Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/April 1891/Dr. Henry T. Schliemann


DR. HEINRICH T. SCHLIEMANN, the enthusiastic excavator of the most ancient Grecian cities, died in Naples, Italy, December 26, 1890. He was born January 6, 1822, at Neu Buckow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, where his father was a Protestant clergyman, poor, but interested in ancient history, and particularly in the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii, which were then fresh. Acquiring some taste in these matters and a little knowledge of Latin from his father, young Schliemann's interest in Troy was aroused when he was seven years old by the sight of a sensational picture, in Dr. Georg Ludwig Jerrer's Universal History, of the burning of that city. The book, according to Dr. Irving J. Manatt, in the Independent, is still treasured in Schliemann's library at Athens, and in it, the writer adds, "he has pointed out to me the rude picture of Troy in flames, the sight of which first lodged the seed-thought in his soul." He decided at once that the foundations of such a city must still exist, "covered up by the dust of ages," and determined to make their discovery the purpose of his life. To this determination he adhered through all the vicissitudes of a precarious career. After some four years at the Gymnasium and the Realschule, he was apprenticed in 1836 to a grocer in Fürstenberg, where he worked for five years from five o'clock in the morning till eleven at night on a maximum yearly salary of thirty dollars. He was able to gratify his archæological tastes in this situation by hiring a drunken but learned miller's clerk to recite to him lines from Homer. One day he broke a blood-vessel while trying to lift a barrel, and was discharged as no longer of value to his employer. Utterly destitute, he took passage in a vessel for South America, was shipwrecked, found his way to Amsterdam, and obtained a light employment, in connection with which he was able to read a little every day. He thus gradually acquired a good knowledge of English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. In 1844 he entered the office of Messrs. Schröder & Co. on a comfortable salary and began to learn Russian, preparatory to taking an agency for the house in St. Petersburg. He soon started in business in that place on his own account. In 1850 he came to California, where he became an American citizen and the possessor of $400,000. He returned to Russia, continued his business, and learned Swedish and Polish. After the Crimean War he learned Greek and then devoted two years to the study of Greek literature. In 1858 he traveled through northern Europe, Italy, Egypt, and the lands of ancient Greece. Being compelled by a lawsuit to return to Russia and stay there three years, he went into business again and made more money. Before beginning his life-work, for which the opportunity at last offered, he-made a voyage around the world and published his first book, La Chine et le Japon, in 1866. Having dug experimentally, without important results, at Ithaca, he began in 1870 his excavations in the Troad to verify the accuracy of Homer's account of the lost Troy, in the literal reality of every part of which he fully believed. He began first at the place called Bounarbashi, which the learned world had agreed was the site of the ancient city. Having dug and examined the topography long enough to satisfy himself that nothing was to be found there, he tried the mound of Hissarlik. Here he unearthed six cities which had succeeded each other on the same site, four of them at least prehistoric, and one of which, bearing the marks of a great conflagration and being rich in relics, he was satisfied was Homer's Troy. For security in performing this work, Dr. Manatt tells us: "As an American citizen he took out our passports for himself, his family, and his servants; and it may as well be remembered that Troy was uncovered under the protection of our flag." The results of these explorations were described in the books Troy and its Remains, and Ilios, the appearance of which was the signal for an active discussion of the merits of his discoveries. While many doubted the accuracy of his identification of one of the cities with the real Troy, it was generally agreed that he had found something remarkably interesting and important, as well as very ancient, and that possibly the real Troy was somewhere in the heap. Convincing testimony to the value of the investigation was given by Dr. Virchow, who visited the place and examined it, and by a commission of archæologists, who made a special report upon the subject. Dr. Schliemann next turned his attention to Mycenæ, the capital of Agamemnon and the kings of the house of Atreus. Following the directions of Pausanias, he selected a spot, dug, and found, if not the tombs and the treasury of the Atridæ, five tombs of royal rank, with sarcophagi and death-masks, and a treasure-chamber, which he decided to be of equal age. Dr. Manatt says that when the first skeleton came to light in these royal tombs, "he fell upon his knees before it, exclaiming, 'Thus have I imagined my hero!'" The results of this work were described and published in another splendid book on Mycenæ and Tiryns. He next excavated Tiryns, which he had already partly explored and described in connection with his work at Mycenæ, and laid bare the walls and a prehistoric palace and citadel, with the gates, court-yard, hall, chambers, and bath-room. Another volume, corresponding in style with the previous ones, was devoted to the discoveries made here. Dr. Schliemann subsequently made excavations at Orchomenos, the mound of Marathon, and other important ancient sites, and was contemplating further work of a similar character. The value and accuracy of his discoveries have been subjected to unfriendly criticism and much active discussion; but, while he could not prove that the second prehistoric city at Hissarlik was identical with Troy itself, or that the tombs and treasures at Mycenæ actually belonged to the Agamemnon who was murdered by Ægisthus, he was able to repel all efforts to discredit the results he got, and to convince the most accomplished antiquaries and archaeologists that, if not these, he had found something very like and very near in time to them. Every kind of hypothesis was tried, as the Saturday Review says, by those who doubted the genuineness of the discovery of Mycenæ, "but only Dr. Schliemann's fitted the case. The bronze blades of the poniards, when the patina was removed, were found to be beautifully chased in various-colored gold, such as Homer describes, with scenes of war and the chase. The art was clearly inspired by Egyptian reminiscences: here were men hunting wild ducks, for example, in a papyrus marsh; here were pictures of such huge shields as Homer attributes to his heroes. The figures, on the other hand, were far more free in execution than those of the earliest known Greek art. In brief, new materials and a new problem were offered to archæology, and the evidence of tradition was once more proved to be more trustworthy than any one had expected." The grandeur of this discovery, indeed, furnished the chief doubt of the validity of the identification of Troy, for "if Mycenæ were so great and strong, why did it need all the power of Achaia to overthrow the little village of Ilios?" His wife, a well-educated Grecian lady who shared his Homeric enthusiasm, assisted him with her sympathy and co-operation in a large part of his researches. Dr. Schliemann's death followed a cold contracted after undergoing a successful surgical operation for deafness at Halle. He tarried for business on his way home, and, failing to take the care of himself

PSM V38 D826 Henry T Schliemann.jpg

Henry T. Schliemann.

which he needed and which prudence should have demanded, caught a severe cold, and had stopped at Naples for treatment. His enthusiasm in archæology and his example have been the inspiration of many, and have provoked the organization of societies in England, Germany, France, the United States, Greece itself, and other countries, for the exploration and excavation of the ancient Grecian sites. The enthusiasm, which carried him through all his life-work and permeated even his commonplace occupations and his amusements, was illustrated in his custom of giving Homeric names to all who came into his household. "Among his busy servitors," says Dr. Manatt, "were Æneas and Creusa; Bellerophon was his porter and Priam kept his garden, Circe and Electra were his handmaids. No matter what name one brought into his service, the chrism of the Hall of Troy made all heroic. His own children were Andromache and Agamemnon from their birth—for short, Andromachidion and Agamemnonidion." When Dr. Manatt, accompanied by his daughter of seventeen, first visited him, he at once gave her a Greek name—Artemis—and that she remained to him to the last. At the first breakfast, "Artemis was installed in the place of the mistress of the mansion, and received the homage due to her illustrious new name."

Dr. Schliemann made his permanent residence at Athens, where he built a fine house which is styled a palace. Here, in the midst of trophies which he had recovered from the ancient world and "muniments of the world's honors," he led a methodical working life. "Hours before the Attic dawn, winter and summer, daily he was at the Phaleron for his plunge in the divine sea; all day long the busy work went on; and late into the night the lamp burned in the study that looks over the city upon the Acropolis." From any of his occupations he would turn to meet and entertain a visitor, and he was at home "of all men the most accessible." He dispensed a liberal hospitality, and on festival occasions his house was thronged by the best—the select of Athens and strangers. His business interests were never allowed to suffer. He had valuable investments in many countries, and they were all profitable; and he could find himself familiar at any moment with the details of their condition and management. His funeral was honored with testimonials from the Emperor of Germany, from the city of Berlin—which had honored him with the distinction shared only by Bismarck and Von Moltke, of making him one of its Ehrenbürger—and from numerous learned men and learned bodies, and by the personal attendance of the King and Crown Prince of Greece.