Carl Sagan once said, “A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years.” But what if these voices had been silenced and their great works burned to the ground?
Alexander the Great has countless legacies. Sadly, a library is not among them. Alexandria, today the second-largest city in Egypt, was founded in 332 BC as Alexander methodically conquered the Achaemenid Empire. In 283 BC, one of his four successors as Pharaoh, Ptolemy I Soter, established the Royal Library of Alexandria, a shrine of the Muses, modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle. Estimates put the number of books and documents at upwards of 700,000, an extraordinary figure. The collection was dominated by the Greek greats but also contained the largest collections of Assyria, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations. Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The library was so large it actually had another branch or “daughter” library at the Temple of Serapis.
Fate was not to stand with the learned. In 48 BC, Julius Caesar interceded in the Egyptian civil war on behalf of Cleopatra who was embattled against her brother Ptolemy XIII. Besieged by land and sea, Caesar set fire to the enemy fleet in the harbor, which triumphed, but also burned much of the city, including the Royal Library. The Temple of Serapis subsisted until the 4th century but ultimately fell victim to ignorance, ransacked by the imperial decree of Emperor Theodosius, who in his Christian zeal, eradicated paganism by targeting the last vestiges of civilization.
To this, Carl Sagan, mused “What if the scientific tradition of the ancient Ionian Greeks had survived and flourished? What if that light that dawned in the eastern Mediterranean 2,500 years ago had not flickered out? What if science and the experimental method and the dignity of crafts and mechanical arts had been vigorously pursued 2,000 years before the Industrial Revolution? We might then have saved ten or twenty centuries. Perhaps the contributions of Leonardo would have been a thousand years ago and those of Albert Einstein five hundred years ago.”
The greatest loss was that of Ancient Greek’s scientists, whose works were not verbally passed down through the ages. Erasistratus of Ceos was a pioneer in neuroscience, first observing that human intelligence keyed off the convolutions of the human neocortex. Though rejected by the Romans, we now know computational capacity is determined by cortical convolution. Historians concur with Sagan. Had Erasistratus’ work been preserved, neuroscience advances would have been expedited.
Rather than higher order brain functions, Jerome Powell’s sole focus today is on the frontal lobe. The Federal Reserve Chair is intent on keeping the left prefrontal cortex in overdrive, maximizing happy sensations, while calming the activity in the right prefrontal cortex to discourage any sadness triggered economic data. From here on out, it’s all about keeping animal spirits enflamed, fueled by the fires of liquidity. As for rate cuts, he’s banking on those days being behind him as of today.
Danielle DiMartino Booth is CEO and Director of Intelligence at Quill Intelligence
For a full archive of my writing, please visit my website — www.DiMartinoBooth.com
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