Sunday, August 26, 2007

Burning Greece and Ancient Alexandria: The Toll

Fires are devastating southern Greece - and at least some are suspected as arson.

This terrible news - all over the Internet and television - came to me just as I writing scenes in my new novel, Unburning Alexandria (sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates).

In life, as in the novel, our collective memory as a civilization is in jeopardy from these flames. In the case of Alexandria, unique copies of numerous texts were consumed in the flames. In an age before the printing press, multiple copies of individual works were often the exception, not the norm. In the case of Aristotle, alone, we know from lists of his works found elsewhere that he authored four times as many treatises as have come down to us. Many of those were no doubt destroyed in the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria - burned in part at different times by Romans, Christians, and Muslims.

We are in better shape today regarding texts and information in general - whether published on paper or online, they are usually in many more places than can be consumed by a single series of fires, however horrific.

But Greece has many things unique and significant in our history which can fall to the flames now burning. The site of the historic Olympics is now at risk, and there could be much more in a place that is the origin of our democracy, our philosophy, and so much more in our lives and culture.

If any of these fires were deliberately set, the arsonists have committed a crime not only against the families who have lost loved ones, friends, and property, but against human civilization itself.

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