Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer who dug for Troy

The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer who dug for Troy

Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrator:  Robert Byrd 
For ages 12 to and up
Candlewick Press, 2006   ISBN: 978-0763622831

Heinrich Schliemann liked to tell stories – about himself. When his own life story was not quite to his liking he made up stories which he felt were more in keeping with his personality and his station in life.

Heinrich came from very humble beginnings and had to build a life for himself from the bottom up. As a young man he traveled from Germany to Amsterdam where he ran errands for the businessmen in town. In his spare time he studied, learning languages as fast as he could. In time he got a bookkeeping job and when he heard that his employers needed someone to help with trade with Russia he taught himself the language in just six weeks. By 1846 he was the agent for the company in St. Petersburg and he was soon on his way to becoming a very successful businessman.

In a remarkably short period of time Heinrich became a millionaire. He married a Russian lady but the marriage was not a success and both Heinrich and his wife were very unhappy. To distract himself from this situation Heinrich continued to make money and to learn languages. It was when he started to learn Greek that he realized that he wanted a change in his life. He retired from the business world and decided to travel. During his travels he became particularly attracted to the study of early human civilizations.

From the time when he was a boy Heinrich was fascinated by the story of Troy as described by Homer in the Iliad. Heinrich was convinced that Homer had existed and that the events as described in the Iliad had taken place. In 1868 he began to visit the places mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. He ended up in the Turkish village of Bunarbashi, which many people considered to be the place where Troy’s remains lay. After a brief test and digging session Heinrich moved on to a mound on the plain of Hissarlik. An archaeologist called Frank Calvert had already suggested this site as a possibility and he gave Heinrich a great deal of helpful advice.

After getting the necessary permits Heinrich began to dig. Unfortunately he did not do so in a careful and professional manner and as a result much of the mound was damaged as he dug down through it. It soon became clear that many cities had been built on top on one another. Which, if any, of the cities was the Troy of Priam and Paris? Heinrich was convinced that one of the cities was the Troy of Homer. He would not consider that he could be wrong and he was quite willing to lie and steal to prove his point. In the end he did both, and alienated a good portion of the archeological community in the process.

In this fascinating biography the author makes no excuses for a man who not only told colorful lies all his life, but who also stole priceless national treasures and who was manipulative and quite unrepentant. He was completely unscientific in his approach, trying to make his findings fit his beliefs. He also was a hopeless archeologist when he worked without the help of professionals, causing untold damage to the mound in Hissarlik.

However, there is something about this man which is appealing, and the author manages to capture Schliemann’s childlike enthusiasm and determination. He will not give up on his dream, and because of his persistence valuable information about Bronze Age history is discovered.

This is a wonderfully written book with interesting informational boxes which compliment the text scattered throughout. Several timelines and Robert Byrd’s unique illustrations break up the text nicely.