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Ancient Libraries: Welcome and Introduction

My goal here is to document libraries in the Mediterranean area that existed before and during the Christian era up to the Dark Ages and find out exactly what really happened to those facilities and their collections.

Question: Did religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism lead to the destruction of those libraries and their collections and bring on the Dark Ages?

If religious orthodoxy was instrumental in the destruction of ancient libraries, then what might be in store for human civilization today, given the rise of monotheistic fundamentalism fueled by individuals who have the arrogance to see themselves and their religion as the "chosen one"? That sense of arrogance is really frightening.

As religious scholar Elaine Pagels pointed out:

"Every group and tribe has had ways of feeling superior to every other. I mean, every anthropologist knows that, but what's really different here is that you have a moral view - 'we are good, and you are evil.'

"And what happens then,... as was put into the mouth of Jesus in the Gospel of John: whoever kills you will think he's doing service to God. So that if a conflict between us and them turns into a moral conflict, so we're God's people, they are Satan's people, we can do anything we like with them. I think of that when I hear the term "ethnic cleansing." It's like there's dirt there. You know, it's a good thing to get rid of dirt." 16sep10)

How the destruction of the famous library at Alexandria came about is disputed with blame placed on first Julius Caesar, then fanatical early Christians, and finally the Arabs. I contribute to one version of the dispute in my blog Alexandrine Librarian, a story of a librarian working at the Great Library right before its demise.

While historians might not be certain about how the destruction of the Alexandria library came about, they have documented the brutal murder of the last librarian of that facility, Librarian-Teacher-Philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, by early Christian fundamentalists.

Furthermore, the great Imperial Library at Constantinople survived the early Christian Era and the Dark Ages, only to be destroyed by Christians during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 (see here and here, also here).

Moving ahead 300 years, we read about the destruction of libraries in the Americas by Spanish priests. Over 100,000 Mayan texts by Bishop Diego de Landa in Mani (Yucatán) and 700,000 texts by the first archbishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumárraga in 1528 CE. The really sad thing is that it was quite possible that these collections in the Americas contained, besides other things, valuable pharmaceutical knowledge, given the proximity of these civilizations to the rain forests.

Is there a pattern here or was it all just random events? And what does that mean for us today?

If you have an interest in this subject and would like to contribute a post, please contact me.

The Librarian
From the high mountains of southern Colorado
October 2010
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