Russia will display the headless statue of the river god Ilissos in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum until mid-January.
Once part of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple, the statue was taken by Lord Elgin in Athens in the early 19th Century. Amongst others he acquired, they are known collectively as the Elgin Marbles.
Greece disputes the ownership of the artefacts, stating that Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was under Turkish occupation as part of the Ottoman Empire. Elgin claimed that soldiers were grinding the statues down to make ammunition, and claimed to be removing them for the sake of art. This conflicts with his original intention of displaying them in his home. Needless to say, the items have remained in the British Museum ever since.
Read more from the BBC.
I used the controversy in one of the chapters of my forthcoming novel, Ever Changing sea, the final in the Moonstone series. Harry, the lovable rogue is visiting his father in Palermo. Here's a pertinent excerpt.
Harry followed his father into the bright interior and examined one of the colorful modern paintings depicting a woman displayed on a clean white wall.
"Our regular table." The waiter gave Franco gracious attention and swept them to an occupied table at the rear of the room. Three men murmured with their heads close together—one snow white, one full of dark curls and one completely bald. While speaking, the silver fox looked up, nudged the man to his right and they all grinned.
Harry's father drew him forward with pride. "My son, Gino, the man." Franco chuckled. "Now called Harry."
After liberal greetings, pseudo-hugs and back patting, they all sat. Harry fidgeted during guttural recollections of him as a boy. Accompanied by the subtle lilt of an Italian opera, they ordered their food and nattered about local issues. He understood some of the Italian words and allowed unfamiliar language to slide over him.
Without ordering, their identical dishes of fried chicken, aubergine and pasta arrived within five minutes. He ate fast. The old boys took their time and chewed with gusto in between comments about local politics. At the next table, four men smoked while they played cards. Ash spotted the starched white tablecloth.
Harry licked his lips and drew out the palm-sized object from his pocket, studying it again to distract him from his craving while his father and companions finished their meal. The white etched detail on gray slate formed the shape of a scarab with a groove carved into the edge. The relic reminded him of Liliha's carved granite cat with the broken ear.
"What's that you have there, boy?" the old man with the white hair asked. He reached out and dipped the elbow of his black jacket in his empty plate.
Harry handed the scarab over. "I found this among the items I played with as a boy."
The curly one said, "This looks like an artifact, maybe from Egypt."
Baldy leaned forward. "There are plenty of things hanging around Palermo from the old days. The story is, Egyptian treasure went to Syria first and then came over the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sicily on wooden ships."
The waiter offered more wine and Harry nodded. At his father's frown, he bore in mind his earlier vow to go easy. He reached for a cigarette, and then dropped his hand. Not so easy to stay the 'man' in his father's eyes.
"Ah, Palermo. So many conquerors." Whitey lifted his chin.
"I heard some of the treasure went on to Roma," Baldy said. "I wish I could get my hands on such things."
"I studied this subject in my youth," Whitey said. "The ship crew ran out of food when they got to Lisbon and used gold for payment to get them on their last leg to Cornwall. The tin islands."
Harry leaned forward. "Cornwall, did you say?"
"That's where my boy has settled," Franco said.
While he sipped wine, Harry's mind went to Liliha's bracelet. Enthusiasm fired. This trip might present more than a chance to help his father.
The waiter balanced their plates on one arm and carried them away.
"Yeah," Curlie agreed. "Plenty of ships must have landed in Cornwall."
Harry cut in. "There were tin mines at Redruth, close to the area where I live." The waiter set little porcelain coffee cups in front of them along with medicinal wine that acted as an antidote to the overindulgence of food. Harry sipped bitter coffee, recalling special times in his youth and, in a flash, of his vow. His empty glass had been cleared away.
Whitey rocked on his seat. "On the return trips, the crew traded again and retrieved their jewelry in exchange for tin. Egyptian treasure moved about a lot. Better currency than cigarettes during the war."
Curlie rocked. "Where is it all now, I wonder?"
"I betcha the British Museum got their greasy hands on it," Whitey said. "Everything of any value ends up there. They plundered the world."
Franco said, "The Elgin Marbles."
The men nodded.
"Lord Elgin got permission to remove those stones." Harry looked at the men's closed faces. How could he reach them? "He wanted to preserve them from an ammunition dump."
Baldy frowned. "Athens wants them back."
"It's a wonder the Greeks could agree on anything." Curly sipped his coffee.
"The marbles were taken from the Turks before that." Harry raised his voice. "How far into the past do we need to go to return every item?" In the ensuing silence, he locked eyes with Curly, frowned when he met Baldy's gaze and clamped his jaw before looking down.
"This discussion leads us nowhere." Franco slammed his cup into the saucer. "Things are where they are—treasure moves from place to place, changes hands and so forth." His brow furrowed the way it did when Harry had done something unforgivable as a child.
I own several artifacts from Egyptian tombs, bought at auction. If pushed, I would return them.