Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1703/Dr. Schliemann's Discoveries at Mycae

From Nature.


Of all the archaeological discoveries which this nineteenth century has witnessed, that which Dr. Schliemann has just reported from Mycenæ will certainly be regarded as among the most important. Indeed, as throwing a light on those early days of Greece, the glories of which are reflected in the Homeric poems, it will stand pre-eminent, and cast even the researches made by the same ardent explorer at Hissarlik into the shade. There was in that case always some degree of uncertainty, and even his most sincere admirers and sympathizers could not but feel that among the successively disinterred cities it was doubtful which, if indeed any, was the Troy of the Iliad, and whether "the treasure of Priam" was in reality that of the unburied father of Hector.

At Mycenæ, on the contrary, the claim of the ruins which bear that "name to be regarded as the representatives of the ancient city founded by Perseus, the massive walls of which were built by the Cyclopes, appears to be indisputable. It is true that Strabo relates that not a vestige of the town had survived to his time, but the account of Pausanias fully identifies the spot where modern geographers place Mycenæ as having been in his days the traditional site of the city.

"In returning to Tretus on the way to Argos, the ruins of Mycenæ are," he says, "seen on the left, nor is there anything recorded of greater antiquity in the whole of Argolis. When Inachus was king he called the river which flows by after his name, and consecrated it to Juno. In the ruins of Mycenæ is the fountain called Perseia. There are also the underground buildings of Atreus and his sons, in which were kept their treasures. There is, too, the tomb of Atreus and of all those whom Ægistheus slew at the banquet after their return with Agamemnon from Troy. As to the tomb of Cassandra, it is disputed by the Lacedæmonians who live about Amychi: But there is the tomb of Atreus himself and of the charioteer Eurymedon, and that in which Teledamus and Pelops lie together (who were the twin sons of Cassandra, and were slaughtered as infants by Ægistheus at their parents' tomb), and the grave of Electra. But Clytemnestra and Ægistheus were buried a little without the walls as they were not thought worthy to be interred within, where Agamemnon himself, and those who were slain with him, lie."

Such was the legend seventeen hundred years ago, and making all allowance for the reconstruction of history or legend to which local guides are so prone, there is enough to show that a strong tradition remained upon the spot of an early race of kings whose deeds were famous in the then remote days when the Iliad was composed.

Even now the gate with the lions still stands in the Cyclopean walls, the subterranean buildings and various sepulchres still exist, and the tradition of the treasures of Atreus and his sons appears not to have been without a good foundation. Who were the occupants of the tombs now rifled by Dr. Schliemann must of course be conjectured, but he seems to have brought to light more than one of the kings of the golden city, more than one βασιλήα πολύχρυσοιο Μυκήνης.

Until we receive photographs of the various objects discovered in the tombs it is idle to speculate upon their forms, which are of course but vaguely described in a hurried account such as that furnished to the Times by Dr. Schliemann. Though many of them appear to be novel in character and the general contents of the graves rich beyond all comparison, yet the results of the excavations do not as yet appear to be at all out of harmony with what might have been predicated of the contents of a royal tomb belonging to what prehistoric archaeologists would term the close of the bronze period of Greece a country where notoriously much allowance must be made for Egyptian influences. The bronze knife, the curious bronze dagger, the bronze swords and lances, the former having scabbards ornamented with gold, the gold-covered buttons, which from the description would seem to be not unlike those found by Sir R. Colt Home in some of our Wiltshire barrows, the long flakes or knives of obsidian, the style of ornamentation of the gold with impressed circles and spiral lines, are all in keeping with such a period. But though in general harmony with what might have been expected, there are, as already observed, also important and special features of novelty in the discovery.

The unprecedented abundance of the gold ornaments, the masks, the great diadems — which possibly may throw some light on the Scandinavian bronze ornaments which go by that name, and also on the Irish gold "minds" and the golden crosses in the form of laurel leaves — the silver sceptres with the crystal balls, the engraved gems, the vases, the great gold pin with the female figure crowned with flowers — possibly the Juno Antheia worshipped in the city of Argos — in fact the whole find will attract the attention of both classical and prehistoric antiquaries.

The pottery discovered appears also to be of peculiar fabric and material, and will no doubt contribute much to our knowledge of ancient fictile art. As all the originals will go to enrich the already important Museum of National Antiquities at Athens, it will be mainly from photographs and drawings that these wonderful objects will be known in this country. Let us in passing express a hope that the photographic and artistic representations of the Mycenæ treasure may be more satisfactory than those which constitute Dr. Schliemann's Hissarlik Album.

With regard to the antiquity to be assigned to these interments, it will be well to bear in mind that they lay at a considerable depth below the slabs first discovered by Dr. Schliemann, the ground beneath which he originally regarded as virgin and undisturbed; that above these slabs lay a great thickness of debris, probably accumulated at a time when the city was inhabited, and yet that Mycenæ was destroyed by the Dorians of Argos, about B.C. 468, at a period so early in Greek history that no authenticated coins of the city are known. It seems to have been from the depth at which the interment lay that they escaped the researches of former excavators, including Lord Elgin, upon the site. The reputed tomb of Theseus, which was rifled by Cimon the Athenian the year after the destruction of Mycenæ, must have lain nearer the surface, but the bronze spear and sword which were found in it, and which were brought with the bones in triumph from Scyros to Athens, point to its having belonged to much the same period. The spear of Achilles in the temple of Minerva at Phaselis, and the sword of Memnon in the temple of Æsculapius at Miomedia, were also of bronze, of which metal, as Pausanias observes, all the weapons of the heroic age were made. Had Augustus but known of the buried treasures of Mycenæ when he was collecting the arena herotun for his museum at Caprea, the researches of Dr. Schliemann might have been in vain.

As it is, he is to be congratulated not only on the extent and importance of his discoveries, but also on his investigation having brought to light those horned Juno idols which he anticipated finding. His theory of some of the owl-like figures from Hissarlik bearing reference to the name of γλαυκώπις Άθήνη has met with more ridicule than it deserved, and if the discovery of those horned figures of βοώπις πότνια Ήρη should be substantiated. Dr. Schliemann will be fairly entitled to claim the victory over his adversaries. Under any circumstances both he and his no less enterprising helpmeet deserve the most cordial thanks of all scholars and antiquaries. J. E.