What Went Wrong at the Getty

04 Jun 2011 11:21 AM | Anonymous

What Went Wrong at the Getty
June 23, 2011
Hugh Eakin.
Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum
by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino                                                  
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 375 pp., $28.00

1. On August 5, 70 BC, at 1:30 in the afternoon, a remarkable criminal trial began in Rome. A young prosecutor named Marcus Tullius Cicero was accusing a senior Roman political official, Gaius Verres, of extortion and misrule during Verres’s tenure as governor of Sicily. “For three long years he so thoroughly despoiled and pillaged the province that its restoration to its previous state is out of the question,” Cicero proclaimed in his bold opening statement.

Verres was well connected, and the case seemed to have long odds. Undeterred, Cicero suggested that his crimes were so numerous that it was hard to keep track of them: he sacked the treasury, manipulated the courts, stole grain from farmers, and connived with pirates; he locked up anyone he didn’t like (or the husbands of women he coveted) in the latomie, the fearsome subterranean rock prison near Syracuse, or simply crucified them.

Above all was Verres’s voracious appetite for art. “Ancient monuments given by wealthy monarchs to adorn the cities of Sicily…were ravaged and stripped bare, one and all, by this same governor,” Cicero continued.


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