History : Apr-May 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 43 Naturally such lists are almost entirely subjec- tive, a fact which only enhances their appeal with the prospect of a lively debate about each item’s relative worth. And so it was with arguably the greatest list of all time, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the fourth century b.c . Alexander the Great conquered the lands where civilization had flour- ished in antiquity: Persia, Egypt, and Babylon. This gave the Greeks the opportunity to compare the monuments they found abroad with those they had at home—contact with civilizations even older than their own encouraged a passion for collecting antiques and studying old literary texts. As the first great cultural institutions were founded, including the Great Library of Alexan- dria, people became keen to preserve everything they deemed worthy of being collected. They did so by creating an inventory of knowledge that could be passed down to posterity. And so it was that a list of the most extraordi- nary human creations came into being. The first known copy of the Seven Wonders dates from the second century b.c ., in a papyrus known as the Laterculi Alexandrini. Around this same time Antipater of Sidon is credited with creating a list of Seven Wonders similar to the one we know today. Over the next centuries the list changed many times, following the whims of fashion and politics; its evolution was perhaps inevitable, al- most intrinsic to its nature. But eventually there emerged an“established”list of Seven Wonders. That some wonders only graced the Earth for a tantalizingly short time heightened even further their halo of mystery. It is only through scholarly and often fanciful re-creations that we can still visualize these legendary monuments. Today, the surviving wonder, the Pyramid of Giza, acts as the benchmark against which we inevitably measure all the Seven Wonders. That the pyramids still inspire awe is testament to their greatness, a validation of their place on that prestigious list. That the ancient Greeks con- sidered the other six monuments to be of equal or even greater magnificence explains why this most famous of lists still fires our imagination. T he ancient Greeks loved lists. They enjoyed categorizing, quantifying, and rating things into an appreciable hierarchy—the original “top ten.” It’s a fascination that has passed effortlessly through the ages and has now reached its apogee with the Internet, where you can find every conceivable subject graded according to individual or popular opinion. HERODOTUS OF HALICARNASSUS This famous historian, who lived in the fifth century b.c ., was one of the first writers to mention the Seven Wonders. DEA/ALBUM THE LOCATIONS OF THE SEVEN WONDERS This map of the Earth according to Herodotus, published by Wilhelm Wägner in 1867, shows the known world at the time of the Greek historian and the locations of the Seven Wonders: 1 the Lighthouse of Alexandria; 2 the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; 3 the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; 4 the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; 5 the Great Pyramid of Giza; 6 the Colossus of Rhodes; 7 the Hanging Gardens of Babylonia. AKG/ALBUM 7 5 1 2 3 6 4 DAVID HERNÁNDEZ DE LA FUENTE HERNÁNDEZ DE LA FUENTE IS AN AWARD-WINNING NOVELIST AND A HISTORIAN OF CLASSICAL LITERATURE, ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY, AND GREEK CIVILIZATION.