~Spoken by Hypatia of Alexandria

Once all
our doors were open.
Our great light shone, compelled.

In ten great halls with marble walls
we spoke of stars and numbers,
of water, stone, and thought.

They called me August Mistress,
The Living Grace of Speech,
but no Grace or speech sufficed.

The rabble dragged me through the streets,
butchered me in the church.
They burned my bones.

My shining city–
her light did not


And still, within your gates, barbarians.
They shout among the rabble in the streets;
trample the rubble in your streets.
They shoot the rebels, crush the revels.

Great Pan is dead;
the Muses mourn.

And still:

in long white halls,
in forests green,
in scraps of mind,

we walk.  In


between  words
the piles of stones

we speak

the dying leaves.


. . . a mighty voice was heard across the waters, crying :  
“The great Pan is dead.” 

Our dances through the groves–
piping, yearning, song–
what did we do wrong?

Our world is gone–
wasted by tiny men
with tiny minds.

History, memory,
poems like green leaves,
hacked by little hatchets,
neglected, burned, crumbled, lost–
O lost!

Music of Earth and ages
drowned out by tinny shrieks
of the rigid and the ignorant,
the pious, stupid–alas!–
the politic, afraid.

FRAGMENTS FROM ALEXANDRIA: Cyril & Hypatia, the Scholars Debate

. . .when we preach the death of the only begotten son of God. . .
we celebrate the unbloody sacrifice in the church. . .
and are sanctified, 
being made partakers of the sacred flesh and precious blood  
of Christ, the Saviour of us all.
~Cyril of Alexandria, quoted in The Rev. Alban Butler, The Lives of the Saints, V. 1


He did, and it was evil.
He did, and it was good.
He didn’t, and he should have.
He didn’t, and we’re relieved.
Either way, we are defensive–

He was retaliating against violence
directed at Christians by the Jews.
The pagans were too powerful.
She was defending the Jews.
She was a brilliant mathematician.
The church was in danger of dying.
She incited his rival to support the Jews.
She was a woman with no right to speak.
She was a pagan and therefore a demon.
She was a pagan and therefore a goddess.
She was young and beautiful.
She wasn’t beautiful, or young.

Saying he did it is rewriting history.
Saying he didn’t is rewriting history.

It was a violent time.
It was a complicated time.

It is not possible to judge him
by the standards of today.


We came with ivory,
with silks, with wine,
with salt and cloves and myrrh,
with pepper and frankincense,
melons and limes.

We came with books:
lists of beasts and birds,
poetry and myth,
the rantings of philosophers,
mathematics, histories,
the patterns of the stars.

They searched our ships,
they searched our sacks
for every book we had.
They kept them,
read them,
tagged them,
rolled them,
hoarded them in holes–
all the riches of the world.


A Play in One Short Act


SCENE:  The curtain is raised already.   No flats or backdrops, just the rawness backstage.  The floor is covered with torn, broken books and/or scrolls–so many that the characters must kick them aside as they enter, one by one.



Narrator:  Dressed in business-like modern clothing.  May be any gender.


Librarians:  Male.  A variety of tunics and togas, untidy.  Barefooted.  They enter from Stage Right, as their names are called by the Narrator.


Enter Narrator, slowly shuffling through the books, stopping occasionally to pick up a fragment and read it, sometimes aloud, ad lib.  To center stage:  looks at the audience in silence for a full minute.


NARRATOR:   May I present to you the librarians of Alexandria.  First:   Zenodotus of Ephesus, grammarian.


ZENODOTUS:  You, librarians around the world, I was the first to alphabetize, label, and weed.


NARRATOR:  Callimachus, father of bibliography.


CALLIMACHUS:  Half a million books!  One hundred and twenty volumes of catalogue alone.  Catalogue!   Catalogue!   Lost.  All, all lost.  (He is overcome by emotion, throws himself on the floor, and continues to weep through to the end.)


NARRATOR:  Apollonius: you wrote Argonautica in the old and epic style  and were mocked from the city in shame.   (Aside, to the audience)  It is highly unlikely that this sort of thing would happen today.


APOLLONIUS:  At least, that’s what they say.  We were not strangers to scandal and gossip, exaggeration, the power of untruth.


NARRATOR:  (To the audience)  “The more things change..”   etc.


Eratosthenes, first geographer, you measured Earth from where you stood, invented leapday, mapped the whole known world.


ERATOSTHENES:   They called me “Beta”, nonetheless,/ since I was always second best.


NARRATOR:  Aristophanes, you invented punctuation?


ARISTOPHANES:  And still the comma bears the name I gave.


NARRATOR:  Aristarchus, original critic, fusspot. . .


ARISTARCHUS:  Ah yes, the original aristarch.  But so, you see, my name lives on.


LIBRARIANS (all except Callimachus dancing, stately, in a ring):


In ten great halls with marble walls

amid gardens and fountains we walked.

The Muses were our mistresses.

We ached to open, burned to know.

Our eager hands unrolled the scrolls:


ZENODOTUS:  The Book of Manetho written by Seshat in the Hall of Heliopolis on the sacred tree.


ERATOSTHENES:  The History of Babylon in Berossos’s own hand.


ARISTARCHUS:  Acts of the Greeks and Barbarians under the Tyrian Kings.


APOLLONIUS:  Inscriptions from the Phoenician pillars of the sun.


LIBRARIANS (sighing):  Ah yes.   (They break the circle and advance on the audience, stopping at the very edge of the stage.)


The cold barbarians are still at your gates.

Still, your libraries burn.

Still, the wisdoms are lost.

Beware, beware, beware, beware. . .


Exuent omnes, chanting, except Callimachus, still sobbing as he lies on  the floor.  The curtain falls.