The Extraordinary Dreamer

It all began in the mind of a little boy born in Neubukow, Germany. Heinrich Schliemann, (1822- 90) loved to hear Homer’s story of the siege of Troy and believed with all his heart that the walls of Troy existed if only someone could go and find and dig deep enough. He always worked hard, first at 14 years old as a grocer’s apprentice while studying for years, becoming proficient as a linguist. He spoke English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, German, Swedish and French. Finally, he learned Greek. As an adult, he went to Tsarist Russia where he became a millionaire. Finally, he made enough to begin his lifelong dream of digging for the city that was believed to be only a myth. He had been married to a Russian woman named; Ekaterina Lyschin and they had three children; Serge, Natalia, and Nadezhda. But, they separated and he migrated to California when it had just become a state in 1850. But, his dreams of finding Homer’s cities still burned deep in his mind and heart.

With a copy of the Iliad in his luggage, he traveled to Turkey where he spent two years battling the Ottoman authorities for permission to begin excavations. He argued with the authorities, insisting that nothing he found would end up in Turkish hands. After long and tedious negotiations the Turks decided that, ‘hey! This guy’s chasing rainbows, anyway. A Myth! Besides! He’s paid plenty for the permits.” So, they finally gave him the permission to start excavations. In the meantime he met and married a well educated and beautiful 17 year old Athenian archeologist, Sophia Engastromenos (1869) whose ambitions were just like Heinrich’s. They had two children, Agamemnon and Andromache. Keeping true to Homer’s writings the first excavation was Homer’s Troy where Hector fought against Achilles, who valiantly died fighting. Sophia shared his enthusiasm when Troy yielded examples of the beauty and intelligence of the people who lived there. When a huge cache of jewelry was unearthed, Heinrich requested Sophia pose for a photograph wearing those magnificent jewels, recorded and named, ‘Jewels of Helen of Troy’. The photograph can be seen by searching the internet under her name. With the assistance of his aide, Panayiotis Stamatakis, who recorded each item, they continued with fervor in Greece and unearthed Mycenae, home of Schliemann’s hero, Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks against the Trojans. There he found tombs and treasures that dazzled the eye and told of the life of ancient splendor and ease long lost and forgotten except in myth and song.  

He went to Ithaca in 1878 and then in 1881, Orchomenus Boetia and lastly, in Tiryns, 1884, where he completed and recorded findings there. It was in the great palace of Knossos that he uncovered many unknown facts, like the tradition of Bull fighting that was a favorite and popular sport where young boys and girls were trained to perform in the bull ring. Scenes of the sport were found in paintings on walls, like posters advertising the event; lifelike images in brownish red and gray.

He established archeology as the science that is known today. The Iliad in his luggage was never out of his sight. When he retired he wrote several books describing his discoveries and left an impressive collection of artifacts, collections, and records that can be found in various museums. Although he had a palatial house in Germany and Paris, they lived in their other house in Athens. Sophia preferred Athens and remained there while Heinrich continued to travel. Among his many awards, the Royal Gold Medal was most impressive. But, Heinrich Schliemann suffered an ear condition that caused him horrific suffering and he died on December 26, 1890 in Naples, Italy. He was taken to Greece and buried in a mausoleum in Athens. It was then Sophia went to live close to her children and grandson, Alexandros Melas, in Phaleron. Occasionally, she gave talks at the Royal Geographic Society in London. Although she enjoyed being in society, she also gave a lot of her time assisting the wounded soldiers from the war against the Turks. But, her heart began to fail her and she died in 1932 at 80. She was buried with her husband in the mausoleum located in the first cemetery of Athens. A large procession accompanied her to her final abode and the Greek flag was draped over her coffin.


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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