sophia schliemann

Sophia Engastromenos, Heinrich Schliemanns wife, photographed wearing the “Jewels of Helen,” which her husband claimed to have discovered in the ruins of Troy. Around 1874.

Η Σοφία Εγκαστρωμένου,σύζυγος του Ερρίκου Σλίμαν φωτογραφίζεται φορώντας τα “κοσμήματα της Ελένης», τα οποία ισχυρίστηκε ο σύζυγός της ότι είχε ανακαλύψει στα ερείπια της Τροίας. Περίπου 1874.

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Mycenaean funeral mask, the so-called “Mask of Agamemnon”; Sophia Schliemann modelling jewelry found at Hisarlik.

Personal story: When I was a kid I had a book on sensational events from the last century (such as the Titanic sinking, the discovery of radium, the Cottingley fairies etc.) and one of my favorite chapters was on the Schleimann digs. It was the first time I ever saw these two very iconic images. I could not have been older than eight, and I’m not sure whether I had even been aware there was any possibility of a historical basis for those stories before. The book was a bit beyond me at that point, but I remember being fascinated by those pictures, and what they meant. It was the first time I consciously encountered something so old that it could actually be mythological, and the first time the sheer antiquity of something made me feel what I can only really describe as haunted; something almost like fear, but also exhilarating; wonder of the sort that sets your hair on end. I got the same feeling the first time I discovered Minoan bull-jumping frescoes not much later; I still get it whenever things are so old that there are no more answers to the questions about them, when they’re so old that the demarcations between history and myth fade to a mist. For me, the point where ancient, ancient history and myth-legend intersect is akin to magic. I’m not even sure why I’m as moved by it as I am, but to this day I can’t look at these pictures and not feel a touch of that first breathlessness and awe. I think that experience and those images are going to remain burned into my mind for the rest of my life. 

Sophia Schliemann wearing treasures recovered at Hisarlik, 1874 (b/w photo), German Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / Ancient Art and Architecture Collection Ltd. / The Bridgeman Art Library