sabato 12 luglio 2008

Symbol of Rome found to be 1,000 years too young

Symbol of Rome found to be 1,000 years too young
Peter Popham
The Independent 10/07/2008

Mussolini cherished her as a symbol of the "new Rome" he was bringing into being; and 60 years on, the bronze she-wolf with the gaping eyes, heavy udders and mouth half-open in a growl still says "Rome" as eloquently as the Colosseum.

But to the chagrin of Rome romantics everywhere, scientists have now proved that the Lupa Capitolina, the life-size bronze of a wolf with two human infants suckling her, on view in the city's Capitoline Museum, dates not from the time of togas and chariot races but from the 13th century, more than 1,000 years later.

As scientific knowledge advances, Rome is steadily losing its intimacy with its mythical origins. First to go were the twins hanging off the wolf's teats, moulded in a very different style from the wolf, and proved beyond doubt to have been made in the late 15th century. Last November Italy's then minister of culture, Francesco Rutelli, created great excitement by announcing that archaeologists had located the very cave where the wolf suckled the twins – but it did not take long for scholars to point out that the suckling by the wolf was never more than a myth.

And now it's the turn of the wolf herself. The story goes that the twins Romulus and Remus, conceived when the god Mars raped the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia, were cast into the river Tiber in a basket by their evil great-uncle but rescued by the she-wolf, who brought them up as her cubs. Romulus subsequently killed his brother and went on to found the city that bears his name. Images of the wolf suckling the twins have symbolised the city since deepest antiquity, and Cicero mentioned that the most important statue of the wolf had been inauspiciously damaged by lightning in 65 BC.

Scholars have been arguing about the age of the Lupa Capitolina since the 18th century: those wishing to believe that this was the original work described by Cicero pointed to damage to one of the paws as a possible result of a lightning strike. Eventually the consensus took hold that it was an Etruscan work, dating from the 5th century BC.

It was only a matter of time, however, before scholars began looking at the wolf more carefully. One of them, Anna Maria Carruba, noted that the technique used to make the statue, enabling it to be cast in a single piece using wax for the mould, was unknown in the ancient world. The damage to the paw, she claimed, was caused by an error in the moulding process. The wolf was a product not of the dim distant Etruscan past but of the Middle Ages.

This was unwelcome news to traditionally minded historians, for whom the Etruscan provenance of the wolf has been seen as an established fact for generations – and the political power of those academics has caused the publication of definitive proof of the work's age to be delayed by more than a year. To end the controversy it was decided to submit the work to radiocarbon dating. The tests were carried out in February 2007, and last August the truth began to leak out. But the final revelation came only yesterday, when Adriano la Regina, Rome's most eminent archaeologist, broke the news in La Repubblica.