Deeper into Jeopardy! XLVIII: Historic Objects – $1200

Jeopardy! category: HISTORIC OBJECTS (10-7-2015)

$1200 clue: A gold mask discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann is known by the name of this ancient Greek king


Correct response

The gist: But… it might be a fake. 
Herr Schliemann discovered – or claimed to have discovered – the so-called “Mask of Agamemnon” while excavating a shaft grave, today known as Grave V, at Mycenae on the Peloponnese in Greece. Mycenae was one of a few major seats of power during the eponymous Mycenaean Period of Greek history, as well as being the legendary city of over which Agamemnon was king in the Iliad and other works of ancient Greek drama. You’ll remember, if you’ve read it, that Agamemnon was the most powerful of the Greek kings at the time of the Trojan war, and when the Trojan prince Paris stole the wife of Agamemnon’s little brother Menelaus, king of Sparta, it was Agamemnon who was responsible for gathering all the armies of Greece to get her back.

Schliemann loved the Iliad. Some might say he was obsessed – never much of a religious man, he baptised his children with his own copy of the epic poem and recited a hundred lines from it in place of Christian prayers. He had long dreamed of excavating Troy, which he had done about five years before starting work at Mycenae (without proper permission from the authorities). After discovering the first of the shaft graves and the wondrous treasures inside it, he continued to excavate them until he (supposedly) laid eyes on the Mask, whereupon he apocryphally stated “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.”

Good story. Unfortunately, many modern scholars believe the mask to be fake, possibly commissioned by Schliemann, who was not exactly known for his scholarly ethics. For one thing, there are many details in that mask that are lacking in the other examples, like the carved ears, the details in the eyelids, and, most tellingly, the facial hair, which looks suspiciously like what a fashionable German man might have worn in the late nineteenth century. Here’s an example of another death mask, which looks decidedly less regal to modern eyes:


Quite a bit, uh, goofier, no?

The clue: Schliemann is primarily remembered for having excavated Troy, whose king was Priam. But, if you remember your epics, Priam was Trojan, not Greek, so according to the clue it couldn’t have been him. The other obvious choice from the Iliad – assuming you know of Schliemann’s relationship to that poem – has to be Agamemnon.

In Jeopardy!: Agamemnon gets 30 regular clues plus one FJ! in the J!Archive. Schliemann is in just two of the regular clues, plus the FJ!. Mycenae is in three. Troy is in nine, his queen Clytemnestra is in eight, and his daughter Iphigenia, whom he sacrificed to get favourable winds, is in four. He’s also called a king in nine. There’s no one thing that characterized Agamemnon clues, but the above about covers it.

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