Heinrich Schliemann...real life Indiana Jones?
July 22, 2003 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Prior to Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in 1871, the academic world held that the city of Troy had never existed; it was just a tale in a book; as silly to search for as Utopia or Robinson Crusoe’s Island. But Schliemann believed Homer’s Troy must have existed. He wanted it to exist, the story had caught his imagination. Acting upon descriptions of Troy’s location from Homer’s ‘Iliad’, (written more than 500 years after the fall of Troy) Schliemann started digging…and proved everyone wrong.
posted by rrtek (16 comments total)
Except no one has found anything in 'Troy" that says, "Hey, welcome to Troy" or "Troy sucks" or anything saying Troy at all. Schliemann just found a ruined city and declared it "Troy".
posted by jmauro at 1:29 PM on July 22, 2003

jmauro: Huh?

For nearly a year, and up to 3 months before his death, he dug at Troy and finally found pottery with the unmistakable Mycenaean shapes and decorations. He had finally come across evidence of Homer’s Troy.
In December of 1890, at age 68, he died in Naples due to complications of ear surgery. He died without ever seeing the magnificent walls, just as Homer had described them, that were found 2 years later.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:33 PM on July 22, 2003

Here's a question (and not a veiled attempt to actually take a position):
It's hard to argue with results, but it would seem that his search originally sprang from rather fishy, non-observational methodology: he went looking for something based on emotional appeal, and 9 out of 10 dentists know that scientists usually find what they're looking for. Is this guy just lucky that his findings are being corroborated?

All scientists are individuals. Is Schliemann's love of the story of Troy a positive example of how agenda or bias (or passion, to use a less connoted word) can drive "good" science?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:01 PM on July 22, 2003

How dumb were the Trojans? I mean, you're in the middle of a war, your city is under siege and you open your gates because suddenly a giant wooden horse appears on your porch? Where did they think it came from and what did they think happend to the large army camped outside their walls?
posted by euphorb at 2:06 PM on July 22, 2003

The little I know about Schliemann (mostly from Will Durant's Life of Greece) intrigues me, especially the fact that he eventually took to worshipping the ancient Greek pantheon.
posted by turbodog at 2:10 PM on July 22, 2003

How dumb were the Trojans?

Um, have you read the story?
It was a gift from the greeks signifying their (supposed) throwing in the towel - after years of fruitless and painful war - and heading home.

So, not very dumb. A little too ready to trust those sneaky greeks, sure.
posted by freebird at 2:25 PM on July 22, 2003

My main fascination with this topic has come from the fact that Schliemann took a work (the Iliad) which most everyone had placed squarely in the 100% fiction column, and said..."I believe that parts of this fictitious tale are indeed true" and then proceeded to use the Iliad as a roadmap to find the lost city which no one believed existed, then shoved it in everyone's faces by stealing the city's treasures. I guess its just me, but I find this to be simply amazing.
posted by rrtek at 3:13 PM on July 22, 2003

Funny, the lecture doesn't mention what a disaster Schliemann's Suez Canal-style excavations were for establishing stratigraphy at the Hissarlik site. IIRC, he ploughed right through and obliterated much of what, if anything, might have corresponded to the Homeric level, because he assumed it was Roman.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:33 PM on July 22, 2003

Except no one has found anything in 'Troy" that says, "Hey, welcome to Troy" or "Troy sucks" or anything saying Troy at all. Schliemann just found a ruined city and declared it "Troy".

Actually, Schliemann did find Troy, or at least, the city The Iliad refers to as Troy. He found not one but multiple cities on that prime piece of real estate, and erroneously thought the oldest with riches (Troy II) was Troy (it wasn't... it was the middle one ;) ).

He was not so lucky with Mycenae, where he declared he had found the Mask of Agamemnon when he'd found something much earlier.

It is widely accepted that Homer's Troy did exist, and Schliemann did find it, though he did not recognize it.
posted by linux at 5:41 PM on July 22, 2003

I think you mean the city that the Iliad refers to as Ilium, he said with a sly smile.

(sorry just feeling snarky or two)
posted by dorian at 6:18 PM on July 22, 2003

Slightly OT, Christopher Logue's verse "rewriting" of the Illiad kicks ass. I'm savoring "All Day Permanent Red", but "War Music" also got good reviews.
posted by lbergstr at 6:39 PM on July 22, 2003

I think you mean the city that the Iliad refers to as Ilium

C'mon, the Iliad refers plenty to Troy! Hera, for example, is sworn not to avert the Trojan's doom

mêd' hopot' an Troiê malerôi puri pasa daêtai
kaiomenê, kaiôsi d' arêïoi huies Akhaiôn

"not even when Troy entire blazes in the consuming fire,
burning—and the warlike sons of the Achaeans burn it."

Ilium (neuter) occurs only at 15.71; Ilios (feminine) is more frequent.
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:48 PM on July 22, 2003

man, I knew that was going to come right back and bite me. at least it was gentle, for which I thank you muchly.

note to self: don't snark when you know you can't pull it off.
posted by dorian at 10:00 PM on July 22, 2003

So what's the story with Schliemann's gold? It vanished at the end of World War II and was presumed lost forever. For 50 years it's just gone. Then when the Soviet Union falls, it shows up in Pushkin Museum. Is it going to be returned to Germany, or Turkey, or what?
posted by Xoc at 4:36 AM on July 23, 2003

Ilium (neuter) occurs only at 15.71; Ilios (feminine) is more frequent.

[Oxbridge twit] Excuse me, old chap, but I believe you meant to say Ilion (neuter) occurs only at 15.71: Ilion aipu eloien Athênaiês dia boulas. [/Oxbridge twit]

Allow me to say what a delight it is to see Homer quoted in Greek here on MetaFilter. And they say it's nothing but poo-flinging here!

As for Schliemann, it's hard to say whether his efforts, with their obsession and self-promotion, were a good thing in the end or not. He got a lot of attention for archeology, but Troy would have been found with or without him, and there would have been more left to study without him. See this description (supporting Sonny Jim above):
[Schliemann] believed that underneath it was the city he was looking for. Unfortunately, in his desperation to justify his theory, he dug through layer after layer of archaeology until he found it. The site became famous. Mrs Schliemann's photograph was published in all the world's newspapers dressed in the jewellery they thought might once have adorned the fair face of Helen of Troy rather than the austere features of a German banker's wife.

But in fact Schliemann hadn't found Homer's Troy at all. Within three years of his death his theory was disproved by one of his co-workers. The jewellery and the site were authentic, but from a completely different period.

Vast amounts of irreplaceable archaeology had been destroyed in the pursuit of a dream, and Hissarlik now looks like a bombsite. Some archaeologists say it's the worst case of deliberate archaeological vandalism they've ever seen. Good archaeology is about observing and recording what's actually there, not searching for something and then persuading yourself that the evidence fits your theory.
And he ruthlessly cut others out of the credit, as described in a book by Susan Heuck Allen:
Received wisdom has it that Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman turned archaeologist, discovered the remains of ancient Troy at Hisarlik in modern Turkey in 1868. That tradition, according to Allen..., arises from Schliemann's self-promotional writings. "But there is another claim to be staked," she writes, "both to some of Schliemann's treasures and to the honor of actually having found the site of Troy. That claim belongs to the man who owned half the land on which Troy eventually was found, the man who informed and educated Heinrich Schliemann about the site and persuaded him to dig there." That man was Frank Calvert, an Englishman who served for 34 years as a U.S. consular agent at the Dardanelles, all the while steeping himself in Trojan archaeology.
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on July 23, 2003

Ignatius, it is a mistake merely to attack his character - and from thence to dismiss the existence of Troy

regardless of what you think of him, Schliemann DID find a city, a city which apparently matches what we know of Troy.

as for euphorb, how dumb the Trojans were, it indeed was a kind of signal that made sense in their cultural context - you have to try to imagine their viewpoint, what it was like to actually be one of them in those times

in this case the Greeks were treacherous bastards, and so beware of Greeks bearing gifts
posted by firestorm at 10:51 AM on July 23, 2003

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