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Mycenae & Agamemnon

August 15, 2007

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Homer called Mycenae “rich in gold” and Schliemann’s discovery of the “mask of Agamemnon” here in 1876 brought to light a legendary but hitherto unknown high civilization. Agamemnon  was the leader
of the Greeks during the Trojan War that was described in the Iliad. Mycenae was founded in the 14th century BC and human habitation can be traced to the Neolithic Age. Following our six year old Homer fan, we could not miss Mycenae and a chance to stand where Agamemnon once did.

Schliemann, as I mentioned in our recent Troy blog post, also was the one who discovered Troy, all from his impassioned belief in the veracity of Homer. It was his discoveries at these locations that gave him the title of  “Father of Archeology” and opened up a new chapter in research. It was one of the most important discoveries in the annals of archeology and laid the foundation for the study of the
Mycenaean world.

Since we have interest in Agamemnon, thru Homer, we wanted to get a sense of what that Mycenae world was like in his time. We first saw the gold “Mask of Agamemnon” in Athens and there is a copy at the museum here. Even without knowing what it is, it captures your attention. Historical research now shows that it could not be the death mask of Agamemnon, but it will always be know that way as that is what Schliemann called it in his jubilant enthusiasm at discovery, over a hundred years ago. It was indeed the death mask of a ruler of Mycenae and does seem to fit the image.

But Schliemann did not have to discover Mycenae, as unlike Troy, this site had remained known long after its long life. Its famous megalithic “Lion Gate” is the oldest monumental sculpture in Europe, and was always visible, thus depicted in drawings by 18th and 19th century travelers. It was his discovery of the gold treasures in Grave Circle A, including the five beaten gold funerary masks that covered the face of dead rulers and lots of gold jewelry, that brought light to the history like never before.

We got an early start and bought a good guide book before going in, which Mozart proceeded to take
over and sat by the Citadel of Mycenae gobbling up the information. These amazing fortress walls in themselves were interesting as they were believed by the ancients to be made by Cyclopes (reputed
from Lycia.. another recent haunt of ours) and still stand strong today with no mortar used.

Just like Troy, one does get a real sense of these places as they both sit in areas that are easily defended, so it is logical to see how they would develop. The gate was built in such a way as to make the approach by potential assailants as difficult as possible. We wandered around, climbed to the top and visited the museum here. We especially liked some of the writing tablets, art and the 3D reconstruction of the site. We were glad our book had a poster of it that we will have forever.

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