The fabulous ancient Library of Alexandria, Library of Andalucia, ancient Mayan books and many more resources that housed the history of and indepth knowledge about mankind have been destroyed by people with similar motives throughout human history. So, what would be the motive underneath this destruction?
The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually, we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions. —T. H. Huxley
Throughout human history, people have always accused and pointed to each other whenever there was a deadlock but never claimed responsibility. Hence, different ethnic groups have built their cultures on the ashes of a former one; each time destroying another piece of the precious ancient knowledge that had accumulated for centuries. All through human history, books and the knowledge they embody have never been able to break away from the hatred of dogma. Each community acted quite selective about knowledge: They embraced some parts of knowledge that served their purposes and rejected other parts of information assumed to be a threat to the system they established. They also did whatever they could to destroy that knowledge and its sources, even if it meant harm to the people.
Contained in human history, there are incidents where people with knowledge were set on fire. There have always been examples of these monstrous inhumane criminals who remained in the background and survived in the shadows; yet, when their time came, they broke out of darkness and set the books and their authors and owners on fire without a wince and destroyed them.
The Unprecedented Library of Egypt
The great ancient Library of Alexandria, built in third century B.C., is one of the most significant creations man ever achieved. The Province of Alexandria was founded in 382 B.C. by Alexander the Great of Macedonia. In time, a considerable amount of knowledge had accumulated in the Library of Alexandria. Not only did these books contain knowledge about physics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, math, philosophy, literature and physiology, but they were enriched with the ancient Egyptian traditions and heritage as well. Additionally, there was a botanical garden and an observatory included. The Library was the greatest center of wisdom of its time and the texts were written on papyrus leaves.
Those days, all the books that had ever arrived in the land of Egypt were obliged to be taken to the Library. Then, the librarians made a copy of these books, kept the original at the Library and let the book owner leave with the copy. On the other hand, there were these officers who were responsible for traveling to foreign lands to find and bring books back. Consequently, many precious work of the time on a variety of subjects that were scattered and sunk into oblivion were gathered together in this Library.
The Library of Alexandria also contained Greek writings and translations from Mediterranean, Assyrian, Chinese, Roman, Middle Eastern and Indic literatures. Greek, Iranian and Hindu manuscripts were traced all along Greece and Asia and were brought to Egypt.
Moreover, Greek author Galen (second century B.C.) suggested that all foreigners to step foot on the harbor of Alexandria were obliged to declare and submit the books they carried with them. There were approximately 500,000 – 900,000 scrolls in the Library of Alexandria. Many books coming from different lands were copied by standardized copying techniques and classified with respect to subject. Callimachus of Cyrene prepared a systematic catalogue of the Library that consisted of 120 volumes.
The seven liberal arts featured by the Library were grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. All the schools or libraries in history that taught these subjects have influenced the intellectual developments and movements throughout the ages of intellectual history.
Libraries in history acted both as a library—as we know it—and an institution that delivered academic and higher education. Therefore, through time Alexandria had become an intellectual center for arts and wisdom. There are many valued people who honored this city with their presence and were proud to be a citizen of Alexandria, in return. Some of these were linguistic scholars who established the basis of ancient grammar; geographers who drew the very first maps; poets who served as models for their successor colleagues, and philosophers who founded new schools of philosophy and brought brand new perspectives to humanity.
The Library is almost more famous than the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Many philosophers and scientists, whose work formed the basis of contemporary science, conducted their research and made their discoveries in the Library of Alexandria. Namely, Archimedes discovered the buoyancy of water,Eratosthenes calculated the diameter of earth, and Euclid established the rules of geometry in Alexandria, all thanks to the studies they had conducted in the Library. Ptolemy marked a new epoch about the foundation of the universe when he wrote the Almagest.
Mostly hermetic knowledge was embodied in the Library of Alexandria. In his book On The Mysteries of The Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians, Iamblichus refers to Egyptian Priest Manetho (who was the last worshipper of the Egyptian deity Thoth) to attribute to Hermes-Thoth 36,525 books. In his book Stromates IV, Clement of Alexandria attributed only 42 books to Hermes-Thoth; of these, 10 were on theology, 10 on rituals, 2 on hymns and kingly rules, 4 on astronomy and astrology, and 10 on cosmology, geography and like. According to one viewpoint, those who were accused to be pagan and forced to migrate from Egypt were welcomed by the Palace of Baghdad. It was these immigrants who contributed to the progress of the Arabs. All of a sudden advancements in science and education were detected in the region. This breakthrough resembles that of renaissance Europe.
And The Library Is On Fire…
There are many theories about how the Library burned down. In some scripts it was mentioned that the first major destruction happened when Julius Caesar had taken the city under siege. It was believed to be a haphazard fire rather than a planned destruction. During his invasion of Alexandria in 47 B.C., the Library was blasted and partially pillaged. The Library was destroyed to a certain extent. What remained of the Library was transferred to the Library of Serapeum Temple. It is commonly believed that the Library was destroyed by Theophilus—the Egyptian Governor of Byzantium—during the holocaust of pagan temples in 391 B.C., when Christianity became the official religion. Theophilus declared all books other that the religious scripts to be “Christian heresies.” All the Works stored in the Library of Alexandria were gathered in the baths and ignited. This was how a tremendous treasure of science and culture in human history vanished. Another common belief is that the remaining works from this catastrophe were blasted in 639 B.C. by Conquerer of Egypt Amr İbnül-As.
Whether it was by the hands of Julius Caesar or Theodosius the First—Emperor of the Christian era in the fourth century—or the Conquerer of Egypt Amr İbnül-As, all the precious knowledge and wisdom accumulated in the Library of Alexandria vanished into thin air. Luckily, a limited amount of knowledge survived and was handed down from generation to generation thanks to esoteric systems. Throughout all human history, people always accused each other but never claimed responsibility. There is no point in taking sides and adopting a fanatical approach. Rather than accusing the “other” and acting upon early assumptions, it is always better to rely on concrete, objective facts.
Similar Biblioclasm Incidents
For ages, libraries have been the target of blind dogmatism. Ignorant masses have always declared war against knowledge and have a tendency to burn down what they do not like or may be different from their beliefs. It is another example of destruction due only to it not serving their purposes, empires, kingdoms and religions. They stood against the knowledge of whose validity they were quite aware. In history, books were set on fire in Persepolis, Alexandria and Byzantium. In the thirteenth century, Cenghis Khan enjoyed the fire kindled by books in Alamut, Baghdad.
In the fifteenth century, the Catholic Church destroyed the books in Andalucia, Spain. About ten thousand scrolls of Ancient Celtic manuscripts are still missing. The Dead Sea Scrolls survived only because they were hidden in strict confidence. Under Chinese emperor Qin Şi Huang’s rule, a great amount of history and philosophy books were destroyed. In the early Christian era in Ephesus, many books were regarded to be ‘dangerous’ and were set on fire. In the Medieval world almost all books were burned. The chuch did not even show any tolerance to the interpretations of the Bible. The enormous fire set in Berlin in 1933 by the Nazis is unfortunately a haunting scene. Every now and then Jews destroyed their literature. Even ‘Harry Potter’ books have been declared to be ‘demonic’ and blasted by many churches in America.
“Sibylline Books,” holy scripts and their interpretations, dissenting opinions and free thought have always been subject to destruction. In the thirteenth century, both Cathars and their entire collection of literature were set on fire by command of the Catholic Church. In 1562, many works of Mayan and Aztec literature were burned by the Spanish. In 1624, the Pope ordered the destruction of Martin Luther King’s German translation of the Bible. The Nazis labeled 20,000 writings to be abusive according to their ideology and burned them. When Iraq was under siege, the library and all contents were substantially damaged.
No Other Thought but Mine!
Scientists contribute to the enlightenment and improvement of the society. According to Bacon, science should aim at the core of nature. Kant, the father of the concept of enlightenment, refers to intelligence as:
Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. (Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!)
It is an ever-existing sick act to destroy the “other’s” books, literature, accumulated knowledge merely to emphasize one’s own. People were burning books even before the Common Era. They all have their rationalizations, for the sake of religion, moralty, race, etc. Burning books is a systematic mass censorship. Throughout history, man has always brought the others to their heels by destroying their knowledge, documents and cultural resources. It is of crucial importance to fight against ignorance and to learn and spread knowledge. To control and enslave a society, people replaced knowledge with dogma. That is why archives and libraries were burned down: to let ignorance rule.
For those who fear knowledge and try to manipulate it for their own interest, access for masses to knowledge becomes a big threat. People who seek to control and keep knowledge only for themselves, as well as dogmatic people who are in denial of scientific knowledge, most certainly do not want knowledge to be accessible.
Works have always been the first to be destroyed when people start to question life, think over customs, act on intelligence and figure out their own way when they indulge in esoteric writings, scientific studies, works of philosophy and literature. Whereas religion, race, ethics and moral values of the society are those things open to manipulation. That is why people who fear knowledge have always manipulated the masses and reached their goals through this method. These people think they can escape this threat and save the day by burning thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, as well as people who indulge in such knowledge. These inhumane creatures, however, should know that they can never erase the memory and the works of precious scholars.
Referring to the burning of holy books in Andalucia, in 1821, German author Heinrich Heine stated: “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” A century later the Nazis burned Heine’s books.
”Library of Alexandria.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011.