary was paid by Schliemann” (185).

Probably the most trenchant judgement in the entire book, and seemingly bordering on vitriol (and conceivably encapsulating T.’s own view), is the following, in connection with S.’s elaborate house in Athens, the Iliou Melathron:“The obtrusive presence of Schliemann’s personality and achievements, still there today, while having the effect of turning art into high kitsch, has its own peculiar charm and makes the house as eloquent a monument to Schliemann’s memory as his archaeological collections and even the books he wrote” (212). Thus S.’s books are, by inference, equated with ‘high kitsch’! 14

Since ostensibly Schliemann of Troy is chiefly about ‘treasure,’ it is of course necessary to take into account what T. has to say on the principal ‘treasures’ which S. brought to light during his excavations. 15 So far as ‘Priam’s Treasure’ is concerned, T. repeats all the old arguments, although he does advance a few (unimportant) new ones. Otherwise, discrepancies in T.’s effort remain unresolved. E.g., he would have the reader believe that many of the pieces attributed to ‘Priam’s Treasure’ were actually found at the site of the ‘Workmen’s Treasure’ (or ‘Treasure C’) (126). But just prior to this claim he points out that the ‘Workmen’s Treasure’ “differs significantly” from ‘Priam’s Treasure’ (125). If the find-spot was in fact identical, the reader is owed an explanation as to why the ‘significant difference’. None, alas, is offered. Most significantly, however, T. does not repeat here his earlier most important conclusion from his allegations of fraud—namely, that the items of ‘Priam’s Treasure’ are bereft of all historical significance because their exact find-spot is not known. Since he does not repeat this crucial component of his earlier overall thesis, he has presumably given it up. That being the case, the historical significance of ‘Priam’s Treasure’ presumably remains intact. One has therefore to wonder what all the fuss is about.

As for Mycenae, after an eclectic description of the excavation, T. declares: “Schliemann’s excavation of Mycenae is undoubtedly his most brilliant achievement” (163). The reader is, however, compelled to question whether T. really means what he says here, because he goes on, at considerable length, to raise once again all his old questions and all his old arguments (albeit with some additional nuances) in an attempt to show that S.’s excavation of Mycenae represents the height of deceit on his part. If the excavation of Mycenae was riddled with deceit, any conclusions reached by S. from the evidence he brought to light could scarcely be of any significance—and therefore the excavation could hardly be declared a ‘most brilliant achievement’. It should be noted, however, that T.’s treatment of Mycenae has meanwhile been contested, but that he has, so far as I know, never responded to this challenge—above all to the difficulties thrown in the way of his objections by the studies of, e.g., Imma Kilian-Dirlmeier. T. is of course justified in raising the objections which he does, provided he deals with the objections which his own objections raise. One is also justified in being sceptical from the fact that in not a single instance has T. produced any proof to back up a suspicion.

Scholars back in Europe had great difficulty in dating the finds from S.’s excavation of the Shaft Graves. E.g., A.S. Murray, at the British Museum, took them to be very late, and saw similarities to finds from Hallstatt, Austria—and also opined that ‘one would be inclined to say that some Germanic tribe must have strayed to Mycenae,’ and that ‘it will seem no less than a whim of Fortune that their discoverer should be one of their own nationality’. According to T., “Newton dealt with these disparaging rumours directly: ‘It was even insinuated that they [the artifacts] had been brought from other localities and dexterously inserted in the soil of Mycenae by their discoverer; that he had, to use an American expression, “salted” his tombs. These doubts and insinuations would hardly be worth noticing here were it not that more than one distinguished archaeologist helped to give them currency, misled, as they have since frankly acknowledged, by first impressions'” (177). It must be the very height of irony that, on the basis of much more than ‘first impressions,’ T. himself has accused S. of precisely the same crime—i.e., of ‘salting’ a large number of his finds at Mycenae. Accordingly, in connection with S.’s allegedly abrupt departure from Mycenae, T. asked: “Could it be that Schliemann knew that there was little more to find because everything that had been planted had already been dug up?”16 Interestingly, T. does not repeat this accusation in Schliemann of Troy. Did he read Newton in the meantime? At all events, he could at least tell the reader about his change of mind—something he could have learned to do from S. 17

In the short final chapter (“The Schliemann Legacy”), T. pays briefest attention to S.’s contribution to archaeology (301-302), but then undercuts this by reiterating once more all the old suspicions in connection with ‘Priam’s Treasure’ and the finds from Mycenae (303-306).

At the outset I referred to many details in this study that are highly interesting and useful. This, however, is not always the case. At one point, T. refers to a letter in which “Schliemann confessed to Virchow that he was troubled by impotence. He attributed it to his strenuous work on the book. ‘When I am writing, I often feel a great need for a nap and at night, about once a week, I have a complete erection so that I can satisfy my wife, but since I have not produced a drop of semen for the past five months, I have absolutely no joy in the act'” (201-202). This information is, at least in the eyes of this reviewer, neither interesting nor useful. 18 More importantly, T. might explain to the reader how this relates to either ‘treasure’ or ‘deceit’. 19 One also wonders what connection there is between ‘treasure’-‘deceit’ and the fact that ‘on Sunday I had a bad experience, for the gallery attendant locked me in [the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin] and forgot about me and only after shouting in vain for a long time did I manage to get hold of a woman to rescue me’ (279). Or the citing of Ludwig’s report that S. “secretly had himself circumcised to lessen the risk of detection” during his alleged visit to Mecca (265). Or T.’s contention that “Andromache (now fourteen) was learning too much, too fast, about sex” (249).

Since over 90% of this book is not directly related to either ‘treasure’ or ‘deceit,’ what is one to make of it? After reading it one is left with a multiplicity of individual images, like so many isolated frames on a video film. There is no attempt, by way of discussion and analysis, to blend these images into a coherent portrait. Instead, what the reader is offered is an eclectic text punctuated by T.’s comments, some of which are indeed thoughtful, but just as many are highly superficial. One gains the impression that, for all the effort which T. has now expended on his subject, 20 the real S. continues to elude him. 21

So far as the principal thrust of Schliemann of Troy is concerned (‘treasure and deceit’), the book as a whole does none the less represent a major contribution. As a component of the most gruelling examination to which any archaeologist has ever been subjected, it has added to the cumulative result that in not a single instance has it become necessary to revise a major historical conclusion which S. reached in connection with the evidence he unearthed—i.e., any revisions made necessary as the result of deceit. That being the case, has not the time come to leave S., and apply the same approach to other archaeologists—or, better still, to study the evidence which they brought to light? While S. was (apparently) no Mother Teresa, one is tempted to quote a reviewer of Hitchens’ latest (fourth) book on the Albanian nun of Calcutta: “But after several years on the job, he still has little to offer fellow-doubters beyond enduring suspicion and distaste”.

  • [1] Conveniently available in a single volume: D.A. Traill, Excavating Schliemann (ICS Suppl. 4) (Atlanta, GA, 1993). [2] Even the principal title is somewhat misleading, for the book is not at all chiefly concerned with Troy. [3] E.g., “it was soon obvious that Katerina had little love for her husband. She seems to have despised his preoccupation with business and refused categorically to leave Russia with him, whether on a trip or, as he later proposed, to take up residence abroad” (28). (No sources are cited for these views.) [4] According to T. at the time, S., despite the fact that he had mastered 13 modern languages, still did not feel fully educated, something which in his day allegedly required a knowledge of Greek and Latin—and so turned to these. [5] Even in his second marriage, S. was, by inference far from being an ideal husband, for “while Sophia complained of snow in St. Moritz, Schliemann slept under a mosquito net on the roof of the Iliou Melathron in July and August to escape the heat of the house”—despite the fact that he had sent her to St. Moritz because of her health, while he “stayed in Athens to supervise the construction of his houses” (273). T. never passes up an opportunity to include information from which it can be insinuated that S.’s relationship with Sophia was on a rocky footing. [6] “… to withdraw my fortune from the vicissitudes of trade and retire either into a rural life or to a university town, e.g., and surround myself there with scholars, dedicating myself entirely to scholarship … ” (27). [7] The point is that on Ithaca Schliemann was allegedly slavishly following “Murray’s Handbook“. [8] Incidentally, nothing of the conversation between S. and Ziller on this occasion specific to T.’s interpretation is recorded. [9] S. cannot be given the benefit of the doubt. Here, as in so many other instances, T. seeks to sow seeds of doubt—without citing any evidence in support. [10] The term ‘suspect’ is one of T.’s favourite devices. Indeed, his study is peppered with such terms as “I suspect,” “I suppose,” “clearly,” “it is clear” (when it is not clear at all), “it will be seen,” “it is likely,” “it may well,” “it seems highly likely,” “it seems very likely,” “presumably,”, “perhaps,” “may,” “if,” “seems,” etc. T. also regularly attempts to second-guess S.’s thoughts—i.e., mostly when a less than honourable motive can be attributed to him. Accordingly, “as he reflected on his plan to will his Trojan collection to Germany, the thought seems to have occurred to Schliemann that he was throwing away a valuable bargaining chip. Why not give it to Germany in his lifetime and make sure that he got something in return?” (195) (emphasis in text). [11] He began his excavation at Mycenae on 7 August. [12] Presumably important because T. refers the reader to Appendix II for the chronology, but the Appendix does not make the precise date of his arrival clear. [13] It is, however, presumably pertinent to point out that de Gobineau wrote “a philosophical basis for the racist views of National Socialism”. [14] One would prefer to hope that one is reading too much into T.’s statement here. [15] T. never makes clear just what he means by treasure, which would be very helpful since the sub-title of the book implies that the whole of S.’s life and career were fundamentally bound up with treasure. [16] W.M. Calder III and D.A. Traill (eds.), Myth, Scandal, and History (Detroit 1986), 132. [17] See below n. 20. [18] At one point T. accuses S. of having “tastelessly added” a reference to Brentano’s suicide (231). [19] One can in fact find innumerably more details that do not appear relevant to either ‘treasure’ or ‘deceit’ than those which do, and almost as many that do not appear relevant to ‘Schliemann of Troy’—i.e., so far as understanding the results of his excavations is concerned. And that, surely, is what a study on S. should be all about (at least in the first instance). [20] His total output on Schliemann now comes to more than 900 pages. [21] A much better picture of S. can be obtained from the short, but not uncritical, study by H. Kyrieleis, “Schliemann in Griechenland,”JRGZM 25 (1978), 74-91, of whose existence T. does not appear to know.