But Is It True?

Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit

by David A. Traill
St. Martin’s, 365 pp., $24.95

Lost and Found: The 9,000 Treasures of Troy: Heinrich Schliemann and the Gold That Got Away

by Caroline Moorehead
Viking, 307 pp., $24.95

The Gold of Troy: Searching for Homer’s Fabled City Museum of Fine Arts/Abrams

by Vladimir Tolstikov and Mikhail Treister
Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation/A.S. Pushkin State, 239 pp., $60.00

According to Heinrich Schliemann’s keenest detractors, his life was not merely stranger than fiction; it was fiction. But the facts accepted even by those who most strongly suspect his honesty make an amazing story. Born in poverty in 1822, the son of a dissolute and lecherous Lutheran pastor in the eastern German town of Neubukow, he made himself immensely rich through the indigo trade in Russia, dealing in gold in California, and profiteering during the Crimean War. He was shipwrecked off the Dutch coast, and was lucky to escape with his life; he almost perished from starvation in Panama. He was a phenomenal traveler: he knew Jerusalem, Havana, Tokyo, Hong Kong, St. Petersburg, Petra, Odessa, Acapulco, and visited the principal capitals of Europe almost every year. As a linguist he was even more astonishing: he knew fifteen languages well, and others partially: his diaries were written in ten different languages (he commonly wrote in the language of the country he was in at the time); he used ancient Greek as a living tongue, and knew large quantities of the Koran and classical literature by heart, in the original.

Even his method of courtship was exceptional. His first marriage, to a Russian, having failed, he resolved to find a second wife. A Greek would be best, he decided, and so he wrote to an archbishop of his acquaintance, asking him to look out for suitable candidates. Photographs should be sent, he said: as a good reader of faces, he was confident that he could judge a person’s character from her picture. Having picked out a girl of sixteen, thirty years younger than himself, he went to Athens to interview her. After putting the appropriate questions (he asked her when the Emperor Hadrian had visited Athens, and required her to recite some lines of Homer), he proposed and (since he was very rich) was accepted. Nineteen days after their first meeting, they were married. And throughout the marriage, though it was an unconventional and sometimes turbulent one, they remained in their way deeply devoted.

Had Schliemann died just after his second wedding, at the age of forty-seven, he would have lived a remarkable life and shown extraordinary capacities, but no one today would know his name. However, in middle life he made another decision: he would become an archaeologist and uncover Homer’s Troy. As the world knows, he succeeded even beyond his dreams: as the excavator of Troy and Mycenae he became and has remained the most famous of all archaeologists—or in David A. Traill’s more equivocal phrase, “the emblematic archaeologist of all time.” But though he has always been celebrated, he is now freshly in the news again for two quite separate reasons: the exhibition of “Priam’s treasure” mounted this year in Moscow, and the accusation that he misrepresented and perhaps even faked some of his finds.

The three books under review are concerned with one or both of these issues. The Gold of Troy is the superbly illustrated and presented catalog of the Moscow exhibition. Traill’s book is a scholarly biography, detailed and meticulously researched and annotated. His publishers have achieved a great deal of notice for it by stressing its indictments of Schliemann’s integrity, but although this has done Traill a service in one sense, in another it underestimates him. The book is a complete biography of Schliemann, covering all parts of his life with equal thoroughness and making its charges with caution; though one would scarcely guess it from the dust jacket, his most sensational accusation (of which more later) is made very tentatively.

Caroline Moorehead’s biography lacks Traill’s weight of research and scholarly apparatus, but it is a fine work of its own kind; she is more kindly disposed towards her subject, and inclined to regard his egotism and ingratitude, stigmatized by Traill, as lovable foibles. Around her narrative of his life, as prelude and coda, she has wrapped the story of the disappearance of “Priam’s treasure” at the end of the Second World War and its recent rediscovery, together with a general account of the Nazis’ looting and destruction of art treasures throughout Europe and the Russians’ revenge; this is all told with vividness and verve.

The exhibition of Priam’s treasure has stirred controversy because of the dispute over where it rightfully belongs; four nations lay claim to it. Schliemann gave his Trojan finds to Germany and they remained in Berlin until 1945, when, in the words of the director of the Pushkin Museum, in her introduction to The Gold of Troy, “saving them from possible mishaps, the Director of the Museum of Ancient History in Berlin handed the treasures over to the Soviet military.” That is put with the delicacy of a Chinese mandarin, but as Moorehead’s dashing account reveals, it is more or less the truth. The objects were taken to Moscow and vanished from view, until the persistence of two Russian art historians finally brought them to light again.

Germany claims that it is the rightful owner, and that the treasures should be restored to it, just as in the 1950s the Soviet Union returned 750 pictures to Dresden and the Pergamum Altar to East Berlin (at that time, of course, both cities were part of the Communist German Democratic Republic). The Russian response is, to quote the Pushkin Museum’s director again, that “it is too easy, as certain accounts and reports in the press have done, to overlook the complicated and difficult problems.” What this seems to mean is that any return of the Trojan treasures should be part of a larger package providing that Germany return its own loot to Russia. The trouble is that Germany probably has no loot to return; the Nazis, out of sheer malice, did as much as they could to destroy Russian culture, with all too great success, and that damage is irreparable. One suspects that the real Russian argument cannot be articulated openly: Germans wiped out an enormous quantity of buildings in the USSR, including palaces and churches with works of art, and it is only fair that they should lose something to Russia by way of reparation. That point of view may excite sympathy in some quarters, but since the Russians hold other art captured during the war, and negotiations are taking place with Germany, it has to be expressed with diplomatic opacity.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Germans’ own claim is under challenge from another direction. When Schliemann got his license to excavate at Troy from the Ottoman authorities, it was under conditions that provided for the finds to be divided between Turkey and himself. He cheated the authorities, smuggling to Athens objects which under the terms of the license should have gone to Turkey. Eventually, he settled the matter by paying a fine, in exchange for which the Turkish government agreed to make no further claim. Later, when he returned to Troy for another campaign of digging, his license again required him to share his finds with Turkey, and again he smuggled out artifacts in breach of his agreement; this time the Turkish authorities were powerless either to recover the goods or to exact a payment.

So it seems Turkey has a simple claim on some at least of the Trojan treasure, and perhaps a moral claim on more. Or should a statute of limitations apply, since the treasure has been out of Turkey for over a century? On the other hand, it had been out of Turkey for much less than a hundred years when it left Berlin. If the Russians are “holding it in safekeeping,” as they say, whom are they holding it in safekeeping for? Meanwhile, Greece has also put in a claim, presumably on the principle that there is little to be lost in sticking ten dollars on a horse when the odds are a hundred to one against.

The spirit of irony hovers over these disputes with a wry pleasure; for the Trojan treasure is both less and more interesting than the fuss might suggest. It excites the lust for possession essentially for two reasons: because of the gold, and because of Homer. However, the treasure lover is likely to be disappointed by these finds: they cannot compare with Schliemann’s own discoveries at Mycenae, let alone with Tutankhamen’s tomb, either aesthetically or as a display of wealth. There are two spectacular artifacts: a golden vessel shaped like a sauceboat and a diadem with pendants, which Schliemann’s wife is shown wearing in a famous photograph. Otherwise the objects are mostly small, and curious rather than beautiful. Whatever his shortcomings in terms of modern scientific archaeology, Schliemann himself was not primarily a treasure hunter. Homer was his inspiration, and his goal was to uncover the world about which Homer had sung. He recognized that the Iliad was a work of the imagination, but he supposed that the basic story of a Greek host led by Agamemnon besieging and capturing Troy, the city of King Priam, was historically true.

Here the irony is twofold. The site of Troy is extremely complex; on it a series of settlements, destructions, and rebuildings took place over a very long period of time. “Priam’s treasure” comes from Troy II, which is now dated to the middle of the third millennium BC and is thus a thousand years or more older than anything which could be called Homer’s Troy. If there is any historicity in the Homeric story, we should presumably be looking to Troy VIIa, which was destroyed by fire sometime around 1200 BC. There is some evidence that at the end of his life Schliemann had come to realize that he had misdated the Trojan treasure. The first irony is that while the correct dating wipes out any possibility of a connection with Homer, it makes the finds much more rare and remarkable. We are left with a tantalizing enigma: who were these people who had so highly developed a civilization close to the northern Aegean at so early a date?

The further irony is that the historicity of the Troy story is itself such a will -o’-the-wisp. At first glance, we might suppose that the issue was straightforward: either there was (in some form) a Trojan War or there was not, and if there was, we should be able to ask whether each item in the story—person, place, or event—was or was not historical. In principle there should be answers to such questions (we might think), even though in practice those answers might not be attainable. But the issue is actually more slippery: insofar as there is historical reality behind the Homeric poems, it is likely not to be a single reality but an amalgam of different times, events, and cultures.

Scholars have been led to this conclusion by the study of other, later heroic traditions. The Song of Roland is an instructive case. When Charlemagne was returning from a campaign against the Moors in Spain, the rear of his army was ambushed at Roncevaux and massacred by Christian Basques. In the poem this incident becomes an immense battle against a vast Saracen host, a struggle of Christendom against the infidel. Some of the Saracen chiefs have Germanic or Byzantine names. The historical episode dates from the eighth century, but the figures in the poem display the cultural characteristics of the twelfth. We can visit Roncevaux today, as we can visit Troy; but if we are asked, “Is this where Roland confronted the Saracens?” we might be reluctant to answer either yes or no.

The Nibelungenlied, from the early thirteenth century, distorts history even more. Etzel (Attila the Hun) is represented as the contemporary of the Ostrogoth emperor Theodoric, who was not born until after Attila’s death, and who appears as Dietrich of Bern (Bern being Verona). Pilgrim, another character with a historical origin, lived five hundred years later. By contrast, Kriemhild (Etzel’s wife), Siegfried, and Brunhild seem to be entirely fictional. In reality the Huns invaded Burgundy; in the poem the situation is reversed. So if we were to ask, “Did Dietrich rule here in Ravenna?” “Is it here that Etzel confronted the invaders?” or “Was this Kriemhild’s home?” it is not altogether clear what questions we would be putting.

The chances that the Homeric epics have a substantially greater historicity are small. In fact we can see that some of the characters in the Iliad have been brought into the Troy story from elsewhere. Most of the heroes come from the Mycenean heartland in the Peloponnese and southern central Greece, but I domeneus is a Cretan and Odysseus a folktale trickster from the Ionian islands. Helen is a Spartan vegetation goddess who has somehow lost her divinity and turned into a femme fatale. One of the Trojan princes has two names, the Greek Alexander and the non-Greek Paris; was he originally two people who have been merged into one?

We may also wonder if the Iliad, like the Nibelungenlied and the Song of Roland, conflates memories of different historical periods. If so, an intriguing possibility arises. If the myth of the Trojan War preserves a historical memory—of a raid or sack, whether by mainland Greeks or by some other people—it is likely to be of an event around 1200 BC, in the twilight of the Mycenean age. But the cultural atmosphere of the Iliad seems to be essentially that of the Mycenean heyday, some three hundred years earlier. Schliemann has often been mocked for believing that he found the princes of the house of Atreus buried in the shaft graves at Mycenae—quite the wrong period, it is said. But possibly great names from the acme of the Mycenean period could have been remembered and later associated with events of another date. It is just conceivable that Schliemann could indeed have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.

Thanks to Traill, we now have another issue to confront—not just the historicity of Homer’s stories but the historicity of Schliemann’s. Traill’s main charges relate to the excavations at Troy and Mycenae, but it is part of his case that throughout his life Schliemann recurrently lied, cheated, and falsified. His approach has come under attack: one prominent archaeologist has written of a “vendetta against Schliemann,” another of “a mean-spirited scholarly enterprise—particularly when aimed against one who can no longer defend himself.” The question of how we should treat the great men of the past does not admit of a simple answer. There is indeed something unpleasing in the modern prurience that hunts for feet of clay in good or brave people, but on the other hand historians must be free to investigate whether reputations are deserved, and falsehood should be exposed. The issue when we are dealing with one of the famous dead is really whether he has earned a title to our respect.

Traill does establish that Schliemann, for all his energy, courage, and vision, was in most respects a pretty nasty man. He repaid his helpers with black ingratitude. He duped the amiable Frank Calvert, who owned land near Troy and had provided him with valuable assistance, into selling very cheap a sculpture which Schliemann then sold at a high price; his behavior was at best dishonorable, but probably illegal also. He quarreled savagely with his devoted supporter Rudolf Virchow over an imaginary slight, when he considered himself to have been given an insufficiently grand seat at a public dinner. He tormented and humiliated the Greek and Turkish officials appointed to monitor his excavations. In his insatiable pursuit of honors he traduced his wife, pretending that she was making herself ill with her passion for public recognition (women are like that, he explained), while in reality the lust for honorific titles was his own.

Earlier in life, he was accused of fraud when dealing in gold dust (perhaps we should say, more indulgently, that his standard of business ethics was no higher than that current in California at the time). He repeatedly cheated the Turkish authorities, and there is clear evidence that he contemplated having fake duplicates made of some of his finds to aid him in smuggling the originals out. He does not need to be treated with reverence. In short, Schliemann is fair game. Some of Traill’s critics have complained that his claims are speculations, but given the nature of the evidence it is hard to see what else they could be. The question is whether they are plausible speculations.

Again and again, Traill questions Schliemann’s veracity; the effect is to portray him as a thoroughly mendacious man. But it is easy for an accumulation of vague suspicions to give a misleadingly black impression, and we need to ask if this is what has happened here. The problem may be illustrated from a few cases where perhaps not a great deal is at stake. While still an unknown businessman, Schliemann claimed to have had a private meeting with the President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, lasting an hour and a half. Traill declares that he must have made it up. But Moorehead is able to cite other examples of European visitors amazed by the informality of the White House and the accessibility of the President at this period. Of course, Schliemann may have exaggerated the time that he spent with the President, but few people are able to judge time accurately.

Another case concerns Schliemann’s divorce, for the sake of which he became an American citizen. He recorded in his diary that his lawyer had offered to procure the divorce for him quickly by “false certificates and perjury,” but he would have nothing to do with “such horrors.” This excites Traill’s indignation, because Schliemann had lied about his period of residence in the United States in order to get his citizenship. Indeed, Traill takes this as a particularly significant example of Schliemann’s hypocrisy; he was such an ingrained liar that he lied even to his private journal. But from the context it is clear that what he objected to was the concoction of a false story of adultery. Adultery was the only ground for divorce in the State of New York, and the lawyer had offered to fabricate the necessary evidence. Schliemann would have none of it and went to Indiana instead, where the law was more liberal. He was happy to lie about his residence, for a plain practical purpose, but not about adultery, another, more sensitive matter. That is not saintly behavior, but it is understandable, and not hypocritical.

Sometimes Traill is too harsh or rigid. In a memoir Schliemann claimed that even as a boy he had dreamed of digging up treasures in Germany and excavating Troy, and Traill retorts that he showed no interest in archaeology until his middle forties. But most children have many fantasies of what they will do when they are grown up, and it is only natural to recall the few of them that do come true (this is the habit of mind that astrologers are able to trade on).

Does it matter if parts of Traill’s case are weak or wrong? In some ways not, because other parts of it are strong. Schliemann wrote a vivid account of witnessing a great fire in San Francisco, but Traill argues that he got the story from newspapers, having been elsewhere at the time, and in this instance his argument appears to be sound. There is no doubt that Schliemann did embroider some parts of his early life story. Traill concedes that such embroidery was common in nineteenth-century memoirs—Hans Christian Andersen’s reminiscences offer one example—and it seems not much less venial than the raconteur improving an amusing anecdote. Schliemann pretended that his wife was with him at Troy when he made his most spectacular finds, while in reality she was in Athens, and the insouciance with which he confessed to the falsehood—he had wanted to stimulate and encourage her interest in archaeology, he said—confirm, if confirmation were needed, that he had a cavalier attitude to the truth.

But in one important respect the multiplication of speculative suspicions can be misleading, and has perhaps misled Traill himself. He is surely wrong to suggest that Schliemann was a pathological liar. On the contrary, he was a thoroughly practical liar, who lied when he had a sound motive for doing so. He was ruthless and unscrupulous but not a fantasist. Was he prepared to falsify his archaeological discoveries, his life’s work? The unhelpful conclusion must be that what we know of his general character gives us hardly any guidance with this question: we can say neither that he was a man of unshakable integrity nor that he was the kind of person who would freely tell falsehoods about the things that he cared about most.

Traill suggests that at Troy Schliemann hid some of his lesser finds and bought others from local inhabitants who had picked them up in various places, bundling them together with his main find to make the hoard seem more impressive. Traill also argues that Schliemann falsified the location at which he found the principal hoard. It was discovered outside the city wall, and was therefore probably part of a burial. But Schliemann wanted it to be Priam’s treasure, and the Priam of myth was killed in the sack of his city, not richly buried. On Traill’s account, his claim to have found the hoard inside the wall was a deliberate untruth.

Schliemann’s defenders reply that discrepancies in his accounts can be explained by haste, overwork, inexperience, inaccurate measurements, and a change of mind caused by a genuine puzzlement which persuaded him to describe the place at which the hoard was found as being a few yards to the north of where he had first put it. He gave different dates for the find, ranging from the end of May 1873 (the real date) to June 7, but here his motive, the defense argues, was not to falsify the archaeology but to deceive the Turks. Priam’s treasure was smuggled out on June 6th. Disappointingly, the verdict on all this has to be “not proven.” There are enough oddities to excite suspicion, but not enough to make a really firm case.

When we come to the excavations at Mycenae, Traill repeats the charges that Schliemann brought together different finds, falsely claiming that they had been in one place, and bought some of them from locals; he adds the more sensational suggestion that he may have planted fakes. These accusations relate principally to three of the shaft graves, numbers III, IV, and V, in each of which a fabulous array of treasures was found. Grave III contained three buried female bodies and a magnificent display of ornaments, including more than seven hundred gold discs. Grave IV contained several buried bodies, including three of males whose heads were covered with face masks of beaten gold. The burials in Grave V included two more bodies with golden masks, one of which has become known as the Mask of Agamemnon, though Schliemann himself never called it so. It is probably the most famous prehistoric object ever found in Europe.*

Traill suggests that most of the gold discs were faked and, more hesitantly, that the Mask of Agamemnon may have been. In the case of the discs the argument is implausible because the motive is lacking. On any account, Schliemann had made the most astounding discoveries; why then should he bother to use up a lot of gold on a very large number of comparatively uninteresting objects? The case of the masks is more complex. They fall into three types; let us label them A, B, and C. There are two masks of Type A, almost identical: these are flat, with closed eyes, engraved eyebrows forming a single arch, and with the chin not indicated. Another two masks belong to Type B: these are much heavier, with the gold beaten three-dimensionally around the face, open eyes, and some apparent attempt at realizing the individual character of the faces. Type C is represented by the Mask of Agamemnon alone; unlike all the others it has beard and moustache, the nose projects strongly, and there is a strange slit along the middle of the eyes, as though they were being represented as both open and closed. Its aesthetic quality is also far higher than that of all the others.

Traill maintains that the differences between the masks are so great that an art critic without previous knowledge would probably reckon that Types A and C came from the same culture a hundred years or more apart, while Type B came from a different culture altogether. He also finds it suspicious that one of the Type B masks was found in Grave IV, the other in Grave V. The argument seems exaggerated; the trouble with it is that it tries to prove too much. Unless at least three of the masks were forged—which nobody is suggesting—we simply have to accept that the Mycenean masks diverged in character. Nothing like them has been found anywhere else in Greece, and they are evidently special objects, made for royal burials; it is therefore extremely unlikely that they could have been found elsewhere and planted in the shaft graves. Archaeologists agree that the shaft graves were reopened and used for new burials, and so the division of the Type B masks between Graves IV and V is not suspicious.

In the case of Type C—the Mask of Agamemnon—Traill can point to some disconcerting oddities. It is strange that this mask alone should be bearded. He also notes the curiously nineteenth-century flavor of the “imperial,” or tuft, under the mouth and the “handlebars” at the ends of the moustache, not found elsewhere in Mycenean art. He states firmly that the handlebars were an afterthought and that “the addition was rather crudely effected” (either in the 1870s or in the middle of the second millennium BC). He indicates three possibilities: that the mask is genuine, that it is a fake, and that it is ancient but altered after discovery. This is one of the most celebrated objects to come out of the ancient world, and generations have found it powerfully evocative. Should we now confront the painful possibility that it is bogus?

On the whole, scholars and scientists are too reluctant to suspect forgery, as the history of archaeology and art history well shows. The Encyclopedia Britannica once used a bronze horse from the Metropolitan Museum as an example of Etruscan art; it was subsequently proved on metallurgical grounds to be a fake. The archaic kouros which was intended to be the star exhibit of the Getty Museum’s collection of classical antiquities is now dismissed by most art historians. The oldest extant piece of Latin, according to standard works of reference, is a four-word inscription on a gold fibula. But it is not as old as it used to be: there is now wide though not universal acceptance for the view that the inscription dates from the nineteenth century. An Italian scholar, Federico Zeri, has recently revived an older suggestion that one of the most admired works of Greek sculpture, the Ludovisi Throne—“that isolated masterpiece,” as Kenneth Clark once called it—is a nineteenth-century forgery. Though the experts have waved the idea away with some scorn, perhaps it should be taken more seriously, given the work’s anomalous character, unknown provenance, and curiously modern charm.

The will to believe is a powerful weapon in the counterfeiter’s armory. The Piltdown Man skull was a success because it provided the missing link that everyone was looking for. In Lübeck there was rejoicing after the Second World War when some medieval wall paintings were found in the cathedral—masterpieces of German art, to revive the pride of a defeated nation. Even the presence of turkeys in the paintings—supposedly dating from before Columbus—did not immediately reveal the obvious truth: some other explanation must surely be possible; perhaps the Norsemen had found America after all.

The will to believe has also assisted the literary forger. In 1991 the distinguished ancient historian Robin Lane Fox announced the apparent rediscovery of a thrilling Egyptian document confirming his own skeptical view of the Gospels’ historicity; apparently it had been published in 1875 in the supplement to the Proceedings of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences, but its importance had not been noticed. Of course, this volume proved not to exist, but even the presence of the name Batson D. Sealing as finder of the alleged supplement did not alert the historian to the certainty that he was being gulled. More recently still, H.C. Robbins Landon, no less, hailed the unearthing of several lost Haydn sonatas. Asked in an interview if they could be fakes, he dismissed the possibility; they were too quirky and unexpected to be by anyone but the master. (Others thought them not quirky, just bad.) This case shows how the forger can find himself in a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation: it is taken as a proof of authenticity that the new find is just what you would expect, and a proof of authenticity that it is not.

Perhaps the most surprising success enjoyed by a forger was Hugh Trevor-Roper’s authentication of the Hitler Diaries, in view of the extreme prima facie unlikelihood that they could be genuine; he complained later that he had not been given enough time to examine them. This case is interesting for what it reveals about the psychology of deception. What happens seems to be something like this. People say, “You are the expert, you must be able to tell us the answer.” The expert thinks, “Yes, I am the expert, I must have the answer”—and he gives it, even though he ought to know that he has insufficient data. We laymen need to realize how fallible the experts are, and in the case of the ancient world how little we can know with absolute certainty. Even our mastery of Latin and Greek is at best imperfect. The best students of a modern language may so immerse themselves in the country where it is spoken as to attain a nearly perfect knowledge; but you cannot go and work as an au pair for Pericles. Received opinions about the prehistoric period are likely to be especially frail.

So we should not be afraid to entertain the possibility that even so famous an object as the Mask of Agamemnon is a forgery. But is it? I have looked at it in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens as carefully as I could, and I was unable to persuade myself that I saw the handlebars of the moustache as the crude addition which Traill says they are. The hairs are represented in conventionalized form by grooves cut in the metal. None of these grooves extends from the central part of the moustache into the handlebars; instead, the handlebars have their own grooves. But the beard is treated with the same technique of short grooves, which therefore does not seem in itself suspect. The nose is a little dented toward the left of the face, and its right cheek is slightly distorted in relation to the left; both effects appear to have been caused by the pressure of a very heavy weight over a period of time. In other words, if the mask is a forgery, the forger was pretty subtle. If Traill is nonetheless right about the handlebars, we might consider the possibility that the mask was overenthusiastically restored. It was never a secret that some restorations were carried out: Fitton’s The Discovery of the Bronze Age illustrates a gold goblet, called by Schliemann “the cup of Nestor,” both in the squashed state in which it was found and after it was straightened out.

Fakers may have one or more of four motives: money, fame, the desire to prove a case, and hoaxing, the sheer pleasure of deception. The first and last of these can be ruled out in Schliemann’s case. Does that leave him with motive enough? It is hard to fathom. We have to suppose that while making the most sensational discoveries ever in Greek archaeology, he should have said to himself, “No, this is still not quite enough; I must arrange for an even better mask.” That strains credibility. It is also difficult to imagine how he could have had the opportunity to acquire the gold, have the mask made, and plant it, particularly since he was under the watchful eye of a Greek official who detested him. We must surely conclude that the mask is genuine. According to Traill, its age can be determined by metallurgical tests which would not damage it; perhaps they should be carried out.

As for Schliemann’s career as a whole, much must remain uncertain. His egotism is permanently commemorated in the gleaming neoclassical mausoleum, designed by Ernst Ziller, which dominates the First Cemetery of Athens. Above the columns, an inscription, in Greek, reads, “To Schliemann the Hero,” and an elegiac couplet below, approved by the great man himself, commands the passer-by to follow his example. The frieze depicts various scenes of heroic endeavor: Agamemnon sacrificing a bull, the Greeks and Trojans fighting over the body of Patroclus, Odysseus slaying the suitors, and Schliemann directing his excavations. Gazing at these images of glorious deeds old and new, we may ask ourselves the child’s question, “But is it true?”

  1. *

    There is an unfortunate slip on Traill’s page 163, where the Mask of Agamemnon is stated to have come from Grave IV. The clearest account of the finds, more lucid than Traill’s, is in J. Lesley Fitton’s The Discovery of the Greek Bronze Age (Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 85ff. She also has good photographs of two of the masks; the plates in Traill are so small and blurry as to be almost useless.