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The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World

The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World

3.5 8
by Steven Saylor

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The year is 92 B.C. Gordianus has just turned eighteen and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a far-flung journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Gordianus is not yet called "the Finder"—but at each of the Seven Wonders, the wide-eyed young Roman encounters a mystery to challenge the powers of deduction.

Accompanying Gordianus on


The year is 92 B.C. Gordianus has just turned eighteen and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a far-flung journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Gordianus is not yet called "the Finder"—but at each of the Seven Wonders, the wide-eyed young Roman encounters a mystery to challenge the powers of deduction.

Accompanying Gordianus on his travels is his tutor, Antipater of Sidon, the world's most celebrated poet. But there is more to the apparently harmless old poet than meets the eye. Before they leave home, Antipater fakes his own death and travels under an assumed identity. Looming in the background are the first rumblings of a political upheaval that will shake the entire Roman world.

Teacher and pupil journey to the fabled cities of Greece and Asia Minor, and then to Babylon and Egypt. They attend the Olympic Games, take part in exotic festivals, and marvel at the most spectacular constructions ever devised by mankind. Along the way they encounter murder, witchcraft and ghostly hauntings. Traveling the world for the first time, Gordianus discovers that amorous exploration goes hand-in-hand with crime-solving. The mysteries of love are the true wonders of the world, and at the end of the journey, an Eighth Wonder awaits him in Alexandria. Her name is Bethesda.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Saylor’s lucky 13th entry in his Roma Sub Rosa series (after 2008’s The Triumph of Caesar) takes Gordianus the Finder on a tour of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. In 92 B.C.E., the Greek poet Antipater has, for obscure reasons, chosen to fake his death and leave Rome, accompanied by Gordianus, his 18-year-old student. At every stop around the eastern Mediterranean, from the temple of Diana in Ephesus to the Pharos Lighthousein Alexandria, Gordianus has a tricky puzzle to solve. With his insight and attention to detail, Gordianus is able to find the truth in each case before his elders. This prequel marks the start of his successful career as a detective, chronicled in the 12 previous books. As always, Saylor excels at bringing the past alive, in particular by incorporating the political issues of the day into the action. A closing author’s note surveys the many and often conflicting sources of information for the Seven Wonders. Agent: Alan Nevins, Renaissance Literary and Talent. (June)

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St. Martin's Press
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Novels of Ancient Rome , #13
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The Seven Wonders

A Novel of the Ancient World

By Steven Saylor

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Steven Saylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0196-7


Prelude in Rome:


"Now that you're dead, Antipater, what do you plan to do with yourself?"

My father laughed at his own joke. He knew perfectly well what Antipater was planning to do, but he couldn't resist a paradoxical turn of phrase. Puzzles were my father's passion — and solving them his profession. He called himself Finder, because men hired him to find the truth.

Not surprisingly, old Antipater answered with a poem made up on the spot; for yes, the Antipater of whom I speak was the Antipater of Sidon — one of the most celebrated poets in the world, famed not only for the elegance of his verses but for the almost magical way he could produce them impromptu, as if drawn from the aether. His poem was in Greek, of course:

"I died on my birthday, so I must leave Rome.

Now your son has his birthday — is it time to leave home?"

Antipater's question, like my father's, was merely rhetorical. For days the old poet and I had been making preparations to leave Rome together on this day. He gave me a smile. "It does seem unfair, my boy, that your birthday should be overshadowed by my funeral."

I resisted the urge to correct him. Despite his lingering habit of addressing me as a boy, I was in fact a man, and had been so for exactly a year, since I put on my manly toga when I turned seventeen. "What better way to celebrate my birthday, Teacher, than to set out on a journey such as most people can only dream of?"

"Well put!" Antipater squeezed my shoulder. "It's not every young man who can look forward to seeing with his own eyes the greatest monuments ever built by mankind, and in the company of mankind's greatest poet." Antipater had never been modest. Now that he was dead, I suppose he had no reason to be.

"And it's not every man who has the privilege of gazing upon his own funeral stele," my father said, indicating with a wave of his hand the object of which he spoke.

The three of us stood in the garden of my father's house on the Esquiline Hill. The sky was cloudless and the air was warm for the month of Martius. In front of us — delivered only moments before from the sculptor's workshop — stood a riddle in marble. It was a funeral stele for a man who was not dead. The rectangular tablet was elegantly carved and brightly painted, and only about a foot tall. Later it would be placed atop the sepulcher intended for the dead man's ashes, but for now it was propped atop the crate in which it had been delivered.

Antipater nodded thoughtfully. "And not every man has the opportunity to design his own monument, as I have. You don't think it's too irreverent, do you, Finder? I mean, we don't want anyone to look at this stele and realize it's a hoax. If anyone should surmise that I've faked my own death —"

"Stop worrying, old friend. Everything is going as we planned. Five days ago I entered your death in the register at the Temple of Libitina. Thanks to the rich matrons who send a slave to check the lists several times a day, word of your demise spread across Rome in a matter of hours. People assumed that your old friend and patron Quintus Lutatius Catulus must be in possession of your remains and in charge of the funeral arrangements. There was disbelief when it was discovered that a citizen as humble as myself had been named executor in your will, and that your remains were to be displayed in the vestibule of my house. But so it was. I summoned the undertakers to wash and perfume the body, purchased flowers, cypress sprigs, incense, and a very elegant bier — your will provided for all necessary expenses — and then I put your corpse on display in the vestibule. And what a turnout you've received! All the poets and half the politicians in Rome have come to pay their respects."

Antipater flashed a wry smile. "My demise has allowed you to make the acquaintance of the best people in Rome, Finder — just the sort who are always getting dragged into court for murdering each other. I daresay this could prove a windfall for you — meeting so many potential new clients!"

My father nodded. "Everyone has come to have a look, it seems — except Catulus. Do you imagine your patron is sulking, because the will didn't name him as executor?"

"More likely he's been holding off, waiting until today to pay his respects — the day of the funeral — so that his visit will be as conspicuous as possible. Catulus may have the soul of a poet, but he has the instincts of a politician —"

Antipater fell silent at the sound of a knock at the front door.

"Another caller. I shall disappear at once." Antipater hurried to the concealed door that gave access to a narrow chamber next to the vestibule, where a tiny crack in the wall served as a peephole and allowed him to observe all that transpired.

A moment later, my father's doorkeeper — the only slave he owned at that time — appeared in the garden.

"You have a visitor, Master," Damon wheezed. The constant flood of callers was running the poor old fellow ragged. He cleared his throat and I saw him concentrate, determined to get the name right. "Lintus Quitatius Catulus, former consul of the Republic, has come to pay his respects to the deceased."

"Quintus Lutatius Catulus, I think you mean," said my father indulgently. "Come, son, let us greet the consul."

The man in the vestibule was perhaps sixty years old. Like my father and me, he was dressed in a black toga, but his was embroidered with a purple band that marked his status as a senator. Ten years ago Catulus had served as consul and commander of the legions; it was his army that annihilated the Cimbri at the battle of the Raudine Plain. But Catulus was also a man of culture and learning, and was said to have a sensitive nature. He stood stiffly upright before the funeral bier with his hands crossed before him.

My father introduced himself, and me as well, but Catulus hardly seemed to notice. "Your distinguished presence graces my home, Consul, though I regret the sadness of the occasion. Did you come alone?"

Catulus raised an eyebrow. "Of course not. I left my retinue outside, so that I could spend a moment alone with my old friend — face-to-face, so to speak. But alas, his face is covered." Catulus gestured to the mask, made of wax, which concealed the face of the corpse. "Is it true that his features were damaged by the fall?"

"I'm afraid so," said my father. "The undertakers did what they could to make him presentable, but the damage was such that I decided it was preferable to conceal the injuries. Normally, a death mask is made from the direct impression of the face in repose. But in this case, I hired a sculptor to create the likeness. The mask will be used in the funeral procession, as usual, but until then I've placed it over his face. I think the sculptor did a very good job, don't you? It really does look like Antipater, lying there with his eyes shut, as if he slept. Still, if you wish to gaze upon his face. ..."

Catulus nodded grimly. "I'm a military man, Finder. I've seen the most terrible things that can be done to human flesh. Show me."

My father stepped to the bier and lifted the death mask.

The staid consul's abrupt, girlish shriek, stifled by a fist to his mouth, was so incongruous that I almost laughed out loud. Behind the wall, I heard a noise like loose plaster falling, and imagined Antipater shaking with mirth.

Catulus glanced at the wall. My father shrugged and looked embarrassed, as if to apologize for the presence of rats.

"But how could a mere fall have resulted in such terrible disfigurement?" Catulus kept his fist pressed to his mouth. He looked a bit green.

"It was a long fall," explained my father, "from the top floor of an apartment in the Subura, five stories up. He landed on his head. As I say, the undertakers did what they could —"

"Yes, I understand. Replace the mask, please."

"Of course, Consul."

Not for the first time, I wondered about the true identity of the corpse upon the bier. My father had declined to tell me, following his long-standing practice of keeping to himself any aspect of his work that he deemed unnecessary for me to know. When I turned seventeen, I had thought my father might see fit to share all his secrets with me, but if anything, he had become more guarded than ever during the last year. I knew that something very dangerous must be afoot in Rome, for Antipater to fake his own death, and for my father to assist him in such a wild scheme, but regarding the details, I had been kept in the dark.

The elderly body on the bier was apparently an excellent match for Antipater; not one of the many visitors had expressed the least doubt. Of course, the only parts of the corpse that were visible were the long white hair and beard and the wrinkled, age-spotted hands crossed over the chest, the rest being covered by one of Antipater's favorite garments and by the mask. The man truly had died from a fall in the Subura, just as my father described, cracking his skull and shattering his face. Had he been a slave, discreetly acquired from his owner? Or some lowlife criminal whom no one cared to claim? Or simply some ancient citizen of the Subura without family or friends to mourn him? Whoever he was, he had died at the right time and in such a manner that he could be passed off as Antipater. In a way, my father had done the poor fellow a favor; the dead man had been mourned by the best people in Rome and was about to receive funeral rites far above his station.

"How sad," said Catulus, "that Antipater should have died on his birthday — the one day of the year that he allowed himself to get completely, blindingly drunk. 'My annual birthday fever,' he called it — as if such a malady actually existed! — and would have none of his friends around him, pretending to be confined to his bed all day by illness. I presume his drunkenness led to his death?"

"It appears that Antipater was indeed quite drunk," said my father. "The body still exudes an odor of wine. If you put your nose to the flesh —"

"That will not be necessary," snapped Catulus, who still looked a bit green. "Is it true that he was visiting a prostitute?"

"It seems likely. The room from which he fell is known to be used for such assignations."

"At his age!" Catulus shook his head but smiled faintly. "But there was no indication of foul play?"

"None that I could find," said my father.

"And finding foul things is your profession, I understand. Male or female?"

"I beg your pardon, Consul?"

"The prostitute Antipater was visiting — male or female?"

No one else had asked this particular question, and I could see that my father was having to make up an answer on the spot. Catulus, I recalled, was known to favor young men, and had even composed poems in Greek to flatter his lovers — something rather daring for a Roman aristocrat of the older generation.

My father pursed his lips. "Antipater's companion apparently fled after the fatal accident, leaving nothing behind, but I believe a patron in the tavern downstairs saw a handsome young man in Antipater's company earlier that evening." My father could lie shamelessly, a skill he was never able to satisfactorily pass on to me. Inside the wall, I heard more plaster falling. Did Antipater shake with laughter, or had he kicked the wall in indignation?

"Ah!" Catulus nodded knowingly. "Antipater was discreet about his love life — so quiet about such matters, in fact, that I presumed the old fellow was past all that, freed from the chains of Eros like boy-crazy Sophocles in his dotage. But I always suspected he had it in him to appreciate a beautiful youth. How else could he have composed that lovely epitaph for Anacreon?"

The consul put a hand over his heart and declaimed:

"Here lies Anacreon — poet, singer, player of the lyre.
Hear now his song about love's unquenchable fire —
The mad, unfettered love of Anacreon for Bathyllus the dancer,
To whom he posed this question, desperately seeking an answer. ..."

Catulus sighed and wiped a tear from his eye. Up to this point, he had scarcely acknowledged my presence, but now his gaze fell on me. "So this boy is your namesake, eh, Finder? The young Gordianus."

"Yes. But as you can see by his manly toga, my son is no longer a boy. Today is his eighteenth birthday, in fact."

"Is it, indeed?" Catulus raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Well, I must counsel you not to follow Antipater's example when it comes to celebrating your birthday, but in all other things you would do well to emulate him. You were his pupil, were you not?"

"I was proud to call him Teacher," I said.

"So you should be. He was very selective about whom he would take on as a pupil. He must have seen something very special in you, young man," said Catulus.

I shrugged, a bit unnerved by the consul's steady gaze. In fact, it was a bit presumptuous of me to present myself as a pupil of the great Antipater of Sidon; my father could never have afforded to hire such a distinguished poet to be my tutor. Our relationship as teacher and student had always been informal; nonetheless, on his regular visits to my father's house over the years, Antipater never left without drilling into my head a few lines of Greek poetry, or the names of Alexander's generals, or some other bit of knowledge. From my father I had learned to pick any lock, ten ways to tell if a woman is lying, and how to follow someone without being seen; but whatever I knew of literature, history, mathematics, and especially the language of the Greeks, Antipater had taught me.

"Perhaps you'd like to see the funeral stele?" offered my father.

"It's already been carved?" said Catulus.

"It was delivered not an hour ago. Since Antipater was so very proud of his Greek heritage, I thought it would be appropriate to follow Greek customs. According to the ancient rule set down by Solon of Athens, no monument should be so extravagant that it cannot be carved by a workshop of ten men in three days. The marble tablet was delivered this morning; the paint is barely dry. Follow me, Consul."

My father led the way to the sunlit garden. I heard a faint rustle from the wall where Antipater was hiding; he would have to stay there, unable to observe whatever transpired in the garden.

"As you can see, Consul, the monument is in the style so fashionable nowadays among the learned Greeks. The tablet is of modest size, meant to be set atop the plain stone sepulcher that will receive his ashes. The design is what in Latin we call a rebus; the images tell a story, but only to those who can decipher their meaning."

"Ah, yes," said Catulus, "Antipater himself wrote a number of poems about such tombstones. How appropriate that his own should be rendered in this cryptic style. Let me see if I can puzzle it out."

An elaborately decorated pediment with columns on either side — this part of the tablet was readymade — served as a frame for the images that had been carved in shallow relief to memorialize Antipater. Catulus furrowed his brow as he studied the picture-puzzle.

"A rooster!" he exclaimed. "Why a rooster? To be sure, the cock is finely rendered. The eyes are quite fierce, the beak is opened wide to crow, and the outspread wings are painted a vivid shade of red. Now, what are these items he clutches in his talons? A scepter in one claw — a symbol of royalty — and in the other, a palm branch, a token of victory such as might be awarded to an athlete." Catulus hummed thoughtfully. "And what's this, balanced on the very edge of the base, as if it might fall off? A knucklebone of the sort our ancestors used for dice. When such a die is thrown, one of four sides comes up. I'm not a gaming man, but even I know that this particular throw is a loser. What do the Greeks call it? Ah yes, the Chian throw, named for the island of Chios."

Catulus stepped back and assumed a pensive posture, with his right hand to his mouth and his left hand clasping his right elbow.

"A scepter — yet Antipater was not of royal blood. A palm branch — yet Antipater was never famed for athletic prowess, even as a youth. Why a cock? And why a losing throw of the die?"

He pondered a while longer, then smiled. "The palm is a victory token, yes, but it's also a symbol of the city of Tyre — and despite the fact that Antipater claimed Sidon as his native city, he was actually born in Tyre, a few miles down the Syrian coast. Antipater revealed that fact to very few people; I see that you were among them, Finder. How clever of you to include this detail, since only those closest to Antipater will be able to figure it out."

My father gave an unassuming shrug — or did the opposite, I suppose, since by this gesture he accepted credit for the design that had been created by Antipater.

"The crowing cock — that suggests a man who made himself heard far and wide, as did Antipater with his verses. And as the king of poets, the scepter is rightfully his. But the knucklebone, and the Chian throw ..."


Excerpted from The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor. Copyright © 2012 Steven Saylor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

STEVEN SAYLOR is the author of acclaimed historical mystery novels featuring Gordianus the Finder, including The Triumph of Caesar, as well as the internationally bestselling historical novels Empire and Roma. He has appeared on the History Channel as an expert on Roman politics and life. He divides his time between Berkeley, California and Austin, Texas.

Steven Saylor is the author of the long running Roma Sub Rosa series featuring Gordianus the Finder, as well as the New York Times bestselling novel, Roma and its follow-up, Empire. He has appeared as an on-air expert on Roman history and life on The History Channel. Saylor was born in Texas and graduated with high honors from The University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and classics. He divides his time between Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas.

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The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Helen_Ginger More than 1 year ago
The Seven Wonders is the latest in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, set in ancient Rome. There are now 13 books in the series. This one, though, instead of being a sequel, is a prequel. It takes readers back to the beginning, or actually, before the beginning of the series. In The Seven Wonders, the protagonist, Gordianus, is 18 years old and he sets off with Antipater of Sidon as his guide. Their journey takes them on a tour of the Seven Wonders of the World. Of course, as readers, we go along on the journey. I found the book fascinating. We're taken back to the year 92 B.C. as we travel with Gordianus and Antipater to Greece and Asia Minor to Babylon and Egypt. We see the beginnings of the Olympic Games. We not only see the wonders of the world, we go inside them. We're introduced to the politics of the time. Discovery by discovery, experience by experience, we follow Gordianus as he comes of age. There are murders; travel by sea, foot and camel; plotting; love; new experiences; and unexpected twists. What I most enjoyed was seeing the Seven Wonders. I've never seen even one in real life. Through this book, I saw them all and got to see what they looked like centuries ago, both inside and out. I also got to see the beginnings of the Olympics and the people of this time period. Saylor shows all of this through the action, conversation, and eyes of the characters. He does it without teaching or preaching. For me, it was a page-turner of a book. I give The Seven Wonders a rating of Hel-of-a-Book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not my favorite of the Gordianus books, but still an enjoyable prequel. Steven Saylor is very good with the short story format.
goldenhistorian More than 1 year ago
This series just gets better and better and better--this prequel is no exception. It left me hungry for the next installment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read ever book published by Steven Saylor and have always enjoyed them, I hope he keeps them coming.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
The Seven Won­ders: A Novel of the Ancient World by Steven Say­lor is a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries star­ring the youth­ful, wise crack­ing Gor­dianus. Cur­rently there is a pop­u­lar series of mys­ter­ies writ­ten by Mr. Say­lor and star­ring an older Gordianus. As the name of the book might sug­gests, the reader fol­lows Gor­dianus along with his com­pan­ion and teacher, the world famous Antipa­ter. This famous Greek poet faked his own death to travel in pri­vacy with his stu­dent to see the Seven Won­ders of the ancient world. The cou­ple solves a mys­tery at each site, which at the end, every­thing ties in together to lay out before the reader a grander story. I enjoyed Saylor’s pre­vi­ous books (although admit­tedly I didn’t read many) and was thrilled to be offered to read The Seven Won­ders. The short sto­ries are a great intro­duc­tion to Gor­dianus and actu­ally have a run­ning theme through­out them besides a travelogue. I am a true believer that travel opens the mind, it lets you see for your­self that there are other ways to live your life besides what you believe is the right way. Actu­ally, trav­el­ing shows you that there is no right way, a dirt farmer in mid­dle Amer­ica might just be as happy and con­tent with his life as a mer­chant in Venice. Expe­ri­enc­ing other cul­tures also, I believe, defuses racism and forms tol­er­ance and accep­tance into one’s mind. In many coun­tries, trav­el­ing after high school or col­lege or mil­i­tary ser­vice is a rite of pas­sage and I think those peo­ple are all the bet­ter for it. Cur­rent fans of Gor­da­nius will enjoy this book because the real story is the evo­lu­tion of a loved char­ac­ter. Part mys­tery, a travel jour­nal, a sex­ual awak­ing tale (as a healthy 18 year old, Gor­da­nius dis­cov­ers the plea­sures of the body at each Won­der, if mem­ory serves me cor­rectly) and part a com­ing of age story. Gor­da­nius becomes the detec­tive that he is in the later nov­els, party by sharp­en­ing his pow­ers of deduc­tion while being a stranger in a strange land, grap­pling with unknown cul­tures and lan­guages. A nice touch, in my opin­ion, was Gor­da­nius’ real­iza­tion that Rome just might not be the cen­ter of the world and/or uni­verse. A truth he has heard and believed since birth. The research in this book, as in other books by Mr. Say­lor is incred­i­ble. The descrip­tions of the Won­ders, cities and alley­ways are descrip­tive and vivid. The loca­tions come alive as if they were another char­ac­ter in the book and, even more impres­sive, with­out stop­ping the story in its tracks. The book is actu­ally a pre­quel to the author’s mys­tery series star­ring the pro­tag­o­nist. How­ever, it is not nec­es­sary to read the pre­vi­ous, or any, books in the series to enjoy this one. Gor­dianus him­self is the nar&#173
scorpion56 More than 1 year ago
Like the Roma series, Steven Saylor brings history, in this case, travels to The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to life in a very entertaining read. I was vaguely aware of the Seven Wonders, but this book adds a great amount of detail and context to that bare boned history lesson we all had from high school. The author does a superb job in describing detail, color and dimensions of the Wonders as well as the pageantry (Olympic Games) surrounding them. World events and struggles of the time (~ 100 B.C.) are equally well-treated and explored. Of course, having Wikipedia available makes it easy to explore in even greater detail. An enjoyable vehicle used in this book, as well in the Roma series, is that each chapter offers an entertaining stand-alone story; yet the central characters and a plot run throughout the book. And as in the Roma series, the central characters are richly developed allowing the reader to feel what their lives were like, and how 2000 years later, peoples' basic yearnings haven't changed all that much. Having read this 'prequel', I'll have to move on to other "The Finder" books. If you enjoy good historical fiction, and have enjoyed other Saylor books, you'll find this a pleasure to race through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Budzdad More than 1 year ago
This reads like the author phoned it in. It's just nowhere near Saylor's usual work.