The drunken miller

February 7 2015

Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy, was the son of a Protestant clergyman in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He learned Latin as a boy, but not Greek, and could not afford to go to university. Greece had obsessed him since early childhood, but he gave himself to archaeology only after a highly successful business career.

In 1837, at the age of fifteen, he was working in Theodore Hückstädt’s grocer’s shop at Fürstenberg.

“As long as I live, I shall never forget the evening when a drunken miller came into the shop. … He was the son of a Protestant clergyman in Roebel, Mecklenburg, and had almost completed his studies at the gymnasium of Neu Ruppin when he was expelled on account of his bad conduct. … Dissatisfied with his lot, the young man gave himself up to drink, which, however, had not made him forget his Homer; for, on the evening that he entered the shop, he recited to us about a hundred lines of the poet, observing the rhythmic cadence of the verses. Although I did not understand a syllable, the melodious sound of the words made a deep impression upon me, and I wept bitter tears over my unhappy fate. Three times over did I get him to repeat to me those divine verses, rewarding his trouble with three glasses of whisky, which I bought with the few pence that made up my whole fortune. From that moment I never ceased to pray God that by His grace I might yet have the happiness of learning Greek.”

He would teach himself as an adult. From the autobiographical note in Schliemann’s Ilios, English edition, John Murray, 1880.

Old posts:

Hellenic holy ground

Goethe’s Italian Journey.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

One Response to “The drunken miller”


  1. […] learn about his heroes. All this is mocked by Trevor-Roper. A long passage about Schliemann, (see last post), who overcame all personal difficulties and disadvantages and transformed the study of ancient […]


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