Skip to comments.Magnificent Seven That Keep Mere Mortals Wondering
Posted on 04/02/2004 5:20:20 PM PST by blam
Magnificent seven that keep mere mortals wondering
By Christopher Howse
Only one person out of more than 600 polled could name all Seven Wonders of the World, according to a survey published today. That person's identity is unknown, since the survey was done scientifically by ICM, guaranteeing anonymity. Perhaps it was you.
If not, and you want to try getting all seven, look away from this page now.
How did you score? If you could name three, you were doing well. Only one person in 10 managed that. Four or more Wonders were named by only a tiny percentage.
The lone wunderkind who named all Seven Wonders is a man. (Men are slightly better than women at this game.) He lives in Wales and is aged between 18 and 24. That is surprising, because the 18-24 sector is the most likely to say: "Don't know." The brightest sparks, wonderwise, are the 55-64 age group, with the over-65s as close runners-up.
The knowledgability of older people is good news for the tour company that commissioned the poll. "These are the people with more time on their hands," says Carolanne Dieleman of Swan Hellenic, "and they don't just want beach holidays."
My investigations confirmed a widespread ignorance of Wonders. The first person I could find who knew all seven was Gavin Fuller, a winner of Mastermind (1993). "The Great Pyramid at Giza," he exclaimed, and the next five Wonders popped out like piglets from a prize sow. There was a nanosecond of hesitation over the Temple of Diana (Artemis, same thing). No passes.
"People need to know these things," said Mr Fuller scornfully. "For pub quizzes." A-class pub quizzers also know the Seven Dwarfs (Bashful stumps a lot of people); the Seven Hills of Rome (tricky); and the Seven Deadly Sins. Few can get all the Seven Deadly Sins," says Fr Alban McCoy, Catholic chaplain at Cambridge University, "though they all know one - the same one. And I certainly wouldn't expect undergraduates to be able to name the Wonders of the World. It is not the sort of thing they learn at school."
Dr Peter Jones, who runs Friends of Classics for fans of all things Greek and Latin, agrees. But he not only knows the Seven Wonders, he also knows who came up with the list that has exerted such a spell over generations. "The seeds were sown by Herodotus, who found Babylon fascinating and devoted a huge amount of attention to the Pyramids.
"Then, Callimachus of Cyrene (305-240 BC), librarian at Alexandria, wrote a work entitled A Collection of Wonders in Lands Throughout the World." And what did he say? "We don't know, because the book doesn't survive.
"The first concrete list comes from Antipater of Sidon (c110 BC), who writes a poem saying he gazed on the walls of Babylon, the statue of Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the pyramids and the Mausoleum - but the greatest of them all is the temple of Artemis at Ephesus."
A latecomer was the Pharos, the lighthouse of Alexandria, first included by Gregory of Tours (ad539-594). And the Seven Wonders were fixed only in the Renaissance, when the Dutch artist Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) produced images that circulated widely through engravings.
Only the Great Pyramid survives today. More of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is preserved in the British Museum than at its site, now called Bodrum, on the Mediterranean shore of Turkey.
Swan Hellenic's pollsters also asked people to name their own extant Wonders. Top came the Niagara Falls, with the votes of half the pollees. But everyone I've asked thinks this is cheating, because the Niagara Falls are not man-made.
It turns out that Swan Hellenic supplied a shortlist from previous popular suggestions. Examples that got almost no support included the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China.
Yet one in five people polled put the Channel Tunnel in their top three. It was also the first choice in a global poll by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The architectural historian Gavin Stamp also goes for an engineering Wonder. "The Forth Railway Bridge is a huge achievement, unequalled in its day," he enthuses. For him, a close second is the Viceroy's House in New Delhi, designed by Edwin Lutyens.
Jan Morris, the travel writer, who has been everywhere, nominates the Sydney Opera House. "It's the first really beautiful modern building that has impinged on the consciousness of the world," she says, "But the Wonder of the World is Venice."
"The Sphinx is still the thrill," says Irma Kurtz, who has just finished circumnavigating the Mediterranean for her BBC4 television series. "There she is, looking straight ahead - at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. But there's something marvellous about her." On second thoughts, she goes for the Grand Canal in Venice.
Bella Freud, the clothes designer, refuses to nominate a building at all. "Places to go and see seem a bit boring," she says. "Alcoholics Anonymous must qualify. It has put a lot of people back on the life train."
By contrast Dr Jones chooses wine - along with Homer and aspirin. When asked to stick to buildings, he immediately thinks of Hagia Sophia, Durham Cathedral and Santa Maria Maggiore.
Other people prefer Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, Petra, even the Panama Canal. Then there's always that one you just can't quite remember . . .
It helps if you've played Civilization :)
I'd bet that there's a huge chance that he plays the PC strategy game 'Sid Meier's Civilization III'.
I could have named all seven, even the tough to remember ones like 'The Temple of Artemis' and 'Mausoleum of Halicarnassus'.
Of all the ancient wonders, I would have liked to see the Colossus of Rhodes the most. It's ruins were sold to an Arab for scrap metal long after it had fallen.
. . . . . . . . . . The Steven Wonder of the "World"
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