Monday, October 5, 2009

Grey Bear of Troy

You'd think that I'd be used to it by now: every time I visit a cemetery with my bipedals, we get hopelessly lost and we can never seem to find the graves of who we're looking for. We once spent 4 hours in Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery looking for the grave of Jane Avril - the famous can-can dancer - immortalized by painter Toulouse-Lautrec. Do you think we ever found it? No! I mean, why can't "some people" do their homework and try preparing a little? Isn't that what I pay them for?

So it really shouldn't have come as any
surprise that, when we were in Athens - spending some quality time with The Dearly Departed in the Próto Nekrotafío, the city's historic cemetery - we should a) get hopelessly lost and b) be unable to find the grave of the one individual I wanted to see: Heinrich Schliemann.

For those a little rusty on their history, Schliemann was a 19th century businessman and indigo (as in the colour - I prefer grey to blue but I do look dashing in indigo) dye merchant and banker and maverick archaeologist and all-round rogue from Germany who, as a child announced -
or so he later claimed - that he would one day discover the city of Troy. And did. At that time, most scholars believed that Troy - home to the Trojan War as recounted by Homer in the Iliad - was nothing but a myth. Schliemann, however, was obsessed about its existence.

Born dirt poor, he climbed up the financial food chain in Europe and later moved to California in 1851 where he opened a bank and amassed a huge fortune during the state's gold boom - both through banking and through private speculation. I'm not sure if that's considered insider trading or not - I have a head for fashion and humanitarian causes so I hire professionals to worry about money. Shortly after this, he left the USA for Russia where he made even more money through military contracts during the Crimean War. By the time he was 36, he was able to retire quite comfortably - unlike my bipedal attendants who still barely have a pot to piss in.

He travelled about the world - he could speak 13 languages - and even infiltrated the holy city of Mecca disguised as a Bedouin tribesman. He then decided to find Troy and, divorcing his wife in absentia (what a swell guy) and inspired by the work of a British archaeologist who was working in Turkey, he moved to Hisarlik in the northwest of Anatolia. Hisarlik - modern Çanakkale - is only a few hours from Izmit but we haven't been able to make the pilgrimage yet because the bus system here leaves a bit to be desired. Except for the cookies and tea you get on board - they're yummy.

Schliemann decided he needed someone to help with with the "modern" Greek part of things (although he was in Turkey) and so he advertised for a wife in an Athenian newspaper. Sophia, a 17-year old relative of the Archbishop of Athens was suggested to him, and the two married. Their children would be named
Andromache and Agamemnon - just to give you an idea of how obsessed he was with all things Ancient Greek.

With his huge personal fortune backing him, he started digging and didn't stop for eight years. Within 2 years, he struck gold - jewellery, cauldrons, vases, shields - with the so-called "Priam's Treasure", referring to Homer's King of Troy, who in fact lived several hundred years later than the date of the gold. But calling it Priam's Treasure must have sold a lot of newspapers and tickets to his forthcoming lecture circuits.

He had his wife's photo taken with some of the gold, erroneously dubbing it "the Jewels of Helen" - as in Helen of Troy. As a former international fashion model, I have to say that less is definitely more and she should have fired her personal fashion consultant. Such gaudiness! So tacky! Anyway, the Turkish government went ballistic and sued him for a share of the gold. They revoked his license and Schliemann skipped out of Turkey, smuggling everything out with him in order to "safeguard" the treasure from corrupt Turkish officers.

That comment didn't endear him much to the Turkish authorities.

He then popped up in Greece, where he started digging again. In Mycenae, he unearthed the (again) so-called "Funerary Mask of Agamemnon" belonging to - you guessed it - Agamemnon, the cuckolded husband of Helen of Troy. Unfortunately, Schliemann's dating of the find was way off again but, like Priam's Treasure, the name has stuck. I saw the mask and some of Schliemann's other finds in the Archaeological Museum of Athens but they wouldn't let me have my photo taken there either (Athens' guards are so testy and I'm still in the throes of my last international incident, I decided to let that one go).

Itching to get back to Turkey - perhaps he liked Turkish baklava more than Greek baklava - Schliemann traded some of the gold from Priam's Treasure w
ith the Ottoman government for an excavation permit. Some of this gold is in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum but the rest was scooped up by the Imperial Museum of Berlin. The treasure was moved to an underground bunker during WWII (it was below the zoo!) but was stolen by the Red Army in 1945 and brought to the USSR (those German bears must have been napping).

For yea
rs the Soviet Union claimed to know nothing about the treasure but 16 years ago it turned up in Moscow's Pushkin Museum. Germany wants the gold back - and probably Turkey does too - but Russia wants to keep the hoard as reparation for the looting of museums and general destruction caused by the Nazis. You humans: you'll just never play nicely, will you?

Anyway, back to
Schliemann. In 1890 he developed a serious infection in both ears and travelled to Germany to seek medical attention. After surgery, he disregarded his doctor's advice and decided to return to Athens. On the way, he stopped off in Italy to visit Pompeii, and on Christmas Day, while in Naples, he fell into a coma and died the next day. Friends sent his body to the Próto Nekrotafío in Athens where it (or he?) was interred in the Mother-of-all-Mausoleums which, if you scroll back up, you can see looks like a Greek temple. The frieze which encircles the outside shows Schliemann leading the excavations at Mycenae. Schliemann would have liked that, although he probably would have asked for another monument recording his excavations at Troy.

I would add that his mausoleum is the biggest grave in the entire cemetery and sits (or looms) just by the front gate - you really can't miss it - but unfortunately we entered through the back gate and it took us 3 hours to find it. But we - or rather I - saw it perched on a rise of ground, towering over the other lowly graves! Like Troy, his monument wasn't a myth and I can prove it - and that was cause for having a cold pint of the appropriately named Mythos beer.

I think it might be time to go back to Paris and look for Jane Avril's grave. Or to ancient Troy - at least you'll all know the story now!


Anonymous said...

Once again, you are full of information. I learn so much about history from you. I also notice that you really seem to like Mythos Beer.

Is it beary (hee hee) good?

Snowflake said...

In my book, Agamemnon is a name up there with Pilar and Anastasia. How much do you know about Indonesia? I need you to teach me.

Grey Bear said...

Is that an invitation Snowflake???

Snowflake said...

Of course it is!!!