Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Seven Sights

Apologies if anyone else in the classical blogosphere has already issued a corrective at some point on this bit of misinformation, but it's been flooding my inbox so I need to address it:

Philon of Byzantium, a minor technical writer of the Hellenistic period (not a philosopher as at least one reporter has it), did not compile the famed Seven Wonders of the ancient world, nor was the document improperly attributed to him written in 200 BC, but rather much later.

The oldest lists, according to the handy OCD, do appear at this time, and contain the same sights as that attributed to Philon:

  1. the pyramids of Egypt
  2. the walls of Babylon
  3. the hanging gardens of Semiramis at Babylon
  4. the temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  5. the statue of Zeus at Olympia
  6. the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  7. the colossus of Rhodes

You may notice something missing, especially if you teach with the Cambridge Latin Course: the lighthouse of Alexandria, named for the island on which it stood, Pharus. This, like many other, finds its way into other, later lists.

Well-meaning writers of the Christian period evidently lost the original sense of the Greek word θεάματα--'sights,' i.e., things to be seen--when they added Noah's ark to the list.

Now as to what has prompted this, the announcement a new list of seven wonders, one has to wonder at man's continued fascination with magical numbers.

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