Heinrich Schliemann Essay

4663 words - 19 pages

"We could describe (Heinrich) Schliemann's excavations on the hill of Hissarlik and consider their results without speaking of Troy or even alluding to it," Georges Perrot wrote in 1891 in his Journal des Savants. "Even then, they would have added a whole new chapter to the history of civilization, the history of art" (qtd. in Duchêne 87). Heinrich Schliemann's life is the stuff fairy tales are made of. A poor, uneducated, and motherless boy rises through his hard work and parsimonious lifestyle to the heights of wealth (Burg 1,2). He travels the world and learns its languages ("Heinrich Schliemann"), takes a beautiful Greek bride, and together they unearth the treasures of Troy and the citadel of Agamemnon, thereby fulfilling the dream he has chased since childhood (Calder 18,19; Burg 8). Indeed, by presenting his life in romantic autobiographies as a series of adventures, starring Heinrich Schliemann as the epic hero (Duchêne 14), he ensured his status as a lasting folk hero and perennial bestseller (Calder 19).

The reality was that Heinrich Schliemann was an incredible con man, a generally unlikable braggart who succeeded only because of his queer mix of genius and fraudulence. He had a shylock's conscience when it came to business dealings, and his shady methods pervaded both his life and his archaeology (Burg, 15-31). Schliemann had a habit of rewriting his past in order to paint a more dramatic picture of himself. Among the events he reported that have been found to be grossly untrue are his tales of being entertained by the American president Millard Fillmore and his wife in 1851, and his narrow escape from the San Francisco fire of that same year (Traill 9-13). More disturbing is when he applies these tactics to his archaeology. In December of 1981 Professor David Traill, a Latinist, concluded that the "Treasure of Priam", Schliemann's

most impressive find at Troy, was actually a composite of several small finds uncovered from beyond the walls of the city. Schliemann had collected the pieces from 1871 to 1873 in order to produce a single find large enough to earn him the respect of fellow archaeologists, and also permission from the British to excavate at Mycenae (Calder 33). Twenty years of research led the Traill to the belief that, "the question is no longer whether but rather to what extent we should distrust Schliemann's archaeological reports" (Traill 6).

However, the modern scholars' assessment of Schliemann as a fraud and a psychopath (Calder 36-37) unfairly detracts from the importance of what he discovered and innovated as an amateur archaeologist ("Heinrich Schliemann: An Objective View of a Flawed Man of Genius"). Schliemann himself once wrote, "If my memoirs now and then contain contradictions, I hope that these may be pardoned when it is considered that I have revealed a new world of archaeology. The objects which I brought to light by...

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