Monday, February 13, 2012

Reading Report


It was something of a disjointed reading weekend. I spent a lot of time in the past, reading about the Library of Alexandria and its eventual fate. History, being a large and uncertain place, has a lot varying reports about what actually happened at the Library and what was the cause of its eventual destruction. Julius Caesar may have destroyed part of it in 48 BC when he set the ships in the harbor ablaze during his power struggle with Pompey. Then again he may not have, or if he did he may have only been responsible for the destruction of part of the library or just the book storage warehouses near the docks.
Christian radicals are thought to have stormed the place around 391 AD (They had permission, kind of.) and they may have destroyed most of the books in the place then. Then again they might not have, since there are reports that a lot of the scrolls were carried away. The main building was definitely converted to a church, so we know the stuff was gone. However there was another building which held a lot of the books as well.
Whatever was left of the place was probably wiped out by Moslems in 640 AD when Caliph Omar took the city. They reportedly burned all the scrolls over time as fuel for bath houses. All of these accounts have to be taken with a grain of salt because the people who wrote them usually had an ax to grind with the people being blamed. History isn't always written by the winners. Sometimes it's written by the people who know how to write well and have a chance to slander an enemy.
All this led to me watching the movie Agora, a 2009 film that tells the story of the Christian attack on the library and the murder of the famous female philosopher Hypatia. Most of the 'facts' are right, but the film does compress time somewhat and it seemed to me to have a definite anti-Christian slant, so viewers beware if that sort of thing bothers you. The coolest thing to me about the movie was the CGI recreation of the city of Alexandria. The lighthouse on Pharos. The Library and Museum. Some great shots of a city which you know can't be real, but which are totally convincing. Special effects have come so far in the last ten years or so, it's amazing.
After that I switched to reading about the Crusades, a subject I've visited often in the past couple of years, but something I'm still trying to get a good grasp on. I've got the first and second crusades down pretty well, but I'm trying to learn more about the third. Oddly enough, the third is probably the most famous because it involves Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted and the legends of Robin Hood, but it's still the one I've studied the least. Correcting that now.
Fiction wise I did get around to Howard Lamb's short story The Golden Empress, which my friend Paul brought to my attention when we were discussing my Conan the Ruthless post. The incident with the harbor chain does show up in this tale and the hero's name is Harald, but he's not Harald the Ruthless, but rather a slightly different Harald the Unruly, created by Lamb, I suppose because the real Harald's backstory would have been too complex for a nice, tight short story. A rousing tale though, for sure.
Somewhere in there I read some comic books and a few other short stories, but for the most part the weekend was devoted to history. Who knows? Some of this might even end up in my fiction eventually.

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