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.