Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture
2316 West 1st Ave.
Spokane, WA 99201
Jennifer Tobin, Associate Professor of History and Classics, University of Illinois-Chicago
Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire in the latter half of the 4th century BCE resulted in an unprecedented Greco-Macedonian investigation of Africa, Central Asia and India. During the following centuries narratives created by explorers, traders and conquerors, reported on the wonders, both natural and man-made, of these new lands. These exploration reports, few of which survive today, were collected and housed in the Library of Alexandria and during the 3rd century BCE scholars catalogued the information they con-tained, creating lists of Thaumata (Wonders): exotic creatures, customs and sights not only found abroad, but also found within the Greek homeland. These lists were an exercise in cosmic stock taking, measuring the world through oddities and anomalies found both at home and abroad. At some point in the 2nd century BCE a list of seven man-made wonders was created, a compendium of Greek and foreign monuments that astounded the viewer. Although the creator of the list is not known, the seven wonders became a trope that is used to this day. This presentation explores the means by which the “wonder lists” of the 3rd century BCE helped situate the Greeks within a broader world where “otherness” threatened, by domesticating the wondrous and foreign into manageable catalogues. This presentation also investigates how the emergence of a limited list of wonders, the canonical seven, was used to assert cultural dominance in a multicultural world.
Lecture sponsored by Fred and Catherine Lauritsen and Rich and Sally Peterson