Chronicle 7*. “We Don’t Need No Thought Control”…
NATURAL SELECTION, Charles Darwin’s revolutionary evolutionary theory, already a cornerstone of biology, does not apply to man-made creations which are instead “artificially selected” (censored), on the basis of ideological prejudice against non-conformist ideas. It seems that Big Brother has been omnipresent long before George Orwell’s 1984, burning not only libraries and books, but on many occasions the authors themselves, while “purifying” society and rewriting “history”. The motives of such crimes against humanity are rarely outright politico-economical; as a rule, they are disguised behind a religious mask – especially when this religion is monotheistic, that is, antagonistic to the other religions, authoritarian and, of course, power-hungry. Note that, among the monotheistic religions, Christianity is the unchallenged champion of such crimes. Here is a short list of the first phase:
- The “burning of books and burying of scholars” campaign (213–210 BCE) during the Qin Dynasty of ancient China epitomizes this “war against freedom of thought and speech” that is still raging: all Chronicles except those by the Qin historians, the Classics of Poetry and History, and works of different schools, should be burned; and anyone discussing these books be executed. More than 460 scholars, or almost 1200 according to another count, were buried alive. Soon the campaign led to revolutions and war resulting to further damages of historical materials: the capital was sacked and burned in 207 BCE destroying also the officially sanctioned works which had been retained in the imperial library.
- Epicurus’ book Established beliefs was burned in a Paphlagonian marketplace by order of a charlatan prophet (ca 160 CE).
- The Christian emperor Jovian, who was given the “purple” (the crown, as they used to say of later kings) due to a misunderstanding in 363, reestablished Christianity as the official religion, ending the brief revival of Paganism under his predecessor, Julian the “Philosopher” or “Apostate” (depending on the religious outlook that reveals the priorities of each creed). Being under the influence of Athanasius of Alexandria, and moving from tolerance to bigotry, he subjected those who worshipped ancestral gods to the death penalty, and ordered the Library of Antioch to be burned down.
- Jovian did not have the time to complete his ‘mission’: he died (or was killed) half a year later. This task would be undertaken in a while by Iberian-born Theodosius I. His policy of tolerance in the beginning of his reign (379–395) gave way to bigotry. The turning point was probably the order to his troops to commit the abominable massacre of Thessalonica in 390, slaughtering at least 7,000 citizens in the Hippodrome, after they had rebelled against his Germanic mercenary garrison (see Chronicle 3). Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, was quick to capitalize on this opportunity: he excommunicated Theodosius and thereby turned him into his obedient instrument. The emperor submitted himself completely to the Church and agreed to do public penance, promising to adopt a new role as the champion of the Christian faith. The result was the so-called “Theodosian decrees”, breaking up Pagan institutions and destroying their temples. The first act of his penance was perhaps the ruination of the Temple of Apollo and most of the statues and works of art in Delphi in the name of Christianity in the same year, 390. The sacred site was completely destroyed by Christian zealots in an attempt to obliterate all traces of Paganism, which was already proscribed, a “religio illicit”: Pagans would be sought out by informers, brought to court and in many cases executed. This “war on the infidels” was transferred to Alexandria the next year.
- In 391 the gigantic Serapeum together with what was left out of the Great Library of Alexandria were looted and burned by troops and Christian fanatics, at the decrees of Theodosius and archbishop Theophilus, who is described in Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as “the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue, a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.” Theophilus had discovered a hidden temple of Pagans and, together with his followers, mockingly displayed their sacred artifacts offending them enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The latter counter-attacked, forcing the Pagans to retreat to the Serapeum. Theodosius gave Theophilus the go-ahead to destroy, and just asked him to avoid another massacre. Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary Christian historiographer, states in his Ecclesiastical History that Theophilus “caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out… Then he destroyed the Serapeum… The heathen temples… were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church.” The temples that were thus demolished could be declared “abandoned”, as the archbishop immediately noted in applying for permission to convert them into Christian churches – an act that must have received general sanction, for cave-like mithraea turned into crypts and temples forming the foundations of 5th century churches appear throughout the Roman Empire. Note that we know almost nothing about Mithraism, a religion contemporary with (and rival of) Christianism, practiced from about the 1st to 4th centuries CE. Standing triumphantly among the ruins, Theophilus looked around in search of his next enemy, turning against the followers of Origen and embarking on a paranoid campaign that killed 10,000 monks (the massacre was unavoidable, after all…)
The destruction of the Serapeum was seen by many authors as representative of the triumph of Christianity over other religions (or the victory of a Jewish god over Hellenic, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and other gods – and hence cultures); while that of the Library of Alexandria symbolized “knowledge and culture ruined”. The library held over half a million documents from Hellas, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, India, and many other countries, being part of a larger research institute, an ancient university, called the Musaeum (House of the Muses), where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied and worked, such as: Archimedes, the greatest genius of antiquity; Ctesibius, the father of pneumatics and inventor of the hydraulis or water organ, the precursor of the pipe organ; Euclid, the father of geometry; Hipparchus, the father of astronomy and founder of trigonometry; Hero, the father of mechanics and inventor of the first steam engine (aeolipile), who was a follower of the Atomists; Eratosthenes, who argued for a spherical earth and calculated its circumference, as well as the tilt of its axis, to near-accuracy; Aristarchus, who proposed the first heliocentric system of the universe; his case is an excellent example: his only extant work, On sizes and distances of the Sun and the Moon, is based on the geocentric model. The other book, where he proposed the alternative hypothesis of heliocentrism, is known only through citations by other scientists like Archimedes. Is this just a coincidence? Absolutely not!
- Some more examples of the destruction of Pagan temples in the late 4th century, as recorded in surviving texts, are: the wider destruction of holy sites that spread rapidly throughout Egypt; the levelling of all the temples in Gaza; the destruction of temples in Syria; the destruction of temples and images in, and surrounding, Carthage; Martin of Tours’ attacks on holy sites in Gaul…
- In this atmosphere of chaos and polarization, utmost decay and moral degradation, proclaimed as “the triumph of Christianity against idolatry”, the symbolism of a “Victorious Jesus” could never be totally overwhelming without the ‘defeat’ and ‘conquest’ of the invincible conqueror Alexander. The great king had died (probably poisoned) in Babylon in 323 BC. His body was en route to Macedon when it was hijacked by Ptolemy Soter for the prestige of having Alexander’s tomb in Egypt. The deceased, who had been declared “the son of Amon” by the god’s oracle at Siwa Oasis, asked shortly before his death to be buried there, in the temple of Zeus Amon, rather than alongside his actual father, Philip, at Aegae. Ptolemy Philopator built a magnificent mausoleum in Alexandria, inside a huge sacred precinct, known as Soma (Body), which became one of the most famous and sacred sanctuaries of the ancient world, for Alexander was worshiped as a god in the Macedonian and the Roman Empires – especially in the city he had founded, where he was like a patron. A large number of rulers and politicians, officers and officials, both Hellenes and Romans, paid their respects to Alexander visiting the mausoleum. Julius Caesar was the first Roman leader to go to the Soma, making a pilgrimage to the grave of his hero. Many others followed, from Augustus to Severus. However, the tomb was also looted by villains like Caligula, who removed the breastplate, and Caracalla, who took the tunic, ring, and belt in 215, while his troops were looting Alexandria for several days, slaughtering over 20,000 citizens, mainly young people, because of a satire produced in the city mocking his claims that he had killed his brother and co-emperor Geta in self-defense.
However, even during such a bloodbath and plunder, with the sole exception of those ‘pickpockets’ wearing the imperial purple, there was no real threat to Alexander’s Soma. Such a threat appeared in the next century. Ammianus Marcellinus relates that ca 361 Bishop George posed a rhetorical question to the people of Alexandria concerning the great and magnificent temple of the city’s genius: “How long will this tomb stand?”, he asked. By genius Ammianus meant the tutelary deity of the city and thence Alexander. Two years later, “in 363 George was killed for repeated acts of pointed outrage, insult, and pillage of the most sacred treasures of the city.” However, George was not alone. In 391 Theodosius declared illegal the veneration of Alexander, as well, together with all the other Pagan gods, and then, according to Alexandre Grandazzi’s Historia, “a violent Christian and anti-Pagan riot exploded leading to the destruction of the great temple of Serapis, and possibly reached… the Soma: an allusion… in a speech by the orator Libanius indicates that the body was removed from the tomb to be exposed publicly for the last time.” It seems that the body was hijacked for a second time and buried in a Christian manner because, according to the new dogma, it was to be interred, while the preceding practice of entombment was thought to be idolatrous. Everything referring to Paganism was then destroyed, while the burial of important, illustrious personages was no longer done in mausoleums but in Christian basilicas and underground. It is the time when the remains of Alexander “mysteriously” vanish. Already at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries, John Chrysostom, another “enemy” of Theophilus, said in a sermon that the Macedonian king’s tomb was at that time “unknown to his own people”, in other words, to the Alexandrian Pagans. Some decades later Theodoret included Alexander in a list of famous men whose graves were lost.(*)
- The Great Terror in Alexandria culminated in 415 with the brutal murder of the philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Hypatia, “a most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish’d Lady; who was torn to pieces by the Clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their Archbishop, commonly, but undeservedly, stil’d St. Cyril”, according to the philosopher John Toland. The astronomer Carl Sagan linked Hypatia’s death with the destruction of the celebrated library. The murder, symbolizing the end of Alexandria as a centre of wisdom and scholarship, was instigated by Cyril, Theophilus’ nephew and successor, the so-called “Pillar of Faith” and “Doctor of the Church”, a “Saint” (throughout all of Christendom, while his uncle has been “canonized” only by the Copts). Emperor Theodosius II instead described Cyril as a “proud pharaoh”.
Waging a power struggle with the governor of Alexandria, Orestes, he agitated a mob of 500 monks, a “Sturmabteilung” of fanatics, possessed “by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader [a minor cleric] named Peter”, Socrates Scholasticus testified. They “waylaid [Hypatia] returning home and, dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with ostraka. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them”…
Of course, nothing was left from Hypatia’s writings.
- Etrusca Disciplina, the Etruscan books of cult and divination, untouched by all ancient cultures, were collected and burned in the 5th century, a millennium after the Etruscans had ceased to exist as a tribe…
- The Crusades were conducted under the sanction of the Catholic Church after the East – West Schism. Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade in 1095 with the declared goal of restoring Christian access to the area of Jerusalem. There followed six major Crusades against Muslim territories in the East and many minor ones as part of a 200-year struggle for control of the “Holy Land” that finally failed. After the fall of the last Christian stronghold in 1291, the Vatican mounted no further coherent response in the East. Many historians give equal importance to comparable, Papal-blessed military campaigns against “Pagans”, “heretics”, and “excommunicated” people, undertaken for a variety of economic, political, and religious reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Aragonese Crusade, the Northern Crusades, and the Iberian Reconquista. The “burning of books and heretics or infidels” was, of course, in the agenda of all Crusades. The conduct of the Crusaders was shocking not only to modern sensibilities but to European contemporaries, as well, for the Crusaders pillaged the countries in transit, and there was at least one case of cannibalism in the Levant! In the Rhineland the First Crusade resulted in the massacre of 8,000 Jews in the first of Europe’s pogroms. It also resulted in the slaughter of 70,000 citizens in the fall of Jerusalem. The nobles carved up the territory that they had gained rather than return it to the Byzantines, as they had vowed to do. Even worse, the Fourth Crusade resulted in the conquest and sacking of Constantinople, and the partition of the Byzantine Empire.
- Nalanda, an ancient centre of higher learning with a great library in Bihar, India, was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders from what is now southern Afghanistan in 1193. The university was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it.
- The House of Wisdom was a library, translation institute and research centre in Abbasid-era Baghdad. The scholars, primarily Persians and Greeks, translated all available scientific and philosophic Hellenic texts. Note that a great part of ancient Greek literature was transmitted to Europe thanks to these translations into Arabic. The House and all other libraries in the city were destroyed by the pro-Christian Mongol ruler Hulagu in 1258. It was said that the waters of the Tigris ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.
- Pope Nicholas V may have tried to revive the spirit of the old Crusades in the East in 1452, one year before the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, as his nephew, Loukas Notaras, was the Byzantine Megas Doux (Grand Duke). However, the Europeans’ attention was already focused on the more promising opportunities opening up in the West. Thus, Nicholas’ papal bull, renewed repeatedly by future Pontiffs, granted Portugal (and later Spain) “full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and Pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms… and other property… and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.” Effectively, these “geographically unlimited” bulls extended the Crusades’ legacy all over the world justifying European colonialism and, at the same time, “ushered in the West African slave trade”. This trade was about to take off very soon with the transport of African slaves to America, and the Vatican would continue “granting permissions” to guarantee its share.
- During the 15th century, Muslim books were burned wholesale by Catholic Spain. About 5,000 Arabic poetic manuscripts were consumed by flames in the public square at Granada in 1499 on the orders of the Archbishop of Toledo. At the same time a number of Hebrew Bibles and other Jewish books were burned at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition.
- The Aztec emperor Itzcoatl, ruling from 1427-28 to 1440, ordered the burning of all historical codices for it was “not wise that all the people should know”… This allowed the development of a state-sanctioned “history” and mythos – but did not prevent the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés in 1521. It was the starting point of a new era of genocides committed by Christians holding the sword in one hand and the cross in the other. The new crusaders and slave traders, together with the inquisitors, had new challenges to face, new frontiers to cross, new “books to burn and infidels to bury” in the “New World”, under the sanction and arbitration of the “Holy See” – with profit in mind, as always…
This intervening “Chronicle within a Chronicle”, I remind you, had Abdera of Andalusia as a starting point, during the revival of an ancient Periplus of Iberia in the previous Chronicle. We then voyaged to Abdera of Thrace and met its most celebrated citizen, Democritus. Plato’s hostility towards the atomist philosopher and his appeal to his students to destroy any Democritean work they could find, combined with the fact that no such work has survived, were more than a challenge for a “Periplus within a Periplus”, sailing in a sea the Big Brothers have tried to erase from the maps. The ocean of abuses is hidden there; we just gleaned some information on the initial period (until the time the first Spanish caravels crossed the Atlantic), limiting ourselves to cases of intentional crimes that came to our attention. A study in depth would reveal the Prince of Darkness himself…
What conclusions can we draw? An innocent person would expect to find the first traces of the idea of human rights in religions, especially the monotheistic ones, which should uphold the sanctity of human existence. In reality, the history of human rights finds traces of them in some legal codes of antiquity (Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Hellas, Rome), but not in the Bible, skipping Judaism and Christianity. The reason is that the ones who cared about such rights were the philosophers and not the prophets (with the exception of Muhammad who was obliged to deal with the subject). The kings who wanted to conquer the world, and the priests who wanted to conquer the mind, infringed as a rule on human rights. I think that if the Declaration of Human Rights and freedom of religion had been adopted and observed in the beginning of the Common Era, the only monotheists in the world today would be the Jews!