Friday, November 16, 2007

Archaeobooks Review: The Fall of Troy
Peter Ackroyd belongs to an-other age. The author of more than a dozen novels, as well as volumes of poetry, plays and miscellaneous works of nonfiction, he recalls a time when it was commonplace for writers not merely to be prolific but to exhibit a sometimes bewildering catholicity of interest. . . .Now, in "The Fall of Troy," he turns his attention to the 19th-century German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, whose quest to discover the ancient city of Troy becomes the occasion for a novel that is engaging, disturbing, intellectually complex and just a little kitschy.

. . .

"The Fall of Troy" carries this idea one step further. To put the matter in archaeological terms, it exposes three strata. An avid admirer of Homer, Heinrich Obermann (Ackroyd's stand-in for Schliemann) seeks to unearth, literally, the world about which Homer wrote, which was for Homer himself already ancient. "We are not in the 19th century here," he tells a colleague. "We are much further back." Ackroyd's portrayal of Obermann is the triumph of "The Fall of Troy." A wealthy German businessman whose mercantile adventurings have taken him to Russia and America, he has revered the Greek world since his childhood. Archaeology interests him only to the degree that it is a means of finding evidence for the truth of Homer's epics.

Seems like an interesting book. One quote from it struck me: His passion for the ancient world brings it alive for him, and for Sophia, who wonders, upon examining a recently discovered bowl: "What Trojan woman last saw it - last used it, for milk or honey? She would have placed her hands just so, as Sophia placed hers around it. There was a union between them, one living and one dead."

Charming. Often we're too busy doing our regular excavation work and worrying about whatever scientific aspect of research we're doing to engage in bits of fancy like that, but it is one of the niceties of this profession.