SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).
SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).
SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).
SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).
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SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).

Autograph letter signed ('H. Schliemann') to Georg Petrus Heller, Athens, 27 January 1872.

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SCHLIEMANN, Heinrich (1822-1890).
Autograph letter signed ('H. Schliemann') to Georg Petrus Heller, Athens, 27 January 1872.
Three pages, 130 x 200mm. With Heller’s retained copies of a letter to Schliemann, 29 March 1872 (‘... if the French do not want to see, Apollo himself cannot give them light …’), and of his article in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung on 17 January 1872 about Schliemann’s work, and related printed ephemera. Provenance: Stargardt, Berlin, 12/13 March 2019, lot 296.

A detailed account of Schliemann’s earliest excavations at Troy, the most famous of all archaeological discoveries. A remarkable, early letter, only two months after Schliemann’s first season of excavations, pre-dating any published claim by Schliemann that he had discovered Troy, and including a highly significant early reference to the swastika. In acknowledging Heller’s article about Schliemann’s excavations — in which Heller deciphered one of the discovered inscriptions as the ancient Greek word 'Ilieon': of (or: from) Troy, written in Phoenician characters — Schliemann writes that ‘your translation of the inscription I found in Troy, published in Augsburger Zeitung, pleased the whole educated world, and especially me’. Despite the inability of French orientalist and Semitic scholar Ernest Renan to decipher the inscription, Schliemann himself has 'no doubt' that at least two of the letters in the inscription are indeed Phoenician, and he affirms that 'the inscription you translated dates back at least 1000 BC.' Schliemann goes on to communicate previously unpublished details of his discoveries at Troy, and notably discusses his discoveries of the symbols of the cross and swastika:

'I found the cross, which was a religious symbol of the greatest importance, in various forms in the decorations of small terracotta elements and also on vases from a depth of 3 to 10 metres. All this dates back at least up to 1,200 years before Christ, which epoch I think I have now definitely reached ... Very often I also found the character [swastika symbol] standing alone, which is in Bournouf’s Lexicon of the Sanskrit language: suastika … or symbol of good wishes’.

The letter concludes with significant information about Schliemann’s proposed excavation plans for a second season at Troy, especially noteworthy given the later criticism of Schliemann’s cavalier record-keeping: 'Since my large trench or incision in Hisarlik has become far too narrow at the depth I have now reached, I have to widen it by 4 metres and thus have the opportunity to dig up to 10 m through the innumerable layers of rubble again. At the same time I will continue digging my only 60m long incision deeper & I am immensely excited to see what I will find in those colossal ruins I encountered at 10m depth!'.

Schliemann’s first season of excavations at Hisarlik had ended in late November 1871, and although he sent regular reports to German and Greek newspapers, he had not yet unequivocally claimed to have discovered Troy. The claim was however made on his behalf by the pastor and amateur philologist Georg Petrus Heller, the recipient of the present letter, in an article in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung of 7 January 1872. The cultural significance of Schliemann's discussion of the swastika in the letter can scarcely be overstated: Schliemann in fact explicitly discussed the swastika symbol with the French pioneer of Aryanism, Emile-Louis Burnouf, and these discussions undoubtedly fed into Burnouf’s claim that the swastika was the essential symbol of the Aryan race. A direct line can be therefore be traced from Schliemann’s discovery of the swastika at Troy to the later Nazi co-option of the symbol, and this letter — predating by several months any published statement by Schliemann about his swastika discoveries — lies therefore at the very origin of the swastika’s cultural import for Europe.

The story of Heller’s article and his proclamation of the discovery of Troy is relatively unknown, even to professional archaeologists. Though Schliemann himself points at it in a letter of 26 April 1872 — 'I think the rumour that I discovered it [Troy] has arisen from a translation a German scholar has made of a small inscription I found here in November last at a depth of 8-1/2 metres; for he translated it Ilieon (i.e. of Troy)' — this present letter remains formally unpublished. Heller’s 29 March 1872 letter to Schliemann, here present in a retained copy, gives interesting details about the philological reasoning that led Heller to translate the inscription discovered by Schliemann as the ancient Greek name for Troy ('ILIEON'); and Heller also expresses his view that the 'cross' symbol Schliemann so frequently encountered was in fact the ancient letter 'Tau.' Schliemann and Heller exchanged letters only on this occasion, and this group of papers remained in the Heller family until only very recently.
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