Renaissance Episode 1 – Constantine The Great - Life Of Alexander The Great
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Our new series, The Renaissance Times, launched on Dec 24, 2017. Here’s the first episode! Go check out the rest of the series at therenaissancetimes.com.   At its peak, the Library of Alexandria was estimated to contain somewhere in the order of 500,000 books on philosophy, science, medicine, history, tragedy, comedy, rhetoric and politics. Across the Roman empire, private and public libraries contained copies of these books. They were read, studied and appreciated. Of course, literacy was a luxury that not all citizens of the empire received. It was contained mostly to the upper classes. But those upper classes had a high estimation of the value of learning and education. They also accepted the worship of many gods in many different ways and they accepted debate and discourse as an important part of being civilized. But as the Western Roman Empire decayed, partly as a result of corruption, partly by division, partly by Christian influence, and partly by a combination of famine, plague and invasion by illiterate Germanic tribes, most of these books were forgotten and lost. Today we have partial copies of perhaps a one or two percent of them – and many of those are pure luck, as they were written over by Christian scribes and modern scientific techniques has managed to resurrected the ink from two millennia ago. With the rise of Christianity, it became unfashionable and unprofitable even for the upper classes to read anything other than the books supported by the Christian church – the Christian bible, scriptures, analysis of the bible and scriptures and the miscellaneous writings of Christian scholars. Sure – there were some monks and scholars in some parts of the world, notably Ireland and the Eastern Roman Empire. who still appreciated the ancient works and they kept copies of some of them. And as the Eastern Roman Empire became the Islamic Caliphate, they too valued these ancient texts. But the majority of Christian monks – the only people left who copied books after the rise of the Christian empire – didn’t care to spend time or effort copying pagan texts. When each book needed to be hand-copied, a laborious process that might take a year to copy a single book – why would monastic superiors choose for their monks to spend that year copying a pagan book when they could be copying a Christian one? Gradually, people lost interest in the writings of the ancients, with a few exceptions. And with that loss of interest, the vast majority of the books themselves were lost to Western Europe. Some through tragedy, some through deliberate and wanton destruction of anything that didn’t fit neatly into the Christian worldview. But mostly just through neglect. Ancient texts were typically written on papyrus, made from the pith or centre tissue of the papyrus plant, which is delicate. As a rule of the thumb, we can assume that a scroll had to be copied every century. If parchment was used, replacement could take place less frequently. However, preparing a skin and making parchment was extremely expensive. Most texts were, therefore, written on papyrus and subject to decay and disappearance. If there were many copies of the same text, the chances of survival were greater, but professional writers were expensive and texts usually circulated in small numbers. A surprisingly great number of ancient texts has survived in only one copy, which shows how vulnerable the process of transmission was. Even they couldn’t withstand the ravages of time, especially when they were discarded and forgotten about in the musty depths of cold, damp monasteries, victims of bookworms and mould. Many survived for centuries in Eastern Europe and the new Islamic empire, but these too were lost eventually, destroyed by the wars between rulers or by invasions by people like Genghis Khan.
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