The Life and Death of Words, People, and Even Nature
From Walking Libraries and a God Named “Word” to What Sherlock Holmes Never Said
By Eduardo Galeano
[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book,Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]
Memory on Legs
On the third day of the year 47 BC, the most renowned library of antiquity burned to the ground.
After Roman legions invaded Egypt, during one of the battles waged by Julius Caesar against the brother of Cleopatra, fire devoured most of the thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.
A pair of millennia later, after American legions invaded Iraq, during George W. Bush’s crusade against an imaginary enemy, most of the thousands upon thousands of books in the Library of Baghdad were reduced to ashes.
Throughout the history of humanity, only one refuge kept books safe from war and conflagration: the walking library, an idea that occurred to the grand vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, at the end of the tenth century.
This prudent and tireless traveler kept his library with him. One hundred and seventeen thousand books aboard four hundred camels formed a caravan a mile long. The camels were also the catalogue: they were arranged according to the titles of the books they carried, a flock for each of the thirty-two letters of the Persian alphabet.