This Europe: Ancient statue rescued from the deep goes on show

Peter Popham
Monday 13 January 2014 05:41

The arms have snapped off; the left leg, though fished from the sea-bed, has yet to be reattached to the trunk; there is a hole the size of a small cannonball in the skull.

But the miracle is that the Dancing Satyr, found five years ago by Sicilian fishermen, exists at all; and the second miracle is that he is dancing again, in Rome today – head tilted, right leg jack-knifing behind him, invisible arms flung out in a wild pirouette.

Dating from the 4th century BC, the Dancing Satyr is believed to have gone down with a shipload of other treasures more than 500 years ago. The historian Paolo Moreno claims he is the work of the Hellenistic sculptor Praxiteles, born in Athens in about 390BC, who specialised in the sensual depiction of young and graceful figures. Cleaned of incrustations, the satyr has been set dancing again by the insertion of a slim telescopic stand into his thigh. On Monday he was unveiled before President Carlo Ciampi in the Montecitorio Palace. Yesterday he was put on public view; 7,000 people have booked a glimpse.

Satyrs, the companions of the god Dionysus, were originally depicted as shameless old men with puck noses, bristly hair, goat-like ears and tails, irredeemably drunken and randy. But their image improved and, when Praxiteles turned his hand to them, according to an ancient commentator, "all that is coarse and ugly in form, all that is mean or revolting in expression, [was] purged away by the fire of his genius".

Controversy rages over who found the satyr and how much they deserve to be paid. Most people, though, will be content to see this extraordinary survivor and hope there are more to come.

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