The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The Seven Wonders is a historical novel by Steven Saylor set in 92 B.C. It’s about a young Roman, Gordianus, and his tutor, the poet Antipater of Sidon, who set out on a journey from Rome to see the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. At the beginning of the novel, Antipater fakes his own death and travels under an assumed named, Zoticus of Zeugma. We don’t know until the end of the book why he has done this.
The pair travel from one Wonder to another, apparently with ease and without too much discomfort. Such a trip, 92 years before Christ, takes months, if not years. In the order they appear in the book, the Wonders are: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, The Colossus of Rhodes, the Wall and Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, and the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria. They were all engineering and architectural wonders that made even the most jaded traveler sit up and take notice. If you look at them and go “ho-hum,” you are either faking it or you just aren’t right in the head.
At every one of their stops, Gordianus and Antipater encounter some kind of intrigue. There is always a mystery to be solved, which Gordianus is usually able to solve using his deductive powers. He is sort of a junior-grade detective who only has to mature to become something really special. He has his first sexual encounters on this trip (male and female), which is mostly left to our imagination, and he takes a giant leap toward manhood in more ways than one. In the end, he is left alone in Alexandria, Egypt, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world at that time, because political unrest makes it unsafe for him to return to Rome and to his family. His story is continued in other novels by the same author.
There is a subplot in The Seven Wonders involving Rome and its political enemies. Rome has conquered most of the civilized world of the time and has its sights set on the parts it hasn’t yet conquered. Some Greeks, however, are not going to stand by and let Rome have everything. Political unrest is fomenting all over the civilized world.
If The Seven Wonders seems contrived, it seems less so at the end when all the pieces come together, rather like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s “pop history,” but the apparently well-researched information it contains about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is fascinating. Through the characters in the book, it’s almost as if we are seeing the Wonders for ourselves.
An interesting footnote is that the Great Pyramid in Egypt, the oldest of the Seven Wonders, is also the only one left standing. The others were destroyed by earthquakes, fires, or by pillaging invaders bent on destroying what was left of a once-great civilization. Like Titanic and the World Trade Center, they exist only in our imaginations, in pictures and in stories.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp