Friday, July 14, 2017

Library Amnesty Day

One rainy spring afternoon in Baltimore, a man walked into one of the city’s smaller libraries. He drew a little attention to himself since he was wearing a burnouse. It was Library Amnesty Day, which meant that patrons could return overdue library books and have the fines for those books waived. He explained that he wanted to take advantage of this amnesty. The librarian asked him for his library card but he said, “I have none.” The librarian tried to get more information, but he fled. He was in and out of the library in under five minutes, but he did leave a plastic tube on the counter of the librarian’s station. This tube was discovered to contain an ancient papyrus. Obviously, this had not been borrowed from the small library in Baltimore. It was forwarded to one university and thence onward to several others. Eventually, it was determined that the origin of the papyrus scroll was the Library at Alexandria, burned when Caesar himself strategically set fire to his own ships during the siege of that city. The fire spread from the ships to the docks and then reached the vaunted library and consumed much of it, Plutarch informs us. Other historians insist the fire (or multiple fires) happened earlier or later. But all agree that the library and its precious volumes perished by fire. Had the Library at Alexandria ever collected such penalties, the overdue fee the mystery man was seeking to have discharged would have been astronomical. Even a modern robber baron would have difficulty paying such a fine. The scroll the mysterious man dropped off contained text in ancient Greek and hieroglyphics. The title of the work, when translated, was revealed to be How to Live Forever.

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