Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
6 minutes for reading

OH, LOVE: Heinrich Schliemann and his Beautiful Sophia, aka beautiful Helen

OH, LOVE: Heinrich Schliemann and his Beautiful Sophia, aka beautiful Helen
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Artwork by: Olena Burdeina (FA_Photo) via Photoshop


Heinrich Schliemann found the ruins of the legendary Troy, described by Homer, which few believed actually existed. He discovered the Mycenaean civilization. All this he did without any special education. There are more important things. First, faith — he believed Homer and others did not. Secondly, hope for success — he never lost it. And if you have faith and hope, how can you not have love? In this he was unusually lucky — though, on the slope of years, but as few people are lucky…

Have you ever seen a normal genius? No, of course not — he is abnormal just by being a genius. But if a person seems abnormal, he does not have to be a genius at all — maybe he is just a scandalizer, a braggart, a crazy dreamer, an antisocial type or an unhappy fool, crazy on a super-valuable idea.

To sort out without error, who of these guys is who, it is difficult for anyone, and beautiful ladies, who are often prone to illusions, in general, almost impossible. Is there any way to determine what the strange and wonderful manners of the object of the senses mean? What does it mean that he is not like everyone else? Whether he is better than everyone else and not immediately understood, or vice versa, and did not have time to escape from him… Reason is a poor helper here — if anything will help, only feelings. First of all, the best of feelings…

Listen to the love story of a Greek girl with a beautiful name Sophia (it means «wisdom») and poorly remembered in our linguistic environment surname Enostrogamenu. It is quite possible that without this love we would all be sure that no Homer ever existed, and «The Iliad» and «The Odyssey» were written by thousands of unknown poets, each on a line or two, or in general brought by aliens from the distant planet Krypton, and one of the most grandiose treasures on our planet would still lie in the ground. But love saved it, because love saves everything — so listen to this love story!


Генрих Шлиман — немецкий предприниматель и археолог, руководитель раскопок в Трое, Микенах, Коринфе
Heinrich Schliemann — German businessman and archaeologist, head of excavations in Troy, Mycenae, Corinth / wikipedia.org


In general, there lived a girl Sophia in a foolish and poor country with a wonderful history, and she lived a very dull and joyless life. Her father lost all his fortune, the family sat penniless, brothers and sisters were still the same people … In her kin was listed, however, quite a significant person, the very real archbishop, but the family was so bad, the tenth water on the sagebrush, and Sophia was a young lady modest and such a big shot just did not dare to disturb.

If Sophia had any joy in life, it was the beautiful history of her ancient homeland — Greece. She knew by heart all the myths, could speak Ancient Greek, and acquaintances only more ridiculed her — say, so she and die as an old maid, what man will be flattered by this scholarly miracle in feathers?

And thirty years earlier Sophia in German Mecklenburg was born a boy, clearly no less unhappy. His father was an utterly nightmarish man, chased out of his pastoral position for proven embezzlement, not to mention suspicion of far worse deeds…

He literally drove his son out of the house, and apprenticed him to a grocer for a stipend — more to drink! The poor boy turned barrels and hung groats, almost unable even to see his girlfriend, the charming Minna Meinke, about whom he later recalled that she was the only person who took him seriously.

Nevertheless, one good deed his father did for him — bought for a whole forty-five marks (a month of modest life for a peasant family), a luxurious edition of «The Iliad», and even with pictures! One of the pictures showed Troy burning.

«Where is it?» — the boy asked his father. — «No one knows», the man replied. And the child was indignant: «How can it be? There is bound to be something left of such huge walls — I will find it!» At him only laughed — all except Minna: she believed him … But what is there Troy — in the XIV century, a traveler from Europe was surprised to report in his notes that the city of Athens, known in antiquity, it turns out, still exists! Not everyone believed him either…

Soon the boy was chased away and grocer — he began to cough blood, unsuccessfully lifted a barrel of chicory. He walked to Hamburg, took a year-long accounting course there in a few days (he had enough abilities), sold his watch and bought a deck ticket for a ship sailing to America — what if they need an accountant there?

But the ship crashes on the rocks off the coast of Holland, the boy is miraculously rescued and finds himself in a strange country, without a single acquaintance, without a penny, without speaking Dutch (German is similar to Dutch, but no more than Bulgarian to Polish).


София Шлиман, урожденная София Энгастромену — греческая благотворительница и меценатка, археолог, вторая жена Генриха Шлимана, помощница его в деле раскопок. Она открыла одну из куполообразных гробниц в Микенах
Sophia Schliemann, born Sophia Engastromenou, was a Greek philanthropist and patron of the arts, an archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann’s second wife, and his excavation assistant. She discovered one of the domed tombs at Mycenae / nataliavogeikoff.com


He wanted to enlist as a soldier — they did not take him because of his health (and for nothing: for an unknown reason, after cold baths from ocean water, he had hemoptysis!). He had to sit with an outstretched hand under the church, but not for long — he almost instantly learned the language and found a job.

Our hero clearly enjoyed learning languages — he found his method, which is now, unfortunately, lost, and, without stopping, learned about two dozen major European languages, including Russian. It is said that he learned Russian from Barkov’s poems, and his first Russian-speaking interlocutors did not know how to answer him because of the abominable foul language.

This, of course, is a fake — in fact, it was even funnier: he had learned the language from Tilemahide by Trediakovsky and his outdated turns of phrase were hard to understand. Nevertheless, the Russian merchants with whom he spoke on behalf of his superiors understood what was wanted of them. He went on trade business to this obscure country, started a business there, and quickly became rich. Immediately he wrote home to his dear friend Minna: «Hurray, I am alive, healthy and rich, let’s get married and be happy!»

It was not Minna who replied, but her honorable father: what nonsense you are writing, Minna has long been married to a rich bauer and a worthy burgher, forget about her! Thus ended his childhood. But not The Iliad — for such great walls could not disappear without a trace!

He went all the way to California, where gold had just been found, but he did not dig holes and sift sand, but offered the gold diggers the services of an honest banker who would keep their loot. He spoke to almost anyone in his own language, never cheated anyone, earned respect and made more money than any gold prospector. And then he began to trade in indigo dye, necessary for soldiers’ uniforms — just as the Crimean War began and his goods became extremely popular.


Свадебная фотография Софии и Генриха Шлиман. Афины, 1869 год
Wedding photograph of Sophia and Heinrich Schliemann. Athens, September 24, 1869 / wikipedia.org


And then a fire broke out in the port of Memel (now Klaipeda), where all his goods were stored, and the whole port burned down! He rushed there to save something — and it turned out that only his warehouses had not burned down, he had not lost anything. Perhaps someone needed him after all… After the Crimean War, in which hardly anyone could boast of success, it turned out that he was one of the few who benefited from it. Here he is, the new rich, successful merchant Heinrich Schliemann — now his name is known to many — what next?

Minna is lost forever, and the man needs a wife, and he marries the daughter of a famous lawyer from St. Petersburg. The marriage was not the happiest — up to the fact that in the diaries Schliemann found a phrase: «After a year of my marriage, I was forced to forcefully produce my children». Do you even understand what it means? I do not understand and do not want to understand… Nevertheless, there are already three children, and it becomes quite unclear that this has to do with the girl Sophia from Greece. Now it’s going to come to that.

A well-established and prosperous life is not easy to change, but Schliemann decides to do it. After all, he was in California the day it joined the United States — so technically he is an American citizen! So, he goes to Indiana and opens a business there, but his wife and children refuse to come to him — that’s it, he will never see them again.


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Heinrich took care of their material well-being, but the divorce he received in America is not valid in the Russian Empire. And he does not care — the life of a businessman is over, it is time to look for the walls of Troy, they are so big that even now you can find them, and otherwise why live at all?

He comes to Greece and writes to one of his few acquaintances in this country (imagine, what a coincidence — it is the same Archbishop Vimpos, a distant relative of the girl Sophia!): so, and so, in my forty-eight without a wife is bad, help me find. I don’t need anything special — just as long as she was young, strong, beautiful, hardy, decent, sweet, knew Greek history and literature, spoke Ancient Greek, and a couple of dozen other little things, the rest as it turns out … «He’s obviously crazy», — thinks Vimpos and immediately remembers his poor relative, whom only a madman and marry … Maybe it’s just the same madman?

At their first meeting, Heinrich began examining Sophia in his quite decent Greek. He asked her to read something from The Odyssey — she knew large chunks of it by heart; he asked her in what year the Emperor Hadrian visited Athens — she answered without a hitch!

The most difficult question remained, and he asked it: «Why do you agree to marry me?» She answered quite honestly, «We are very poor, no one will take me without a dowry, and my parents said you are rich…» At this the examination came to an end — Heinrich ran away in panic and embarrassment. He probably lay awake all night wondering what he should do. And in the morning, he put on a suit and went to Sophia’s parents to offer their daughter his hand and heart.

There was no problem with the parents — they firmly decided that Heinrich, first of all, a rich man, and secondly, an idiot, and both of these characteristics suited them. Take it, for God’s sake, it’s almost free, except for some trifles: 150,000 francs worth of diamonds. It’s a trifle for you — put it here, please, in this drawer. Oh, thank you, everything is all right now, take your dear wife, even if you pickle her in a barrel — she’s yours now! Sofia, our dear daughter, goodbye forever, we’ll never see you again, ugh, ugh, so as not to jinx it, how well everything has settled down!


Фото раскопок Шлимана в Трое. Судя по узкоколейной дороге с вагонетками, около 1890 года
A photo of Schliemann’s excavations at Troy. Judging by the narrow-gauge road with trolleys, about 1890 / wikipedia.org


By the way, Sofia is really not so bad — her husband nurtures her, clothes her, entertains her, shows her European museums, reads Homer to her (she understands, after all), but the time comes to say goodbye to the comforts — they go to present-day Turkey, to Hisarlik Hill: it corresponds almost exactly to the description of the area in the Iliad.

Heinrich is mocked — to think that he believes Homer, but what about King Gorokh or, say, Little Red Riding Hood, should we look for Troy in them too? There is no city under Hisarlik! And Schliemann starts excavations there, and it turns out that there is a city, and not just one — at least nine cities, ancient below, and what is newer, on top of them! They found a lot of amazing things, it was time to rest and comprehend everything — on July 15, 1873 the work was to end.

Exactly the day before, Heinrich watched the progress of the work — Sophia, of course, was nearby. Suddenly he quietly said to her: «Tell the workers at once that they can go to rest! Tell them it’s my birthday and that I’ve been working so hard that I’ve only just remembered. Let them go, promise to pay them for today as for a full day, but let them all go home!»

The workers thanked the generous master and went to rest. Her husband sent Sophia for a shawl, and when she returned, he was already digging up jewel after jewel: gold pieces, lapis lazuli axes, precious stones, ivory, masterpieces of jewelry art… All this was wrapped in a shawl and secretly carried into his house.

Heinrich put the jewelry they found on Sophia and probably thought that beautiful Helen looked much the same. This treasure is called Priam’s hoard, although the times of the creation of these treasures are not exactly Homeric. But only the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb are worth more — if one can compare at all….

They lived together for quite a long time, and far from always serene. Schliemann was a man clearly overly meticulous, sometimes frankly tedious and inclined to broadcast from the heights — in the family it is annoying. Even worse was the fact that 30 years of age difference led aging Heinrich to the extremely stupid and have no basis for the slightest idea that the young wife can find someone else, and forced him to scandalously put forward more and more ridiculous accusations.


«Сокровища Приама» — предметы из клада Трои, обнаруженные Генрихом Шлиманом. Коллекция была разделена в 1880 году
»The Priam’s Treasure» are objects from the treasure of Troy discovered by Heinrich Schliemann. The collection was divided in 1880 / wikipedia.org


But Sofia had already become different — not a provincial streetwalker with oddities, but the wife of a remarkable archaeologist, with whom emperors and presidents talked on equal terms, who was admired by scientists all over the planet, except for archaeologists like him — they scolded him for his barbaric methods and were right in everything, except for one small thing: he worked with phenomenal successes (Troy is not the only one), and they — no!

But the breakup did not seem to start: they argued and made up again, and so the whole 21 years of their marriage, as one day — from the first day to the last. Schliemann died suddenly, fainted in the street. As he was dressed in the worst clothes, he was taken to a hospital for the poor.

Only when they found many gold coins in a pouch around his neck, they sent for the best doctors, but time was already lost. At his funeral his wife and their two children, daughter Andromache and son Agamemnon, stood by his coffin. I suspect that until the last minute of his life, Schliemann was convinced that Homer was still alive. In a way, he was right…

And the Priam’s Treasure is now exhibited in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow — it almost died during the storming of Berlin, but it was found, taken out and kept in complete secrecy, not quite clear why, until the end of the USSR. What will happen to him in the future is not so important: he has returned to people again, and if he disappears again, it is quite possible that someone’s great love and devotion will help him to return again. Isn’t that the main purpose of love — to find the jewels hidden from everyone and reveal them to the world?

Look at the world more closely, and if love opens your eyes, you will see great treasures — just as Sophia saw them when she looked at an old, ugly man who was only five foot six and saw that he was a genius!

May she be rewarded for all the difficulties she had to endure during her life with this jealous and boring man — they were hers, and the fruits of his discoveries now belong to all of us. But Sophia’s life was not unhappy — there were many beautiful things in it. First of all, love.


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