Haruspex by Eric Williams
They say Schliemann found Troy by studying Homer, mapping the Iliad and dissecting the Odyssey for clues to its location—but this isn’t true. He found Troy by slicing open the belly of a white ram after cracking it on the head with a leaden mallet and cutting its throat. He saw the future in its entrails, the past in its liver, hepatomancy as old as Troy itself. He’d learned the secret from an old woman in Valtetsi who’d looked as if she’d been weathered out of the limestone herself, carved out by years of rain and wind. One of her eyes had been a cold lunar-white orb, the other a deep celestial black. She had been the daughter of a Klepht, a man who saw in the dark and had hunted Turks through the bare dry hills of occupied Greece.
The sheep’s eyes had been the color of rich earth, brown and wet and resigned. In its own fleecy way, it had been aware of its role in the bloody drama they’d acted out, their birthright the both of them, back to the first shepherds who, of course, had also been the first priests. The hammer stunned it, the knife killed it, its life spilled out onto his Wellingtons and dyed the straw rust red.
On the visceral side of the sheep’s liver he found a map of the Biga Peninsula, Cybele’s sacred Mount Ida nestled in the umbilical notch. The Aegean-washed coastline of the liver’s quadrate lobe ran first west into the sea before a sharp northward turn into the Troad proper. The scar of the gallbladder traced the meandering path of the Satnioeis, where Agamemnon put Altes and his people to the sword while Achilles sacked Pedasus. Schliemann, 3000 years away in the blood-soaked barn, followed the Greeks as they crossed the sulking Scamander at the duodenal impression, the glint of bronze mirrored in the vital sheen of the organ in his hand. He was close, the heavy warmth of the liver trembled as his finger moved across time and space until he found it, Troy, its spires looming over the hills of the colic impression, a wall of integument protecting Priam and his people from the Greek camp that clotted around it, black with blood.
In the sheep’s coiled entrails he read his future, saw himself peeling away obscuring strata and bringing sunlight back to the ashes of Ilium, the past made present and the future made irrelevant, all his mistakes burning away in the light of that moment. Gold speculation, fiddly bookkeeping of the indigo markets, disastrous marriage to Ekaterina and the bitter divorce, clinging dirt of Crimea, smell of saltpeter and mountains of invoices, all that slipped from him, just as the ropes of sheep intestines fell from his hands and onto the floor. Past unwinding from him, he breathed the bloody copper smell of the damp earth of the barn deep into his lungs.
Schliemann knew the value of a story, drama and pathos and plot all in a row like hoplites storming the walls of an audience’s indifference. When he got back to Athens and prepared for the expedition, the first thing he did was advertise for a wife—Menelaus had Helen, Odysseus had Penelope; Heinrich must have his foil too, the feminine balance all the newspapers would demand. He found her, little Sophia, dark eyed and thirty years his junior, a girl of seventeen.
She would be at his side as he worked, he saw that very clearly. He would drape her in the jewels of Priam’s house to conjure a Queen up from the meadows of Asphodel and into the purifying light of flashbulbs. A picture like that, he thought, could cast a long shadow.
A partial list of supplies for the expedition to Hissarlik née Troy: shovels, picks, bricklayer’s hammers, chisels, sledge hammers (5- and 10- pound), rope, burlap (bags and strips), six foot poles, ten foot poles, a whole brace of Soyer’s Stoves (he’d sold many during the Crimean War, and knew where to get them cheap), plane table, theodolite, air level, gauging chain, paper, pens, perambulator.
And dynamite, fifty boxes of dynamite, Nobel’s new invention that would revolutionize the world. He had seen that too, in the entrails, saw the world changed, and as he stood on the distant hillside, detonator in hand, he couldn’t help but admire the symmetry of the universe. Conflagration, the condensation of a thousand years’ worth of slow chemical decay into a single perfect moment, the force and power of time sped-up and bottled and sold by the ounce and half-ounce and quarter-ounce.
He had cut time with a knife in the barn when he sought the future in the guts of a sheep, and this very morning he cut through time again with a knife as he portioned out the dynamite and set the charges and laid the priming cable. And now, wrapped in warm Turkish sunlight and with Sophia sweating under a parasol beside him, he would slice away the time trapped in rock, three thousand years’ worth of sediment blasted from the remains of Troy, carving his future out of the heart of the past.
Hooded crows cackled from the gnarled branches of wild pomegranate trees as he flexed his thumb, pressed the detonator, felt the earth move, dreamt that time finally stopped.
Eric Williams is a writer living on the lithified remains of a Cretaceous seaway in Austin, TX. Say hello to him on twitter (@geoliminal).