Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Library of Alexandria: The History and Legacy of the Ancient World’s Most Famous Library

The Library of Alexandria: The History and Legacy of the Ancient World's Most Famous LibraryThe Library of Alexandria: The History and Legacy of the Ancient World’s Most Famous Library by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I visited the New York Public Library to write a research paper on female monasticism in the High Middle Age, I was amazed by the volumes of book it possessed and its classification system of organization staffed by knowledgeable librarians, as well as the colossal architectural building in the middle of Manhattan, New York. Perhaps it might have been this kind of awe and wonder kindled in the minds of ancient travelers or scholars who had seen or visited the Library of Alexandra, one of the largest and greatest of the ancient libraries in the history of civilization, which is said to exist from the 3rd century B.C. until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. The Library of Alexandra: The History and Legacy of the Ancient World’s Most Famous Library by Charles River Editors presents a comprehensive history of this great ancient library from its genesis to demise on the grounds of historical accounts and logical scientific reasoning thereof.

For centuries when libraries were still few and far between as written knowledge had been exclusively held by the religious classes in private repositories, the image of this ancient library once existent in Alexandria had been evocative of mysterious ambience of esoteric mystical knowledge of the bygone eras and thus inspired imagination to create myths and legends. In fact, libraries as we know now and find ubiquitously are fairly a modern invention born of the cultural legacy of the Library of Alexandria as the apotheosis of two ancient literary and cultural traditions converging the Greek and the Egyptian.

  • The Egyptian Background
    When Alexander the Great and his army conquered the ancient Middle East in the 4th century – one of which was Egypt -, they were encountered with cultures with long literary traditions and traditions of literary documents in repositories called, “the House of Life” and “the House of Books” that housed thousands of documents written in papyrus-made scrolls for the Egyptian and clay tablets for the Mesopotamian under the administration of the priest class. Of these two houses of documents, it is the House of Life, the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a library, from which the majority of texts have survived until the present time. Consequently, Alexander and his army were overawed with the rich literary culture of their conquered land, took the ancient Egyptian concept of a library and transformed it from a religious to a secular institution by providing a bridge of knowledge from the most ancient concepts of libraries to the modern libraries in the process of Hellenization of the Egyptian.
  • The Greek and Hellenization (The spreading of the Greek culture)
    Alexander’s Hellenization was a two-fold political program consisting of (1) acculturation by performing and accepting certain religious and cultural traditions making him look “Egyptian” to gain acceptance by the Egyptian elite class; and (2) the promotion of the Greek culture, “Hellenism” by spreading the Greek culture throughout Egypt. The process of Hellenization in Egypt was well succeeded by his general named Ptolemy, (the founder of the Ptolemy dynasty from 304 to 330 B.C., including Cleopatra VII) who made Alexandria the capital of Egypt and the cultural center of the Hellenistic and the famed Library of Alexandria as the centerpiece. In fact, the Ptolemies’ subsidization of the Library was their way to link their dynasty, which was in a foreign land far away from their homeland Greece, to the greatness of their culture. They also banned the export of papyrus from Egypt, which resulted in increase of prices for books and creation of the industry of forgeries and plagiarism.

According to the Greek historian/geographer Strabo (64 B.C.-24 A.D.) upon visiting the Library of Alexandria, it was part of the royal palace and an annex to the museum, which was a community of academic and religious scholars gathering in the shrine of the Muses of the arts and intellect. The membership was exclusive to the men holding property in common with a priest in charge of the museum. The library housed over 500,000 papyrus book-scrolls written by the ancient notables, such as Homer, Euripeds, Sophocles, and Herodotus, all in Greeks as most of the documents stored therein had been translated from their original languages by priests under the Hellenistic influence. Besides, the Library organized all the entries into alphabetical order as a classification system of library organization that is akin to modern library information system.

  • Destruction of the Library of Alexandria
    Since there has been no definite archeological evidence of the Library discovered, myths and legends concerning its end are still rampant in the imaginations of creative minds. It is said to be burned down by the Civil Wars in 48 or 47 B.C. by Plutarch in Life of Caesar, the theory advocated by Seneca, a famous Roman orator, and later popularized by Edward Gibbon of “The Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire.” However, the most plausible and logical theory of the destruction of the Library is that the humidity must have ensued the destruction of books in papyrus and that the process of destruction would have taken place over hundreds of years contrary to a popular dramatic version of its being burned to ashes by Caesar’s men in one night. Also, another speculation is that after Egypt was annexed to the Roman Empire in 30 B.C., the presence of the Library of Alexandria became an afterthought to the Romans, who imported Greek Scholars and books into Rome, rather than made a long trip to the foreign land. The Romans were more concerned with building their own architectural building, including libraries and schools, in their own land by sending their book agents to the Library of Alexandria to take the originals back to Rome, which contributed to a gradual demise of the Library, by making its presence obsolete and unnecessary for the upkeep of the maintenance.

The great ancient Library of Alexandria as an architectural artifact might have disappeared into history, but its cultural inheritance of civilization preserving intellectual act of learning in appreciation of arts and beauty still strongly resonates with its historiography and contribution to our modern world by continuing to inspire our minds to carry it on for posterity. The Library of Alexandria still exists in the presence of any place of learning or knowledge as long as we appreciate such cultural influence on what we take for granted, such as using our own library. Now that I have read this book, the next time I visit any library, I will think of those ancient librarians and appreciate the legacy of the Library of Alexandria and Alexander the Great for making it all possible.

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Gone with Tears

 

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‘The Angelus’ by Jean Francois Millet

Gone with tears are the four hearts of four souls,
Weeping for the world pitiless, merciless, cheerless,
Overawing and expiring the tiny flames of four lives, and
Leaving their remains soaked with tears with no friend.

Hope? Forget about the vanity of ethereal remote longing,
Unavailable to them, unthinkable to them, for their suffering
Was theirs, theirs only, theirs alone, not ours, not yours, not mine,
Thinking “Thank God, it’s them, instead of me” with a glass of wine.

Where was Charity when the four souls- two parents, two babies-
Were forced to wander around in the vacant lot nights and days
Facing daily unkindness, hopelessness, rejections, humiliations
Gnawing every part of them till their spirits plunged to a low bottomless?

Woe is to the four souls aborting their Fates so hard, so harsh
In defiance against such Fates that even allowed no remote wish
For instant happiness and now wandering the Place of Grief where
They tell us their failed dreams and disappointments hard to bear.

 

P.S. : This poem was written in memory of the family of four found dead in the backseat of a van in the parking lot of a CVS store located in Garden Grove, California. It is said that the family seemed to live in the van for about six months or so. The family was composed of a father, a mother, a two-year old daughter, and a nine-month old son. Although the Police is  investigating the cause of death, I can’t shake away my strong speculation that it must have been a case of suicide… Hence, this is how I feel about these souls who had no choice but ending their own – including the little ones of their own- . If the father or the mother could have gotten a job, or if anyone could provide them information on how to get public assistance, such as acquisition of housing and food stamp, they would have been with us… They should have not died… I wish they would rest in peace., especially those little ones as my heart is crying…

Episode VI – Welcoming Uncle Willie in Avonlea

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Sally Lamb of The Calico Times

When Sally Lamb, a resident reporter of the town’s one and only newspaper “The Calico Times” heard the news from Mr. Randy Beaver, an able-bodied mechanic who also functions as a town’s great plumber, that his distant maternal uncle named Mr. William Rustis had arrived in the town a week ago, her journalistic instinct prompted her to meet him in person. Besides, there had been no newcomer to this small town where urbanity meets rurality, teeming with a peculiar charm of fairy-tale like atmosphere created by the affably plumb and flurry appearances of the residents.

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Sally gives a ride

So she drove to Dryad Park, where Mr. Rustis was reported to be seen with his camping belonging days and nights. When Sally got to the entrance of the park, she could see who Mr. Rustis was without a ray of doubt; a big sombrero, an orange-colored scarf tied in the fashion of a boy scout, a large and hefty frame, most of which was dominated by his wide waist circumference, and most of all, a striking grinning that was instantly recognizable of him even in a far distance. There he was, her Interviewee Of The Day.

 

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Mr. William “Willie” Rustis

“H~~~~i, There ! I’m here!” was the exultant voice of Mr. Rustis with a Great Grinning. Sally, being always shy in public but bold in pen, was embarrassed by such an exuberant welcoming, when she would be the one who would welcome her interviewee to make him feel comfortable to have a good, productive interview result. ‘Thank God’, Sally thought to herself while scurrying toward the Man with Great Grinning by the fountain, the interview site. “There are just a few people in the park now. Is he a sane man as Mr. Beaver said of his uncle?… What if he dos not talk sense?… What if he bursts out a sudden fit of tantrum?… A man with such a seemingly perpetual grinning on his face will never be a sane man after all. I’d better finish this interview as quickly as possible.” So much mental ado was straining Sally’s sophisticated inner world as she was approaching closer to her subject.

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Always Affable Uncle Willie

“You must be Ms. Sally Lamb! I am Willie Rustis, Randy Weaver’s old uncle. He told me many good things about you! Boy, aren’t you a lovely darling? You must have may boys and men who orbit around you. Don’t you? Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m darn glad to be interviewed by a lovely lass today! Randy didn’t tell me that you were! He just told me that you’re a good writer of a newspaper. By the way, what’s the name of your newspaper?” Sally was both stunned by his extravagant greeting, which was actually quite pleasing and flattering because she was renowned for her somewhat austere tendency toward strangers and people whom she regarded mentally benighted, especially men. Besides, she did not think herself as the “It” girl. “How do you do, Mr. Rustis. I work for “The Calico Times, the one and only newspaper of Sylvania.” Shall we begin?” “Oh, well! Sure! But please call me Willie. Being called Mr. Rustis makes me feel like I am senile! I am and always will be Willie! Ha! Ha! Ha!,” was the beginning of the day’s interview. And lo, it was a productive, intriguing interview as set forth in the following narrative of Mr. Rustis:

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Willie reading the newspaper

Well, it’s been— I don’t know the exact numbers of days I have been spending so far in this new place, but it almost feels like a week or so. I could have gone to Randy’s as he himself and his lovely wife Brenda insisted – and they still insist! – and stay there until now, but I opted out for living here in the nature because I want to know more about this new place and feel the atmosphere myself in the most natural way, uninhibited by any superficial ways that creature comforts usually afford. Not that it’s bad, but that’s not my way of knowing a certain new thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a soldier too long, but I guess it’s in my nature. And in terms of the residents of this town, it’s hard for me to appraise their characters, tendencies, personalities, and so forth at this time. And people are people. As long as humanity exists, as it did thousands years ago, and it has been in existent thus far, there’s on one either extremely evil or angelically good.

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Willie’s books and map

I must say, it’s a life of pioneer in the West at this juncture. Thanks to the generosity of the park administration, I can stay here as long as I don’t cause fire and keep the place clean. Although I don’t have a tent, I have a good old army sleeping bag that I still keep from the Glory Days of The Cavalry, some food provided by good Randy and his lovely wife Brenda on a weekly basis, a radio, and books! I am a librophile, a term I coined to mean a book lover. I love reading nonfiction on the subjects of ancient history, mythology, and the Classics. Right now, I am reading Plutarch’s Lives, which is just wonderful to read! You know that Plutarch himself was Greek, but could understand the Latin language, although not to the apotheosis of lingual perfection, and could write about all those great ancient figures of the time immemorial!

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Uncle Willie talking

In fact, I am talking in terms of Logotheraphy, the third Viennese School of Psychoanalysis found by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl. Yes, I read his book Man’s Search for Meaning. I know it inside and outside. Well, do I? But once in a while, you need to keep yourself detached from the crowd to ponder about what you have seen in Reality that shapes your mind in the way you perceive the swing of things in the world in your own way, all in order to establish your own Reality. Well, right now I am having the moment, a moment of laughing about my anxieties and anguish about myself and future. And this won’t last long, for in fact, next week Randy will help me set up some small business to start. And going from there, I will see if I can move onto the next big thing, another new step to climb up my Alpine Path, so steep but so worthwhile.

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Sally writing at the end of the day

It was indeed a stellar Interview of The Day. What began with Sally’s uneasiness with her unknown subject ended on a high note -with a kindred spirit. Willie was an embodiment of living Logotheraphy, a human endeavor to live in quest for meaning of life. Also, Willie was something of an intellectual, a man who practiced what he preached like George Orwell, one of the favorite writers Sally admires all the time. With her Traveler’s Notebook full of wonderful accounts of the interview, Sally drove back to her home to type them, to publish urbi and orbi about a man extraordinary in thinking but ordinary in acting, that is, Willie and his Weltanschaung – the view of the world.

 

 

An Invitation from The Forgotten

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from google

Of the dusty ruins of the misty pasts
When gods were kings of kingdoms
Far across the great divide of the seas,
Lies a vase carrying ancient stories.

Love, War, Intrigues, Promises – Humanities
Of Ancient Life, so distant in times and spaces-
Are conjured up in holography, jettisoned from
The spell of Oblivion of Time by the Cycle of Time.

Suddenly, from the horizon afar that seems endless
An Old Man appears in a great chariot of two horses
And tells me, “I am A’as, god of gods of the Hittites.”
I ride his great chariot and vanish into the endless horizons.

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In a Twilight Dream

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courtesy of google.com

In the wee-hours of waking from a slumber which
left me bewitched and reluctant to slowly
return to Reality pervading me inch by inch,
My eyes saw them glowing in the twilight silently.

The faces – the faces! – those angelic faces
of the celestial choir of Cherubims and Seraphims
with the eyes of stars in the night sky, but alas!
those eyes, those starry eyes full of silent woes!

As the dawn’s breaking, and breaking ever rudely,
the faces with the fateful eyes becoming faint and fainter,
and the candlelight by the bedside flickering weakly,
My eyes saw the Lights of Life growing big and bigger.

That heartache puncturing my heart in every pieces,
filling the voids with perpetual pathos of longing
lingers in the remains of the days till my soul sees
the sorry faces to tell them I love you, and the love is never-ending.

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