11 February 2008

Book Review: The Tomb of Agamemnon by Cathy Gere

The Tomb of Agamemnon The tomb of Agamemnon - and possibly also Agamemnon himself - exists only in legend. Not that that stopped nineteenth-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann claiming to have found it (and its mummified occupant) along with the burial sites of various other Homeric figures. Schliemann’s application of mythology to archaeology was only one of the faces put on Mycenae along its journey from ancient supremacy to modern tourism

Before picking up this book I’d never heard of the (so-called) tomb of Agamemnon, and of Schliemann only as the excavator of Troy. The most fascinating thing was the description of Victorian methods of archaeology. They were actually somewhat horrifying, with crews being ordered to dig down to the layer of interest with blithe disregard for any relics that might be in the way, and the hastily-gathered evidence being forced to fit the legends. Not to mention the wholesale removal of anything of interest, from which Mycenae was saved only by virtue of its ruins being constructed of blocks too large to move. Schliemann himself sounds to have been little more pleasant than his methods, more adventurer than scientist, and it was he who linked the notion of a ruling class of Aryan Greeks to a certain ancient Mycenaean symbol - the swastika. Needless to say, the idea of an Aryan Greek master race evaporated after the Second World War. People seem to have had a hard time deciding quite what to make of Mycenae, but the account of their varying ideas makes for interesting reading.

Rating: B

1 comment:

Heather said...

Sounds very interesting. I'll have to get a copy of this book.


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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776