As archaeology professor Elif Mutlu races against time to excavate the site of Arzu Pasha’s smart new “Heart of Istanbul” mall, rumours swirl that Elif will discover the “Palladium” itself. An exclusive interview by U.S. journalist Misty Anderson.
Misty Anderson: Elif Mutlu of Istanbul University, welcome. I’m glad we managed to get this interview at last.
Elif Mutlu: You’re welcome. You know, I only agreed to speak to you on condition that Arzu Pasha gave us a few more days to finish our dig. She must let us complete our work. (Laughter.) You can cut that bit out, I suppose.
MA: Arzu Pasha’s media outlets are publishing a supplement about her Heart of Istanbul mall tomorrow. Of course she wants you to tell our readers about all the sensational objects you’ve found, which will be on display soon at the new Pasha Wing of the Archaeology Museum.
EM: We have found dozens of mummified bodies of men, women and children in a previously unknown series of deep underground vaults, many carrying treasures – gold, silver, precious coins, reliquaries and other religious artefacts. The clothing and jewellery they wear may indicate –
MA: The lost treasure of the Byzantines!
EM: You could call it that, yes. But I don’t think it was an organised effort to preserve objects. They were fleeing something. Fire, perhaps, or the invading Ottoman army as they stormed the city.
MA: What about the Palladium? When do you expect to uncover the greatest treasure of all?
EM: Misty, let’s be clear: the so-called Palladium does not exist. It is a mythical object, supposedly created by the goddess Athena, and tossed down from Mount Olympus by Zeus to Ilium, the site of Troy. The Palladium is a lovely story: nothing more. It’s a fairytale.
MA: Well, Troy exists. That’s a fact. People used to think that was a myth, too. Why not the Palladium?
EM: People have craved safety and security since time immemorial. That is why they believe in gods, who will protect them. In medieval times, people venerated holy relics – a fragment of the true cross, or a saint’s tooth, or the hair of a holy man’s beard. You can see these objects in museums and cathedrals across the world. But these, Misty, are religious beliefs – some people would call them superstitions.
MA: But exactly – those objects exist! You can see them, you can touch them, they’re real. Why should the Palladium not be real, too? There’s no need to make a face like that!
EM: The Palladium is a kind of über-relic: a xoanon, an object supposedly created by the hand of a god, one of the most most powerful and venerated objects in mythology. According to Greek legend, the people of Ilium found the Palladium after Zeus threw it out. They built the Temple of Athena to house it, and surrounded the temple with the city of Troy. When Agamemnon and the Greek armies came to attack Troy, and rescue Helen, they could not penetrate the city for ten years – because the Palladium protected it. Then, one night, Odysseus and Diomedes crept into the city and stole the Palladium. Within a few months, Troy was razed to the ground. But – it’s a myth. Odysseus and Diomedes never existed, any more than Zeus and Athena – or the Palladium.
MA: But people are saying the Palladium was taken after the Trojan War from Troy to Delphi, then to Rome. When the Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople in 330 AD as the new capital of the Roman Empire, he brought the Palladium with him, and hid it in the city to protect it. As soon as the Palladium left Rome, the old capital was sacked by the barbarians. Yet Constantinople – or Byzantium – was never conquered for over a thousand years. Because the Palladium was here all the time, keeping the city safe!
EM: I’d like to know where these stories about us finding the Palladium are coming from. It’s utter nonsense.
MA: That’s what they said before they discovered the tomb of Tutenkhamun.
EM: Tell your readers that we have found one of the most spectacular collections of Byzantine relics of the past century, and that they can see them soon in the Archaeology Museum, thanks to the generosity of Arzu Pasha. But tell them too, Misty: I’m more likely to find Helen of Troy combing her hair down in the catacombs tomorrow morning than I am to find the Palladium. Because the Palladium doesn’t exist.
MA: All I can say is, I hope Elif Mutlu will prove herself wrong in the few days that remain before construction of the wonderful new Heart of Istanbul mall begins, with more than five hundred shops, restaurants and other outlets, a twenty screen cinema, three fitness centres and Istanbul’s largest aquarium. Maybe, soon, the Palladium will be on show in the Archeological Museum, along with the other relics from the excavation! Thank you for the interview, Elif Mutlu.
EM: Thank you.
Elif Mutlu is the heroine of my Istanbul thriller Palladium, published by Immortal Works on 17 May. You can read more about Palladium, including the introduction, on this website. Misty Anderson, an American journalist, plays an important role in Palladium, too. But this interview is not part of the novel.