<DIV></DIV> <P>1<BR>The Lost Bronze</P> <P><BR>In the pre-dawn light of a summer morning in 1964, the 60-<BR>foot fishing trawler Ferrucio Ferri shoved off from the Italian seaport<BR>of Fano and motored south, making a steady eight knots along<BR>Italy’s east coast. When the Ferri reached the peninsula of Ancona,<BR>Romeo Pirani, the boat’s captain, set a course east-southeast, half way<BR>between the dry scirocco wind that blew up from Africa and the cooler<BR>levanti that swept across the Adriatic from Yugoslavia.<BR> The six-man crew dozed. The sea was glassy, but Pirani knew how<BR>temperamental the Adriatic could be this time of year. Just a few<BR>weeks earlier, a sudden storm had blown across the sea, sinking three<BR>boats and killing four fishermen. Weather was not his only worry.<BR>The Second World War had left its mark on the sea and made his job<BR>all the more dangerous. Nets hauled up mines and bombs left behind<BR>decades ago by retreating Nazi forces or their American pursuers.<BR>The arms of many men in Fano bore scars from the acid that oozed<BR>out of the rusting ordnance.<BR> As the sun rose, blinding their eyes, Pirani and his crew sipped<BR>moretta, a hot mixture of rum, brandy, espresso and anise, topped<BR>with a lemon rind and lots of sugar. The strong brew gave the men<BR>not just warmth, but courage. By nightfall, the Ferri had reached its<BR>destination, a spot in international waters roughly midway between<BR>Italy and Yugoslavia. The captain knew of a rocky outcropping that<BR>rose from the seabed where schools of merluza, St. Peter’s Fish and<BR>octopus gathered for safety in the summer heat. Other boats ventured<BR>farther east, into the deep waters off the Yugoslav coast, where they<BR>risked arrest for poaching, But Pirani preferred this hidden shoal.<BR>While fishing there meant occasionally snagging the nets on sharp<BR>rocks, the boat often returned to port full.<BR> The crew cast its nets into the dark waters. They fished all night,<BR>sleeping in shifts.<BR> Just after dawn, the nets tugged, catching a snag. Pirani gunned<BR>the engine and, with a jolt, the nets came free. As some peered over<BR>the side, the crew hauled in its catch: A barnacle-encrusted object that<BR>resembled a man.<BR> “Cest un morto!” cried one of the fishermen. A dead man!<BR> As the sea gave up its secret, it quickly became apparent that the<BR>thing was too rigid and heavy to be a man. The crew dragged it to the<BR>bow of the boat. The life-sized figure weighed about 300 pounds and<BR>had black holes for eyes and was frozen in a curious pose. Its right<BR>hand was raised to its head. Given the thickness of its encrustations,<BR>it looked as if it had been resting on the ocean floor for centuries.<BR> The men went about the immediate work of mending the torn<BR>nets. It was only later, when they stopped for a breakfast of roasted<BR>fish, that one of them grabbed a gaffe and pried off a patch of barnacles.<BR> He let out a yelp.<BR> “Cest de oro!” he cried, pointing at the flash of brilliant yellow. It’s<BR>gold!<BR> Pirani pushed through the huddle and looked at the exposed metal.<BR>Not gold, he declared, bronze. None had ever seen anything like it. It<BR>might be worth something. The Ferri’s men made a hasty decision.<BR>Rather than turn it over to local authorities, they would sell the figure<BR>and divvy the profits.<BR> As the Ferri motored back to Fano that afternoon, word came over<BR>the radio that the town was afire with news of the discovery. The<BR>spark had come earlier, when the Captain had mentioned it while<BR>chatting ship-to-shore with his wife. Now crowds had gathered in the<BR>port for the Ferri’s return. Pirani cut the engine and waited until<BR>nightfall. By the time the Ferri pulled into port, it was nearly 3 a.m.<BR>and the docks were deserted.<BR> The crew brought the statue ashore on a handcart, hidden under a<BR>pile of nets, and took it to the house of Pirani’s cousin, who owned the<BR>boat. After a few days, the statue began to smell of rotting fish. The<BR>cousin moved it to a covered garden patio and quietly invited several<BR>local antique sellers to have a look. They offered up to one million<BR>lire, but the crew wanted more.<BR> With the statue’s stench growing stronger by the day, the cousin<BR>fretted that someone would alert police. He asked a friend with a Fiat<BR>600 Mutipla to pick up the bronze statue and take it to a farm outside<BR>town, where they buried it in a cabbage field while they looked for a<BR>serious buyer.<BR> A month later, they found Giacomo Barbetti, an antiquarian whose<BR>wealthy family owned a cement factory in Gubbio, 50 miles inland<BR>from Fano. Barbetti said he was prepared to pay several million lire<BR>for the statue but naturally needed to see it first. When the figure<BR>emerged from the cabbage patch, Barbetti brushed aside the dirt,<BR>touched its straight nose and surmised it to be the work of Lysippus,<BR>one of the master sculptors of ancient Greece.<BR> Lysippos was the personal sculptor of Alexander the Great, and his<BR>fame as a sculptor spread throughout the ancient world on the heels of<BR>his patron’s conquests. Lysippos rewrote the canon for Greek sculpture<BR>with figures that were more slender and symmetrical than those<BR>of his predecessors Polycleitus and the great Phidias, sculptor of the<BR>Acropolis friezes. Aside from busts of Alexander, Lysippos was famous<BR>for depicting athletes, and many of his bronzes lined the pathways<BR>of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic games. Lysippos is said to<BR>have created over 1,500 sculptures in his lifetime, but none was believed<BR>to have survived antiquity.<BR> Except, perhaps, this one. The bronze athlete in the cabbage patch<BR>may well have been one of those lining the pathways to Olympia, only<BR>to become war booty for Rome, whose glory slowly eclipsed that of<BR>Athens. As they swept through the Greek mainland and islands,<BR>Roman soldiers filled thousands of ships with plunder. It was likely in<BR>one such raid that the bronze athlete was torn from its pedestal some<BR>300 years after its creation and loaded on to a waiting transport ship<BR>for Rome. The Adriatic was as fickle then as it is today, whipping up<BR>deadly storms without warning. Around the time of Christ, the ship<BR>bearing the bronze athlete apparently sank to the sea floor, where it<BR>lay for two thousand years.<BR> As Barbetti touched the foul-smelling figure’s nose he clearly saw<BR>something he liked. He offered 3.5 million lire — about $4,000,<BR>enough to buy several houses in Fano at the time. The money was<BR>split among the crew. Captain Pirani’s share was about $1,600, double<BR>his monthly wages.<BR> The bronze, meanwhile, was on the move.<BR></P> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Chasing Aphrodite</b> by <b>Jason Felch</b> Copyright © 2011 by Jason Felch. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.