The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Priam's Treasure

There's a famous story in the life of Heinrich Schliemann, the famed archeologist and excavator of Troy, involving his discovery of "Priam's Treasure." Apparently, he saw a glint of gold peaking out from under the dirt. Not trusting his workers, he called them away and then extracted it himself with his wife. They had to rush to dig it up and gather it all together in her shawl since an overhanging wall was about to collapse. The ultimate result was a king's ransom of precious artifacts, which Schliemann dubbed "Priam's Treasure." What's most interesting about this story is that the wholes story is a fabrication. Schliemann's wife was not present at the time, and these artifacts were not found in one place at one time. Schliemann made up the story.

In fact, Schliemann had a had a habit of making up stories. It has even been documented that in his journal, he recorded stories (ostensibly only to himself) that were made up or significantly altered. It makes one wonder, what he was doing. Was Schliemann lying to himself? Was he rehearsing and refining his stories in his journals? Or did he just remember the stories poorly and indulge in a habit of embellishing with details, when he couldn't remember?

From personal experience, I can say that sometime there are critical details of a faded memory that you sort of have to add back in to make it into a good story. Certainly, it'd be better if you remembered exactly how it happened, but second best is to add a detail or two that's in the spirit of the original event, though maybe not quite historically accurate. Thucydides admitted in his history to simply writing the speeches he puts in his characters mouth himself, either reconstructing them from what details he could gather, or simply making them up based on what seemed appropriate for the occasion.

On the other hand, it's also true that our memory isn't so reliable as it seems. Stories are transformed in the process of telling and retelling them. Language has a way of intruding on our memory. We remember certain things non-linguistically with astonishing accuracy, such as a person's face, their voice, even their smell. But when we try to put memories in words, it can tend to distort, the original memory, especially with memories that aren't as clear. Just as reading a story elicits images in our head, the recounting of a story can elicit images just as much based on (if not more so) the description of the event as on the original event. After many retellings of a story it can move further and further away from its original content. Something to bear in mind as one tries to recount one's memory.

What we do know ultimately about Priam's Treasure, is that Schliemann smuggled it out of the Ottoman Empire to Germany. Part of it was returned to Turkey, but most of it was kept by Germany. It disappeared after World War II, but eventually resurfaced in Russia, as the Russians had stolen it during their 1945 invasion of Berlin.

No comments:

Post a Comment