NEWS

Divine persuasion for Marbles

Italy confirmed yesterday that it will return to Greece, on a long-term loan, a small fragment of sculpted marble that once adorned the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. After a meeting in Athens with his Greek counterpart, Evangelos Venizelos, Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani said Rome was «committed» to sending back the 34×35-centimeter piece from the 162-meter Parthenon frieze. The fifth-century-BC fragment, which depicts in relief the foot of the minor goddess Peitho, was bought by the University of Palermo around 1820 from the widow of the local British consul, Robert Fagan. It is now displayed in Palermo’s Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum – which has declared itself loath to lose the piece. «The regional government of Sicily has accepted to lend Greece, in a very short time and for a very long period, the fragment from the Parthenon,» Urbani said. He added that, in return, «again in a very short time and for a very long period,» Greece would lend an artifact of its own to Sicily. No details were released on when the fragment would come to Greece, or for how long. In October, Sicily’s cultural commissioner, Fabio Granata, said it would likely be for 99 years, «so as not to upset the archaeological community.» This might still happen, as, for Greece – which is campaigning for the return, before the 2004 Olympics, of the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles on a long-term loan – the return of Peitho’s foot will be a major public-relations coup. «It may be a small fragment but it has great symbolic value, and its return can serve as a very good omen for the reunification of all the Parthenon Marbles,» Venizelos said. Fittingly for the ancient Greeks, Peitho, an attendant of Aphrodite, personified persuasion and seduction.