Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lost Libraries: Niven, Polastron, Eusebius

In reading our way through Larry Niven’s Rainbow Mars (1999), a collection of related short fiction, we’ve seen several interesting passages about books and libraries. Below is a neat passage about raiding old libraries through time retrieval.
"The Industrial Age is over, the world isn’t rich anymore, and we can’t afford to experiment. But what have we forgotten? What miracles could we find by raiding old libraries? If you search through two thousand years of the past you’re bound to find something."

“Finding it is the problem,” Ra Chen agreed. “I built the big X-cage to raid the Library of Alexandria before Julius Caesar torched it. It turns out that we can’t reach back that far. But we got to the Beverly Hills Library in plus-sixty-eight Atomic Era! We scooped it all up just before the quake and the wave. Why don’t you set some of your people searching through those old books?”

“I will. What about the Pentagon or the Kremlin? They must have had interesting stuff –-“

“Secrets. Locked up, hidden and guarded. Willy, it’s a mistake to think of armed men as dead.”
Speaking of lost libraries, Books on Fire: the Destruction of Libraries Throughout History, by Lucien X. Polastron (2007), is worth reading. Polastron discussed his book in the December 6, 2007 segment of NPR's The Book Guys.

Pictured above: Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima, located on the Mediterranean coast and one the richest archaeological sites in Israel. A center of Roman, Jewish, and Christian scholarship, Caesarea grew a library in stature second only to that of Alexandria. The Christian Bishop Eusebius, the "father of Church history," used the resources of Caesarea's library to write his Historia Ecclesiastica in the early fourth century. According to Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (4th ed., 1998), the library at Caesarea had 30,000 volumes at its height, in about 630 A.D.

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