Schliemann’s Culinary Adventures in ItalyPosted: March 3, 2019
A day does not go by in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) without an inquiry about the Heinrich Schliemann Papers. More than one third of the collection has been digitized and made available for research online; still, these inquiries keep coming from all over the world, including destinations as remote as Japan and Cuba. Though unquestionably a legendary figure, Schliemann’s popularity is largely due to the richness of his personal archive, which remains an inexhaustible source of information for a wide range of audiences: historians, archaeologists, fiction and non-fiction writers, even film producers. (I have written about Schliemann before [Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius] and have hosted two posts by Curtis Runnels [Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding? and, “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann], the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist .)
To the rich list of books and articles that have been written about Schliemann I would like to add the recent publications by Umberto Pappalardo, who has been studying Schliemann’s activities in Napoli and on the island of Motya, and Massimo Cultraro’s new book with the sibylline title L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia: Heinrich Schliemann e l’ Italia (1858-1890). Before them, in 2012, Elizabeth Shepherd published a comprehensive article about Schliemann’s wanderings in Italy in the fall/winter of 1875, especially his interest in the site of Populonia. Schliemann travelled to Italy seven times, first as a tourist (1858), and later, especially after the discovery of Troy (1871-1873), as a celebrity and potential excavator. He even drew his last breath in the streets of Naples one morning in December 1890. Yet, until recently, Schliemann’s Italian days remained understudied.
Schliemann, who was fluent in Italian (as he was in many other languages), kept detailed travel diaries during his tours of Italy. In order to shed light on Schliemann’s time on the peninsula, both Pappalardo and Cultraro have conducted thorough research in the Schliemann papers, as well as in other archives in Italy, with great results. For example, Pappalardo has discovered in Giuseppe Fiorelli’s archive (Fiorelli [1823-1896] excavated Pompei in 1865) that Schliemann in 1874 was negotiating with the Italian authorities for the sale of Priam’s Treasure that he had removed (i.e., stolen) from Troy without the permission of the Ottomans (Pappalardo 2018b). The sale did not take place because the new Italian kingdom did not have the means to buy the Treasure; however, two years later (1876), according to Pappalardo, Schliemann sent, as a gift, 196 stone tools from Troy to anthropologist and ethnologist Giustiniano Nicolucci (1819-1904). Nicolucci would sell them later to the Anthropology Museum of the University of Napoli where they remain today.
What is also little known, at least to the wider public, is that during his third Italian journey (1875), Schliemann was in search of a back-up dig (in case he was not allowed to return to Troy). In this effort he was encouraged by the Neapolitan authorities to look for sites in Italy. One of them was Motya. From 19-22 October 1875, he sank a number of test trenches on the island of Motya at the western tip of Sicily, but was discouraged by the results (Pappalardo 2018a). It is perhaps understandable that the excavator of Priam’s Treasure, who was also not known for his patience, would have bigger expectations. Had he stayed longer, however, he might have discovered the famous Motya Charioteer, which was excavated in 1979.
Cultraro’s book about Schliemann’s journeys to the Italian peninsula is also of great interest because he is concerned with Schliemann the traveler and has looked to his diaries as a source of ethnographical information about Italy in the late 19th century. Even more interesting is the fact that Cultraro has dedicated a separate subchapter, titled “A tavola con Schliemann,” to Schliemann’s dining habits in Italy (2018, pp. 148-152). As expected, most of Schliemann’s culinary comments belong to his first trip in 1858, when he got his first true taste of Italian food. (To judge from his complaints, he wasn’t very impressed.) There are far fewer comments about food during his 1868 trip (I suspect that by then he knew what to expect or avoid). With Massimo’s permission, I am presenting here, in translation, excerpts from this subchapter concentrating on Schliemann’s first trip. (Many thanks to Cecilia Cozzi for the English translation and to Jack L. Davis for editing it.)
At Table with Schliemann
The diaries that concern his travels and lengthy sojourns in different parts of the [Italian] peninsula are dominated by accurate descriptions of food and of the cost of meals. If we compare these descriptions with those of his travels in other parts of the world, for instance those in the Far East (China and Japan in 1866) or London in 1844, references there to food appear very infrequently or, in some cases, are totally absent. Italy seems to be the place for ethno-anthropological considerations of alimentation, with comments not only on the quality of local products, but also about dining customs (Cultraro 2018, 148-149).
In his descriptions of visits to principal Italian cities, Schliemann, who was careful to maintain a very sober lifestyle and fearful of wasting time, rarely wanted to take breaks. Only once on a very cold and rainy day in November in Rome, did he go into a coffee shop for a hot chocolate, although his true motivation was that he wanted to spend time with a prelate, whom he had asked to help him with grammatical exercises [Diary A3, Nov. 28, 1858]. Schliemann often had meals alone, but it could happen that a lunch was more elaborate, as was the case in the restaurant of a hotel in Baia in spring 1868, when he was eating in a very beautiful landscape and had “maccaroni with two bottles of excellent wine,” the price of which he noted (Cultraro 2018, p. 149).
In Rome, he allowed himself to have a lavish breakfast at the Caffè Greco, frequented by foreigners; “coffee was served with finesse in glasses, prepared with sugar, and cost, without bread, only 2 baiocchi”; there he allowed himself the luxury of reading Il Giornale di Roma. [Diary A 3, Nov. 24, 1858]. He went there very often and his descriptions agree with the accounts of other foreigner travelers and artists who, in the same years, went to the same place. “The room seems to be enveloped in a thick fog,” said the American William Gillespie in 1845, “because everyone smokes and drinks coffee, conversing in a variety of languages with no attention to etiquette” (Cultraro 2018, p. 149).
In his Italian diaries, a description of lunch is accompanied by an indication of prices, usually in French florins, according to a habit that he began to follow during his first years in Amsterdam (from 1842), when a lack of economic resources required him to keep strict control over his expenses.
Schliemann did not crave luxury, so long as the cuisine was good and a restaurant was clean. His frequent comings and goings in Rome were usually concluded by a dinner in the restaurant of the Hotel Minerva, where there was good balance between quality of the meals and price. One night, tired from too much walking around the city, he stopped at the restaurant of the hotel, and describes a dinner consisting of “pea soup, meat with legumes, and wine at one’s discretion. An abundant evening meal, to which Schliemann was not accustomed, forced him to retreat to his room, and “having eaten and drunk too much,” he fell into a very gloomy and troubled sleep, and then rose from bed at four in the morning. This was not the first time that an excess of food and wine in Italy compelled him to spend a very tormented night. Also on Capri, after having drunk three bottles of wine in an unrestrained manner and having eaten excessively, he felt sick and suffered a sleepless night (Cultraro 2018, p. 150).
During a trip from Rome to Naples, in December 1858, in Terracina, even though he complained about the excessive price of “six paoli” for a lunch in a “osteria”, he was satisfied with “broth, roasted fish with potatoes, meat, fruit, and bad wine!”
Schliemann’s first contact with Sicily left negative impressions. He disembarked on December 18, 1858, after a night inauspicious and not to be remembered. While he was searching the streets of Messina for a restaurant, he found one where he ate “with great disgust and repugnance” because of its filthiness. The situation seemed to improve some days later in Syracuse, where he had lunch in the restaurant of the Viceroy Hotel, dining on “broth, cabbage with meat, fried fish, sardines, and an omelette” to which he added a bottle and a half of wine. Even though the meal was excellent and the food abundant, he felt compelled to fight with the owner of the hotel over their expensive prices, following the suggestion of a man from Syracuse who was sitting in the same restaurant. His anonymous dining partner, “a Danish man who spoke Swedish,” also was able to get a better price for full board by bargaining.
Sicily, dominated by the pervasive filthiness of people and things, was the setting for another unexpected experience: when he arrived in the village of Belvedere, near Syracuse, Schliemann took refreshments at the house of a shepherd where he ate “bread, four eggs, wine, and a fruit salad like our cucumbers and very nice.” (Cultraro 2018, p. 151).
His final judgment on the city and its food was very harsh: “…. foods are very bad, broth consisting only of water mingled with vermicelli and cheese, and the thought of the disgusting filthiness in which foods were prepared repeatedly increased my loathing and repugnance.” He repeated the same thoughts even more aggressively, in his account of the following day, when to his description of watery broths, he added that butter was unknown, noting that “everything is fried or roasted here with veal or pork fat and it is a delicacy if something is fried with lard.”
To his eyes, Sicilian cooking seemed to be very fatty and full of oil: “The butter is here sold at 9 tari to the roll of 2 1/2 pounds and it is terrible. Cream and fior di latte are unknown here. Coffee is drunk black because there is no cow milk; the goat milk is already very skim and mixed with still more water is very expensive.” His complaints, however, end on a positive note: “The only good thing here in Syracuse is the wine which has the strength of a Madeira and the sweetness of muscato wine, although, if while drinking it, one remembers with how much filthiness it is produced, it cannot be drunk without disgust.”
His trip to Catania, nearly eleven hours by coach, brought further disappointment: while referring to the exhausting trip and to its frequent (and useless) stops, he could not help but conclude that “what is the most annoying thing is that in no place was there an opportunity to have something to eat and drink.” Luckily, the trip from Catania to Messina was somehow different and, in the railway station of Acireale, during an exchange of horses, Schliemann did manage to have “goat cheese and two glasses of wine.”
He reëvaluated Sicilian cooking in Messina, where he was invited by the commercial agent Saraceno to his home, together with other foreign guests, including the American consul. “The lunch was very good,” Schliemann wrote, “broth with meatballs, then fish with butter sauce followed by pasticcio and focaccia, roast beef, sorbetto, roasted chicken, fruit, and more” [Diary A3, Dec. 23, 1858]. This lunch in Messina is his only truly positive comment on Sicilian cooking. Also, in the course of his second trip in 1868, he did not comment on the food, except to remark that, after a trip by boat to Aci Trezza under a burning sun,“ I returned to Catania ,” he noted in his diary, “with a feverish thirst, drank a bottle of beer with ice, and went to bed (Cultraro 2018, p. 152).
Pappalardo, U. 2018a. “Heinrich Schliemann a Mozia,” Sicilia Archeologica 110, pp. 109-138.
Pappalardo, U. 2018b. “Heinrich Schliemann a Napoli: note di viaggio e documenti,” Napoli Nobilissima 4:3, pp. 58-64.
Shepherd, E. J. 2012. “Schliemann a Populonia e altrove,” Rassegna di Archeologia 24, 2009-11, pp. 143-165.
Schliemann’s Diary A3 (1858) in the ASCSA Archives: https://www.ascsa.edu.gr/archives/schliemann-diary-a-3
*Massimo Cultraro is Senior Researcher at the National Research Council (CNR), Institute for Archaeological and Cultural Heritage, Catania (IBAM). His main research field is the archaeology of the Aegean Bronze Age, with reference to the long-term interconnections between Greece, the Southern Balkans and Italy. Since 2007 he has served as scientific director of the Iraq Virtual Museum, an international multimedia project promoted by the CNR and the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs (www.virtualmuseumiraq.cnr.it). As scientific head, he has also carried out many projects in Montenegro, Portugal and Georgia under the international agreements between the Italian CNR and its international counterparts.
In addition to L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia, his publications include L’anello di Minosse. Archeologia della regalità nell’Egeo preistorico (Milan 2001), I Micenei. I Greci prima di Omero (Rome, 2006), and two publications in press: Troy in the Bronze Age (Genova 2019) and a monograph on Scholars at War. The Italian Archaeology during the First World War (Rome 2019).