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Great Myths and Legends Explored at Penn Museum

Philadelphia, PA—Amazonian warrior women, Genghis Khan, even King Midas and his golden touch—all Imhotephave their moment in the spotlight with the Penn Museum's popular Great Myths and Legends evening lecture series, featuring leading scholars from the Penn Museum, the University of Pennsylvania, and beyond.

The series kicks off Wednesday, October 7 at 6:00 pm, and continues the first Wednesday of each month through June 2016. Guests can sign up for a series subscription and save: $40, general public; $15, Penn Museum members. Individual lectures with advance registration are $5, general public; $2, Museum members; and $10 at the door based on availability. For more information, call 215.898.2680. To register, visit

Now in its eighth "Great" season, these wide-ranging illustrated talks incorporate history, anthropology, and archaeology. Past themes have included Great Battles, Great Voyages, and Great Wonders. With this year's theme, speakers delve into great legends from the around world as they explore the myths of mortals.

Penn Museum stays open first Wednesdays until 8:00 pm, and lecture guests are welcome to visit the galleries after the programs.

Great Myths and Legends Series Lineup

Wednesday, October 7, 6:00 pm
Dr. Jennifer Wegner, Associate Curator, Egyptian Section
Imhotep: From Architect to Deity to Villain
The first presentation of the series focuses on the historical figure Imhotep, who designed the remarkable Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara, built during the reign of King Djoser (ca. 2687–2668 BCE). After his death, Imhotep was regarded as a great sage and was later deified—becoming one of the few human beings to join the Egyptian pantheon. As a god, Imhotep was regarded as a patron of healers. Dr. Wegner examines his rise from royal architect to divine being, concluding with an exploration of his appearance in pop culture today.

Wednesday, November 4, 6:00 pm
Dr. Steve Tinney, Associate Curator-in-Charge, Near East Section
Adapa the Sage: Flood, Myth and Magic in early Mesopotamia
Thousands of years ago, scholar-priests in ancient Sumer told a tale about a man who lived long before them, a tale of Adapa, who was so clever that his magic could disable the winds, and who travelled to heaven to meet the gods. Recently published tablets shed new light on Adapa, starting with an evocation of the time just after the Great Flood had passed over. Dr. Tinney tells several stories: of the new discoveries and their decipherment; of Adapa himself; and of the ancient guardians of this strange and magical tradition whose writings have survived almost four thousand years.

Wednesday, December 2, 6:00 pm
Dr. Morris Rossabi, Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University
Genghis Khan: Barbarian Conqueror or Harbinger of Democracy
The world has generally viewed Genghis Khan as a barbaric conqueror whose troops raped and murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people and pillaged and often destroyed villages, towns, and cities throughout Asia and Europe. However, several popular writers have recently portrayed him as an advocate of democracy, international law, and women's rights. This illustrated lecture seeks to provide a balanced depiction of Genghis Khan and to explain the reasons for the myths that have developed about the man and the people who established the largest contiguous land empire in world history.

Wednesday, January 6, 6:00 pm
Dr. Janet Monge, Curator of Physical Anthropology
The Piltdown Fossil Forgery and the Search for the "First Englishman"
In the early 20th century, hominid fossils were unearthed all over the mainland continent of Europe, but not a single fossil representing human evolution was found in Great Britain. The Piltdown fossil hoax was perpetrated by a forger who altered the bones of a modern human skull and an orangutan jaw, passing them off as a plausible fossil find. Who committed the forgery is considered one of the great mysteries of human evolutionary studies, but the reasons why the British scholarly community accepted it is more broadly revealing of the nature of the scientific endeavor.

Wednesday, February 3, 6:00 pm
Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Weingarten Assistant Curator, American Section, and
Dr. Simon Martin, Associate Curator and Keeper of Collections, American Section
Hero Twins of the Americas: Myths of Origin, Duality, and Vengeance
Myths concerning the "hero twins" are widespread from Canada to South America. In the archetypal Maya myth, a pair of twin brothers battle with a range of monsters and death deities as they seek to make the world safe for humankind. Instead of defeating their enemies in trials of strength, they outwit them in games of skill, ingenuity, and magic, offering role models of how best to survive death and ultimately attain rebirth into the sky. A variety of myths throughout North America draw on these same themes but differ dramatically in the details, demonstrating the incredible antiquity of the basic story and the relationships between the diverse cultures of the New World.

Wednesday, March 2, 6:00 pm
Dr. C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section
The Golden Age of King Midas
Midas was indisputably the most famous ruler of the Phrygian kingdom in central Turkey, and his Golden Touch made him an especially favorite subject in Greek legend. His first monumental project as king was a colossal tomb for his father (ca. 740 B.C.) that was excavated by the University of Pennsylvania in 1957, and the finds from that tomb form the centerpiece of the "Golden Age of King Midas" exhibit at the Penn Museum (February-November 2016). In this talk, Dr. Rose provides an overview of the city that King Midas ruled, his diplomatic outreach to the Greeks, and his antagonistic relationship with the Assyrians.

Wednesday, April 6, 6:00 pm
Dr. Annette Yoshiko Reed, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
The Queen of Sheba in History and Legend
Best known from the Bible's account of her marriage to the wise king Solomon, the Queen of Sheba has attracted the curiosity of Jews, Christians, and Muslims for millennia. The lecture traces tales about her from Israel to Ethiopia, and explores how traditions about her have traveled between different religions and connected different regions.

Wednesday, May 4, 6:00 pm
Dr. Jeremy McInerney, Davidson Kennedy Professor and Chair of the Department of Classical Studies
Warrior Women: Amazons and the Greek Imagination
This talk examines Amazons in Greek legend and art. Who were these warrior women and why did they remain a source of curiosity, wonder and fear in the Greek imagination?

Wednesday, June 1, 6:00 pm
Dr. Paul Cobb, Professor of Islamic History
The Arabian Nights: Medieval Fantasy and Modern Forgery
The Arabian Nights is probably the medieval Arabic book best known in the west, full of ripping yarns and vivid characters that have influenced film, music, and literature for centuries. Surprisingly, some of its most cherished tales, such as those of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sindbad, and even Aladdin were added by modern European translators. Paul M. Cobb, Professor of Islamic History at Penn, delves into the fascinating history of this rambling book from its origins in ancient Middle Eastern myths to its status as an European bestseller during the Enlightenment.

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 300 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

The Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on the University of Pennsylvania campus). Public transportation to the Museum is available via SEPTA's Regional Rail Line at University City Station; the Market-Frankford Subway Line at 34th Street Station; trolley routes 11, 13, 34, and 36; and bus routes 21, 30, 40, and 42. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and first Wednesdays of each month until 8:00 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission donation is $15 for adults; $13 for senior citizens (65 and above); free for U.S. Military; $10 for children and full-time students with ID; free to Members, PennCard holders, and children 5 and younger.

Penn Museum can be found on the web at For general information call 215.898.4000. For group tour information call 215.746.8183.

Image captions, top to bottom: A bronze statue of the architect Imhotep. Object no. E14300. (Photo: Penn Museum).


Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director