Thursday, October 25, 2018

Heinrich Schliemann Converted To Hellenism On His Death Bed

Heinrich Schliemann was the 19th century archaeologist who proved to humanity that the world of Homer existed when he unearthed the ruins of Troy and Mycenae. Being born and raised in Germany, he was no doubt heavily steeped in Christianity, but he also developed a great love for the ancient stories of Greece, especially Homer's Iliad. Becoming obsessed with it, he declared that one day he would set out and prove to everyone that the Age of Heroes and the legendary citadel were real. 

Archaeologists and historians of his time laughed at him, being sure that Troy was barely even a myth. But around 1871, on a deserted plain in northwest Turkey, following the details in Homer's writings, Schliemann and his workers began digging and eventually brought to the surface the ruins of Troy and its many levels throughout its ancient life. Although some of his statements and conclusions about the site were inaccurate, such as the mistaken dating of the Treasure of Priam, the site itself was irrefutable proof that there was a Bronze Age city on this spot, and that it perished in war. Other scholars didn't even believe anything existed there at all before Schliemann. So his career was far more successful than the willful ignorance that would have remained with archaeology had he not pursued his visions.

Heinrich loved travel and exploration, and he learned several languages throughout his life, including Greek. It seems that the more and more he pursued his dream of finding the world of Homer, the more he fell in love with ancient Greek religion itself. He married his final wife, Sophia, in 1869. She was a Greek Christian, but Schliemann wasn't too enthralled with the idea of raising his children in her religion. He didn't even give his children Christian or modern names. Rather, he gave them the ancient Homeric names of Andromache and Agamemnon. It took a lot of consideration for him to allow his wife to finally baptize the children, and even at the ceremony, Schliemann placed a copy of the Iliad upon them and recited lines from the text.

1890 would be the last year of Schliemann's life. He developed a growth in his ear, which he underwent surgery for back home in Germany. Although the doctors initially declared that they had removed the infection and growth, it's obvious that they either didn't get it all, or it returned following Schliemann's reluctance to stay in bed. He instead continued his work, which he pursued until he could no longer stand. As he lay dying, as with many people, the thoughts of religion and prayer came to mind, but he was fighting to decide whether he should pray to the Christian god, or to Zeus. In a final letter to his son, however, he wrote "I pray" that Father Zeus and Pallas Athene will give you many days of happiness throughout your life. The official cause of death was cholesteatoma. Schliemann was buried in Athens, Greece in a magnificent ancient Greek style tomb. His body still rests there today in the First Cemetery. 

Schliemann's final religion was never officially listed as Hellenism or Hellenic Polytheism, but it's obvious to me that he made his choice as to who he would pray in his final days.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Work Cited:
Durant, Will, The Life of Greece, Simon and Schuster INC, New York, 1939. Print. (pp. 25-26).

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