Carl Sagan introduces the library of Alexandria
Clip from episode one of the COSMOS series
Tags: Carl Sagan science history COSMOS Alexandria Hypatia
Added: 6 years ago
[scene opens with Carl Sagan walking through the streets of modern Alexandria]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] But what now remains of the marvel city of Alexander's dream? Alexandria is still a thriving marketplace, still a crossroads for the peoples of the Near East. But once, it was radiant with self-confidence, certain of its power.
[various still images of ancient cultural artifacts are shown]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] Can you recapture a vanished epoch from a few broken statues and scraps of ancient manuscripts?
[cut to Sagan walking through some stone ruins]
CARL SAGAN: In Alexandria, there was an immense library, and an associated research institute. And in them worked the finest minds in the ancient world.
[Sagan kicks a can out of his path, then opens a door and descends into what appears to be a simple stone cellar, where he turns and speaks directly to the camera]
CARL SAGAN: Of that legendary library, all that survives is this dank and forgotten cellar. It's in the library annex, the Serapeum, which was once a temple but was later reconsecrated to knowledge. These few moldering shelves, probably once in a basement storage room, are its only physical remains. But this place was once the brain and glory of the greatest city on the Planet Earth.
[cut to a model of what the original library may have looked like]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] If I could travel back into time, this is the place I would visit. The Library of Alexandria at its height, two thousand years ago. Here, in an important sense, began the intellectual adventure which has led us into space.
[more scenes of the interior of the library are shown]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] All the knowledge in the ancient world was once within these marble walls. In the great hall, there may have been a mural of Alexander, with the crook and flail and ceremonial headdress of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
[cut to Sagan "super-imposed" over the model of the library, "walking" through it as if he were really there]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] This library was a citadel of human consciousness, a beacon on our journey to the stars.
[Sagan turns and speaks directly to the camera (while his image is still super-imposed into the model of the library)]
CARL SAGAN: It was the first true research institute in the history of the world, and what did they study? They studied everything, the entire cosmos. "Cosmos" is a Greek word for the order of the universe. In a way, it's the oppposite of chaos. It implies a deep interconnectedness of all things. Uh, the intricate and subtle way that the universe is put together.
[cut to a shot of the outside of the model]
CARL SAGAN: Genius flourished here. In addition to Eratosthenes, there was the astronomer Hipparchus who mapped the constellations and established the brightness of the stars. And there was Euclid, who brilliantly systematized geometry, who told his king who was struggling with some difficult problem in mathematics that there was no royal road to geometry.
[Sagan sits on a bench]
CARL SAGAN: There was Dionysius of Thrace, the man who defined the parts of speech - nouns, verbs, so on - who did for language in a way what Euclid did for geometry. There was Herophilus, a physiologist who identified the brain - rather than the heart - as the seat of intelligence. There was Archimedes, the greatest mechanical genius until the time of Leonardo Da Vinci. And there was the astronomer Ptolemy, who compiled much of what today is the pseudo-science of astrology. His Earth-centered universe held sway for fifteen hundred years, showing that intellectual brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong. And among these great men there was also a great woman; her name was Hypatia. She was a mathematician and an astronomer, the last light of the library, whose martyrdom is bound up with the destruction of this place seven centuries after it was founded.
[Sagan climbs the steps and enters the great hall]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] Look at this place! The Greek kings of Egypt who succeeded Alexander regarded advances in science, literature and medicine as among the treasures of the empire. For centuries, they generously supported research and scholarship. An enlightenment shared by few heads of state, then or now.
[the camera focuses on a fountain in the middle of the room]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] Off this great hall were ten large research laboratories. There were fountains and colonnades, botanical gardens, and even a zoo with animals from India and sub-Saharan Africa. There were dissecting rooms and an astronomical observatory.
[Sagan turns and speaks directly to the camera]
CARL SAGAN: But the treasure of the library, consecrated to the god Serapis, built in the city of Alexander ... was its collection of books. The organizers of the library combed all the cultures and languages of the world for books. They sent agents abroad to buy up libraries. Commercial ships docking in Alexandria Harbor were searched by the police; not for contraband, but for books. The scrolls were borrowed, copied and returned to their owners. Until studied, these scrolls were collected in great stacks, called "books from the ships."
[cut to various shots of rooms filled with scrolls]
CARL SAGAN: [in voice over] Accurate numbers are difficult to come by, but it seems that the library contained at its peak nearly one million scrolls.
[cut to Sagan again "walking" through the halls of the library]
CARL SAGAN: The papyrus reed grows in Egypt. It's the origin of our word for "paper." And each of those million volumes which once existed in this library were handwritten on papyrus manuscript scrolls. What happened to all those books? Well, the classical civilization that created them disintegrated. The library itself was destroyed. Only a small fraction of the works survived. And as for the rest, we're left only with pathetic scattered fragments. But how tantalizing those remaining bits and pieces are! For example, we know that there once existed here a book by the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, who apparently argued that the Earth was one of the planets that - like the other planets - it orbits the sun and that the stars are enormously far away. All absolutely correct. But, we had to wait nearly two thousand years for these facts to be rediscovered.
[he walks into a room full of scrolls]
CARL SAGAN: The astronomy stacks of the Alexandria Library.
[he starts reading off the names on the scrolls]
CARL SAGAN: "Hipparchus" ... "Ptolemeos" ...
[he stops at one scroll]
CARL SAGAN: Here we are ... "Aristarchus."
[he picks up the scroll]
CARL SAGAN: This is the book. How I'd love to be able to read this book, to know how Aristarchus figured it out. But it's gone, utterly and forever. If we multiply our sense of loss for this work of Aristarchus by a hundred thousand, we begin to appreciate the grandeur of the achievement of classical civilization and the tragedy of its destruction.
[he places the scroll back on the shelf]
CARL SAGAN: We have far surpassed the science known to the ancient world, but there are irreparable gaps in our historical knowledge. Imagine what mysteries of the past could be solved with a borrower's card to this library. For example, we know of a three-volume history of the world, now lost, written by a Babylonian priest named Berossus. Volume One dealt with the interval from the creation of the world to the Great Flood, a period that he took to be four hundred and thirty two thousand years, or about a hundred times longer than the Old Testament chronology. What wonders were in the books of Berossus?
[he continues walking through the library]
CARL SAGAN: But why have I brought you across two thousand years to the Library of Alexandria? Because this was when and where we humans first collected, seriously and systematically, the knowledge of the world.
[he stops at a giant globe in the center of the room]
CARL SAGAN: This is the Earth as Eratosthenes knew it. A tiny, spherical world, afloat in an immensity of space and time. We were, at long last, beginning to find our true bearings in the cosmos. The scientists of antiquity took the first and most important steps in that direction, before their civilization fell apart. But after the Dark Ages, it was by and large the rediscovery of the works of these scholars - done here - that made the Renaissance possible and thereby powerfully influenced our own culture. When, in the fifteenth century, Europe was at last ready to awaken from its long sleep, it picked up some of the tools, the books and the concepts laid down here more than a thousand years before ...
"Cosmos: A Personal Voyage" is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter. It was executive-produced by Adrian Malone, produced by David Kennard, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles and Gregory Andorfer, and directed by the producers and David Oyster, Richard Wells, Tom Weidlinger, and others. It covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe.
The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980.
COSMOS Season 1 Episode 1
"The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean" (September 28, 1980)
How large is the Earth compared to the universe as a whole? How long have life and humans existed on Earth compared to the age of the universe? How did humans figure out that the Earth is round and how big it is? This episode contains the "Cosmic Calendar" segment. Dr. Sagan goes deep into space with the help of special effects to visit star clusters, supernovas, pulsars, quasars, and exploding galaxies. At the conclusion, he takes viewers to a re-creation of the 2,000-year-old Alexandrian Library.