AN ERUDITE RASCAL
A Master of Drawing and Lithography and a Fine Chemist.
He Deceives the Most Learned Men of This Century.
Alcibiades Simonides Dies After Imposing on His Fellow Men For Nearly Forty Years.
New York Sun [Daily Alta California, 9 Nov 1890]
"In an Albanian village there died recently one of the most original and artistic swindlers of the present century. Alcibiades Simonidea was a master of drawing, a fine lithographer and an excellent chemist. He was an omnivorous reader of history, which he retained to the smallest details in the iron grip of his memory. He had eloquence, ingenuity and perseverance. All of these talents he devoted to a single purpose. He made a profession of swindling the most learned of his contemporaries.
Simonides made his debut at the age of thirty-five at Athens. He then laid before the King of Greece a mass of apparently priceless manuscripts. They were seemingly of great antiquity, and included works which had long been lost to civilization. Simonides explained that he and His uncle had discovered the manuscripts in the Cloister Chilandarim on Mount Athos. He told just how and when the manuscripts were found, and fortified every sentence with copious references to literary history and classical authorities. The King bought $10,000 worth of the treasures and Simonides disappeared. In a year he was back again with another batch of marvelously valuable old manuscripts. Among them was an ancient Homer, written on lotus leaves, and accompanied by a complete commentary of Eustatius. The King wished to buy the whole lot. but could not see his way clear to raising money for more than half of it. The rest of the manuscripts he recommended for purchase to the University of Athens. The rector of the university was not without misgivings as to the smooth stories of Simonides', and at his suggestion a commission of twelve scholars was appointed to test the genuineness of the documents. After a long investigation eleven members of the commission reported that the manuscripts were authentic. The twelfth, Professor Mavraki, called lor a new investigation, which was eventually made. The result was the discovery that Simonides' Homer was a verbatim copy, - even to the typographical errors, of Wolff's edition.
The commission summoned Simonides to appear before it and explain, but he had got wind of the state of affairs and had skipped away with the proceeds of his sales to the King. For a few years he was completely lost to view. His performance in Athens was almost forgotten. In the middle of the sixties he turned up, unrecognized and unsuspected, in Constantinople, with an old Greek work. concerning hieroglyphics and an Assyrian manuscript with an interlinear Phoenician translation. For the delectation of Armenian scholars he had also brought a Greek history of Armenia. He found patrons enough and had Boon transformed his manuscript into cash to the amount of about $40,000. When the introduction and the first chapter of the Armenian history were published, it was remarked that the names of the Armenian Generals were not Armenian, and Simonides was again missing when called upon for explanations.
The slight historical error as to the Armenian Generals and their names wound up the first period of Simonides' career, and led him to vary somewhat his manner of working in his future schemes. The first evidence of this change was his announcement to western European scholars some time later that he possessed a roll dating from the days when the French and Venetians ruled Constantinople. In this roll, he said, a monk had recorded that there were buried manuscripts of great age and value at various spots on the Bosphorus. The location of these spots was described accurately in the roll. *
In a certain cloister, Simonides said. might be found the Acts of the first Apostolic Concilium of Antioch. Eventually Simonides sought the aid ot the Patriarch in unearthing these treasures. The Patriarch, however, answered that " these acts were superfluous. Either they confirmed or contradicted the canons of the Greek Church. In the first case they were useless; in the second they were worse than useless, and the finding of them would be a criminal deed."
Simonides then waited on the Minister of Public Works, Ismail Pasha. The Pasha was in his harem when Simonides called, and so the forger busied himself with a little exploration of the garden while waiting. He buried a small box under a big fig tree there, and, when the Pasha appeared, remarked that the garden seemed to be the location of buried manuscripts mentioned in this and that classical work. After screwing the Pasha's interest up to the necessary ardor, he suggested that digging for the manuscripts should begin at once. He directed that the first excavation be made under the fig tree. In a few minutes the Pasha's workmen struck a curious old box, in which lay a bit of discolored parchment bearing a poem ostensibly written by Aristotle. The Pasha was delighted and filled Simonides hands with Turkish money. A few days later Ismail was brought down from the clouds by the remark of his gardener that the fig tree in question had been transplanted only twenty years before, and that all the ground on and about the spot where the box was found had been dug up thoroughly at that time. The Pasha's chagrin was so great that he made no effort to bring Simonides to justice. The cunning old Greek derived encouragement from the impunity with which he had executed his last maneuver.
He looked around for another Turkish victim and decided that he had found him in Ibrahim Pasha. Ibrahim had just broken ground for the erection of a building on the site of the ancient Byzantine hippodrome. Simonides told him that a few yards below the surface, at a certain spot, there must be an Arabian manuscript.- The Pasha's workmen dug there, but found nothing. " Let me dig," exclaimed Simonides. He dug, and in five minutes handed the Pasha a curious bronze box. Within it was an Arabian poem on parchment. The Pasha wished immediately to give Simonides a splendid reward. He was stopped, however, by a laborer, who said he had seen the Greek slip the little chest from his sleeve into the hole. There was a dispute of considerable violence, and eventually the decision of the points of authenticity and veracity was postponed to the next day. That was the last Ibrahim Pasha saw of Simonides.
Two months later Simonides appeared at the British Museum with a memorandum of the General Belisarius to the Emperor Justinian. He sold it for $3200 to the Duke of Sutherland, and also disposed of a beautiful letter from Alcibiades to Pericles to the same purchaser for $1000. When the fraud was discovered Simonides was away off on the Continent again. No trace of him could be found, and the scholars of Europe hoped and thought they were at last relieved of this disturber of the traditions of antiquity. One day, however, the news came from the Athos cloisters that the indefatigable forger was loose again, under the assumed name of Baricourt. The monks throughout that part of the world were warned against him. and he was eventually caught in the Iberian cloister in the act of adding to an old manuscript a little supplementary matter of his own composition. He was rushed out, the warning against him was published far and near, and he was made so notorious that his profession ceased to be profitable.
One of the last meetings of the learned doctor with a man of the world occurred in Corfu a few years ago. A correspondent of the Vienna Tageblatt returned to his room in the Hotel St. George one evening to find on his table a card bearing the words: "The deceased Dr. Alcibiades Simonides. Meet me on the Esplanade at midnight to learn of a matter of the greatest importance." At the midnight meeting Simonides explained that he called himself deceased, not only because he was dead to the world, but because in a recent illness he had been pronounced physically dead, had been put into his coma and lowered into his grave, and had been aroused by the gravel falling on the lid just in time to secure his release by a tremendous knocking and groaning. The purpose of Simonides' appointment, however, was to show a document. apparently written by Leopold the Glorious, in which the Babeaberger Prince related in the form of a diary his experiences during the Crusades, including some highly interesting particulars of his meeting with Richard the Lion-Hearted. Simonides described how he had picked up this work in Jerusalem, and had brought it away with the idea of selling it to the Vienna Academy of Sciences.
At the time of his death Simonides was seventy-two. He was of medium height, thin as a bone, and moved mechanically. He had small eyes, a jaundiced skin and lips like paper. A big black beard hung to his waist. While conversing he held his arms crossed on his breast. He never smiled, had no fnends, and died alone without leaving a person to mourn for him. He had existed for nearly forty years by imposing on men of great learning in the field of their special knowledge. He was probably one of the most erudite rascals that ever lived.
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Divided into paragraphs according to my whim. Typos corrected if I spotted them.