THE MYSTERY OF THE HANGING GARDEN OF BABYLON by Stephanie Dalley

THE MYSTERY OF THE HANGING GARDEN OF BABYLON

An Elusive World Wonder Traced

KIRKUS REVIEW

A scholar and authority on cuneiform presents evidence for the design and location of one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The gardens weren’t actually hanging, and they weren’t in the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar, writes Dalley, editor and author of numerous scholarly works on Mesopotamia (Myths from Mesopotamia, 1989, etc.). Instead, she argues that they were actually in Nineveh, created at the command of Sennacherib around 700 B.C. Her evidence is principally textual, based on her profound understanding of ancient writing, architecture and even personality. After describing how she became interested in the topic, she notes how efforts to locate the gardens in Babylon have long failed. She then summarizes the classical authors who mentioned the gardens (from Diodorus Siculus to Josephus and others), concluding they were created on artificial terraces, were shaped like an amphitheater and required machinery to bring water to the site. (She includes a couple of speculative drawings.) Dalley then spends time with the invention of the screw (necessary for drawing water to the site), arguing that Archimedes was probably a latecomer to the design. After a chapter on water management in the desert, she describes—in a chapter as dense as an untended garden—how confusions have arisen over the centuries about names and locations. Although her writing is generally scholarly, she does crack wise occasionally—commenting, for example, about the sweet breath of the gods: “no halitosis in heaven,” she quips. Her penultimate chapter deals with a problem: If Nineveh was razed in 612 B.C., how did the Greeks and others learn about the gardens? She argues convincingly for a continuing human presence at the site, despite other accounts, and she lists some lingering speculations.

Deeply researched and rigorously argued—and certain to raise both hopes and objections.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0199662265
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2013




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