The Mask of Troy
Copyright © 2010 David Gibbins
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First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
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eISBN : 978 0 7553 7431 1
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Table of Contents
I am most grateful to my editors, Martin Fletcher at Headline and Caitlin Alexander at Bantam Dell; to my agent, Luigi Bonomi of LBA; to Gaia Banks, Alison Bonomi, Darragh Deering, Sarah Douglas, Sam Edenborough, Mary Esdaile, Harriet Evans, Kristin Fassler, Emily Furniss, Tessa Girvan, David Grogan, Jenny Karat, Celine Kelly, Nicki Kennedy, Kerr Macrae, Alison Masciovecchio, Tony McGrath, Jane Morpeth, Peter Newsom, Amanda Preston, Jenny Robson, Jane Selley, Rebecca Shapiro, Jo Stansall, Nita Taublib, Adja Vucicevic, Katherine West, Leah Woodburn and Theresa Zoro; to the Hachette representatives internationally; and to my many other publishers around the world.
I owe special thanks to Oya Alpar and my Turkish publishers, Altin Kitaplar, for inviting me to the excellent Istanbul Book Fair, which led me to return for several inspirational days to Troy while I was writing this novel. I’m grateful to my brother Alan for joining me on that trip and for his photography, as well as for his work on my websitewww.davidgibbins.com
. I first visited Troy and Mycenae in the early 1980s with help from the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, the British School of Archaeology in Athens, the Society of Antiquaries of London and the University of Bristol, where I was fortunate to study archaeology under scholars who were at the forefront of research on the Aegean Bronze Age and the world of Homer, and who themselves were only a generation or so removed from the ‘Heroic Age’ of archaeology that began with Heinrich Schliemann. I have also been fortunate to participate in many ancient shipwreck excavations in the Mediterranean, and my research into the maritime archaeology of the Aegean owes much to a Fellowship awarded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust while I was a graduate student at Cambridge University.
I am extremely grateful to Ann Gibbins for all of her help and advice; to my father, who gave me the 1806 edition of Pope’s
The Iliad of Homer
as a graduation present; to Angie, for Plato and the Hero and much else; and to our lovely daughter Molly, who had her first proper view of the undersea world through a diving mask while I was writing this book, off the north-west coast of Wales.
I give you a tablet of war; I give you a tablet of peace
After a letter from King Tudhaliyas IV of the Hittites to the Assyrian king, late thirteenth century BC
His sharpen’d spear let every Grecian wield,
And every Grecian fix his brazen shield;
Let all excite the fiery steeds of war,
And all for combat fit the rattling car.
This day, this dreadful day, let each contend;
No rest, no respite, till the shades descend;
Till darkness, or till death, shall cover all:
Let the war bleed, and let the mighty fall.
, Book II, lines 382-94,
eighth century BC or earlier,
translated by Alexander Pope, 1715-20
Mycenae, Greece, 28 November 1876
he man stepped off the upper rung of the ladder on to the edge of the excavation pit, his shoes crunching on a pile of ancient potsherds the workmen had shovelled aside a few days before. In the moonlight the rough-hewn masonry around him glistened, as if the great citadel of the Bronze Age were new again. He swept his hand over his thinning hair, and pushed his pince-nez spectacles up his nose. He reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out his fob watch. Four a.m. He and Sophia had been here almost three hours, and it was now less than an hour before first light.
Before the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn
. He closed his eyes, thrilling at the epithet. Homer was never far from his thoughts here, when he was alone among the shadowy ruins with his wife, astonished at what they had found.
Well-built Mycenae, rich in gold
. It had been his dream since discovering Troy five years before, since he and Sophia had secretly made the find that would one day astonish the world, to come here to this other great bastion of the Bronze Age, this citadel of the king of kings, to find the key that would allow him to stand in front of the world and reveal the truth. Only then would people know it was not treasure that had driven him to search for the reality of the Trojan War, but the salvation of humanity.
The key that could save the world from Armageddon
He shoved the watch back in his pocket, and saw that he was streaked with mud. He would get Sophia to brush him down thoroughly before they returned, to remove all evidence that they had been up here. He was still wearing his dinner clothes from the evening before. They had planned to resume digging the following day, in a final effort before the excavation was closed down for the season. They had invited the Greek inspector to join them for a lavish celebratory meal, and had plied him with the most expensive wines and brandy until he had collapsed in a stupor. They had stolen up here afterwards, with nothing more than a spluttering oil lamp and a trowel. He had been waiting for this chance. Sophia had seen something in the first royal shaft grave several weeks before, in the final hours before the storm broke and halted the excavation of that tomb. He had made sure one of them had been there always, in the grave circle, personally taking the excavation deep into the bedrock below the citadel, at the place where all his instincts told him they would find what he had come here for, the final ingredient in the revelation that would soon astound humankind.
For now, what they found would be their secret. The world would know only that he, Heinrich Schliemann, maverick millionaire, genius linguist, myth-lover, had come here after discovering Troy, on his relentless quest for the king who set the war in motion, the war that so many had dismissed as legend. He smiled wryly to himself. He would give them what they wanted. He peered cautiously around. In front of him were the upright slabs that formed the grave circle, enclosed by the massive ruined walls of the citadel that rose behind him in the cleft between the mountains. Walls built not by men but by Cyclopes, one-eyed monsters the men of Mycenae had yoked like slaves to create their rock-girt fortress. He half believed the myth himself, marvelling at the colossal size of the stones that lay where they had been placed more than three thousand years before. Yet it was not gods and giants he sought, but the deeds of men, real men, flesh and blood: what men could do, how high they could rise, how far they could fall. And the men he sought were not the heroes of myth. They were the shapers of history.
‘Heinrich! You must come at once!’ Sophia’s voice came from the darkness below. Schliemann turned and stared into the excavation trench, his heart pounding. Could this be it? They had found treasure already, unimaginable quantities of it, revealed to gasping onlookers over the weeks of the excavation: gold diadems, jewellery, weapons, a golden goblet he had loudly proclaimed to be the cup of Nestor, the very cup Homer said had been brought before the Greeks on the plain of Troy. But it was not treasure they were looking for now. They were looking for the deed of a king; for what a king had hidden. He peered again, and saw only a faint golden glow at the base of the ladder, where Sophia was working at the bottom of the rock-cut shaft. He tried to control his excitement. ‘Keep your voice down,’ he whispered sharply in German. ‘And keep anything you’ve found concealed. I need to be sure we’re alone.’
His eyes swept from right to left. For a second he thought he saw a shadowy form, then it was gone, a trick of the moonlight. He saw the rocky path they had come up three hours before, through the gateway with its triangular capstone carved in the shape of two lions holding a pillar.
The Lion Gate of Mycenae, wall-girt fortress of Agamemnon, lord of men, wide-ruling one, noble son of Atreus
. The lions were decapitated now, but still exerted extraordinary power, and seeing them for the first time had strengthened his resolve that this place was more than just the stage set of myth. He turned away from the gate and gazed out as the great king once had from his mountain fastness over the plain towards the sea, to the place where he had set forth for Troy.
. Schliemann still shuddered at the name. They had been there, just like this, three years before, he and Sophia. They had found the treasure of King Priam. And they had found more. More than he could possibly have dreamed of.
More than the world yet knew
He saw the twinkling lights of their camp on the edge of the plain. He looked for flitting shadows in the gloom, for lights moving on the rocky path, but there was nothing. The Greek inspector would still be sleeping off the drink. The Greek authorities had heard rumours from Troy, and mistrusted Schliemann. There were some who thought he and Sophia were little more than tomb-robbers. Yet the Greeks were covetous enough of their place in history to want a part in the drama, to give him permission to excavate. And he was grateful to them. If the academics of the world had had their way, he would never have been allowed here. They had derided him for being self-taught, for having more money than sense, too used to getting his own way, too used to certainty. They thought he was absurd, a fantasist. But they were wrong.
He had not come in search of myth.
He had come in search of truth.
He had come in search of the real heroes
He turned back to the trench and took a deep breath. The air had been cleansed by the rain, but the smells were rising again: rosemary, thyme, the sweet ether that seemed to float above these ancient sites, an exhalation from history too powerful to be washed away by a transient act of nature. He smelled the earth, the richness of it, the soil that had buried this place for millennia. He glanced up. The moonlit clouds were moving with speed, and for a second he fancied he saw the ghostly galleys of the Greeks heading east, drawn towards their nemesis at Troy. He swung his leg over the ladder, and moments later was at the bottom of the trench, encased in the smooth square walls where the tomb chamber had been hacked out of the rock. The lamp glowed in one corner. Sophia was there, raven-haired, bedecked in jewellery copied from their finds at Troy, streaked in grime like him. She was his Mycenaean queen, hunched over the grave as if she were preparing to join the dead king in the afterlife. ‘Heinrich,’ she whispered, pointing. He stared at the ground. He stopped breathing. He felt his knees buckle under him, and fell forward. It was not lamplight he had seen from the surface. It was gold. A mask of gold. He reached out and touched the metal. It was cold, pristine, untarnished. His heart was pounding. The fine, aristocratic features, the beard and moustache, the high cheekbones, the thin, hard lips. And those eyes, almond-shaped with a line across the middle, at once open and closed. A face just like the others they had seen below Troy, the discovery he and Sophia had kept secret, a discovery too precious, too momentous, to squander in the game to put facts behind myth. He stared again. They had found it.