Rome — It happened as if by chance -- the most stunning archaeological discovery in Italy's recent years. Stefano Mariottini, a Roman research chemist, stood on the sun-drenched sands by the Ionian Sea, strapped on his diver's mask, and plunged beneath the waters. He was on holiday when all of Italy goes on holiday -- in August -- and he was enjoying his favorite sport. The day was aug. 16, the year 1972.
Gliding through schools of flashing fish, reveling in the opulent garden of the sea, Stefano caught a glimpse of something that stopped him short. An arm reached upward from the sand!
He quickly called the marine archaeologists, who hoisted two bronze figures, slightly larger than life, to the surface. For the moment there was no way of knowing the artistic value of Stefano's discovery. The figures were covered by the encrustations of centuries. Only one thing was certain -- they were victims of shipwreck.
The statues were sent to the restoration center of the Tuscany Archaeological Supervisory Board, located in Florence. Here the restorers continued their painstaking efforts for almost 10 years, carefully removing each tiny mollusk, each grain of sand, so as not to scratch the original bronze.
what emerged before their admiring eyes were two Grecian warriors of incredible elegance.
Now the bronze warriors have finally reached their permanent home in the National Museum of Reggio di Calabria, a city at the tip of Italy's toe. Close by is the small town of Riace, from whose beach Stefano dove into the Ionian Sea.
The more handsome of the two is known as Statue "A" (shown at left). His comrade, Statue "B," lacks an eye, yet he is no less majestic in stance and mien.
The eyes of warrior "A" are fashioned of ivory. His lips are tinted a delicate pink owing to the application of copper after the figure was cast. His gleaming teeth are plated with silver.
Who sculped them?
According to the Italian experts, it is highly probable that the warriors are the work of Phidias (490-430 bc), one of themost outstanding of all sculptors. Phidias, according to his contemporaries, had seen the exact image of the gods and had revealed it to men.
In the second century AD it was Pausanias who reported that Phidias was the author of 13 statues that adorned the temple of Delphi in honor of the battle of Marathon. Without the writings of Pausanias, according to Sir James Frazer, noted anthropologist and classical scholar, "the ruins of Greece would for the most part be a labyrinth without a clue, a riddle without an answer."
Their restoration complete, the warriors went on disply earlier this year at the Florence Museum of Archaeology, where they were admired by thousands of visitors. Whether created by Phidias or not, the figures are certainly in the style of the sculptor's known work -- the quiet stances, serene expressions, an obvious majesty of conception expressed in restrained modeling and an elevation of spirit.
But here the specialists pause. No more clues are offered by history. If the statues were among the 13 warriors at Delphi, why were they wrested from their brothers?
By theft? For gain?
Yet the two athletes tell us no secrets.
President Sandro Pertini of Italy invited the warriors for a 15-day visit to the Quirinale in Rome (Italy's equivalent of the American White House). Again the statues were admired by thousands, many of whom stood in line for hours for their turn. The Romans are not impressed by antiquity; they live in a city 3, 300 years old. Nor are they impressed by the mere 2,500 years attributed to the warriors. Yet they thrill to beauty of any age.