The Arcanus Project
by Pedro Blas González
Early one morning, it must have been about 6:00 a.m., Sayyid knocked on the door of my hotel room. Opening the door, I was surprised to see him, a guide and Charles outfitted with backpacks and some provisions. “What is this?”
“Come, get ready. We have a surprise for you and Professor Remington,” the guide said.
Our two guides took us to a rocky, hilly area about nine miles west of the great pyramids of Giza. Once there, we began a long and arduous climb up the barren rocky surface. We had not gone more than half a mile, even though to me it felt like an eternity, when our guides told us that we had been chosen to witness what only a select few people had ever seen.
Upon hearing this, I became energized with curiosity. I even thought this was Charles’ idea of a practical joke.
We walked into what looked like the entrance to a cave. A guard stood outside. We were asked to stop and allow our eyes to get used to the darkness. I needed the rest. At this point two men showed up with flashlights to guide us through a dark and winding passage. The corridor, which was carved out of the natural rock, descended gradually. I felt the air getting colder.
At the end of the corridor there were several different entranceways; all except one were either blocked or served as decoys. Our guides stood aside while the two strangers with the flashlights knocked several times, each time in what seemed like a series of codes.
About one minute later an immense, amorphous rock began to move to our left. When the rock stopped moving, the two men holding the flashlights motioned us to enter. The rock, we could now see, was moved by an intricate system of pulleys and counterweights.
We walked about another two hundred feet through a dizzying maze. At the end of our mesmerizing walk, we reached a dead end. The two guides began a more elaborate series of knocks. This time a huge rectangular stone opened, revealing a descending, abysmally dark stairway that had no handrails.
Throughout the trek, first outside on the rocky hill and later inside, our guides said very little, with the exception of “Soon, very soon, now” in accented English. I knew not what to think or expect.
At the bottom of the long stairway, we arrived at an apparent dead end. I began to feel claustrophobic. After another series of knocks, which seemed different to me from the previous ones, a large stone began to move inwards.
We entered a small room, perhaps the size of an average kitchen, where four men awaited our arrival. One of the men began to explain what we were now begging to know.
“Gentlemen,” began a tall, bearded speaker, “you have been invited here due to your commitment to knowledge and wisdom, and your purity of soul. Also, because we believe that you are firm seekers of purity of the soul and immortality. We extend our warm welcome. You will be allowed to remain with us for as long as you wish. We only have one condition: We demand absolute discretion concerning our location. Now, let us go on,” said the imposing figure.
I looked at Charles. He nodded and shrugged his shoulders. We went down another set of stairs and into a minuscule room that was much smaller than the one we had just left.
“Gentlemen, if you begin to feel slightly cold let us know, we will be happy to furnish you with sweaters. We have now descended 62 feet.”
When he finished talking, the tall man knocked several times on the wall, again in an elaborate series of codes. Some time went by. We waited in anxious anticipation. After what felt like several minutes of waiting, this time a slab that looked like rough limestone began to move to our left. The bearded man nodded and began to walk. We followed him several feet inside. The stone slab closed slowly. What I saw next made my insides quiver with excitement.
“Welcome, our good friends,” said the elderly bearded man. “You are inside the world’s most ancient library. Welcome to the library of Alexandria.”
Neither I nor Charles could begin to imagine the importance of what the man said. Everywhere I looked, I saw manuscripts, mostly in papyrus.
“Come, come,” the bearded librarian continued, his enthusiasm evident. “Have a close look at our timeless volumes. Thanks to ancient Charakitai, scribblers as they were known, we have a vast number of the works, mostly originals, from ancient times. We have many forms of written documents. You will notice that most of them are ancient scrolls. We also have parchments, clay tablets and printed books. Right before you are the lost books of Aristarchos of Samos, the ancient Greek who came up with the idea that the Earth orbits the sun.”
I was speechless. It was as if the whole thing was a hoax. Yet there I was, inside or under, as the case really was, a mountain of presumably lost ancient works.
The bearded man continued, “We realize that this seems unbelievable to you. Please be patient. Everything will be explained to you in due time. Here, for instance, is The History of the World in three volumes by the Babylonian king, Berossus. There, next to Berossus,” he pointed, “you will find all seventy-three works written by Democritus, the founder of atomistic philosophy.”
This seemed to be an illusion. I could not formulate a single question. My hands were clammy.
The bearded man continued: “It was the philosopher, Andronicus of Rhodes, who was the leader of the Peripatetic school, whose idea it was to build the library. He referred to it as the Arcanus Project.
“Andronicus thought of the library as a university where the world’s most timeless knowledge about human reality would be kept for those who care to know, and to come and seek it. He thought that such knowledge requires a rite of passage that is proven by one’s inspired and sacred life. Following Aristotle, Andronicus called that the scala naturae of human life. I think you will be pleasantly surprised to meet Andronicus again a little later.”
I was beside myself with disbelief at what I was hearing.
“There are the works of Claudius Ptolemaeus, the great astronomer who is known as Ptolemy,” the librarian said. “Ptolemy worked in the library of Alexandria during the second century A.D. We know that he received a great deal of his astronomical learning and inspiration from Hipparchus.”
“Sir,” I finally asked, “How many volumes do you have?”
“We have over 500,000 volumes. We have the entire library of Alexandria. The rarest of the world’s books are here: Explanation of the Creation by Theodorus of Mopsuestia; Replies to Aristotle on the Eternity of the World by John Philoponus; Egyptian History by Manetho, a priest from Heliopolis; Hecataeus’ History of Egypt; Theocritus’ Idylls and Anaximenes’ Philippika.
He went on to list many others. “Please, let us sit in one of our sitting rooms? I am sure that you have many questions for us.”
We walked to an austere room without any decorations. Three other men came into the small room. We were told that the master librarian, the bearded man who gave us our tour, was named Eusebios Digregorio. He was a monk who belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine. Subsequently, we were told by many people that he was a saintly man.
“Gentlemen,” he addressed us, “these men and I, and many others who come and go throughout the day, are responsible for taking care of these books. We are the keepers of the library, you can say. The Egyptian government offers us some modest security. However, the library is owned and operated by private individuals.
“How did the books end up here?” I asked
“That is a very complicated question. You see, given the very violent and querulous nature of the Romans, the idea for the library first surfaced, long before the city of Alexandria was besieged by Julius Caesar, in 47 B.C. Several thinkers came up with a feasible plan. They secured some funds from private individuals. The library grew out of that.
“When the library was completed, the manuscripts began coming in. Albeit, slowly at first. They acquired a great many manuscripts from other ancient libraries, such as Pergamum and Antioch. At first, the manuscripts were kept in many private homes, later in different monasteries. That is how the manuscripts were saved.”
“If you took the works from Alexandria, how come people didn’t notice this operation?” asked my colleague.
“Many of the books in that library were indeed lost. The Roman threat, we must understand, was imminent. But there were many other invaders who threateened the library. The possibility that the Alexandrians would lose their treasured library was very real to them. This was a great concern. But no one was as concerned as the many scholars who worked at the library and the museum. The secret was theirs to keep.”
“What about the many traveling scholars that came to use the library? What were they told?” I asked.
“In some cases they were told what we are now discussing. They were told the truth and were directed to the new library. Many others were told that the work they requested was unavailable because it had been destroyed, stolen or damaged.
“Sometimes they were told that works either no longer existed or that they would not be available for a given period of time. That length of time depended on the time that the scribes at the library needed to copy the work requested.
“Unscrupulous scholars, and there were many of these, who could not be trusted with the truth, this being the case for many intrinsic reasons, were instead offered a copy.
“Was this library ever in danger?” asked my traveling friend.
“The risks for the library have always remained overwhelming, as you have suggested. The library is a work of divine and sacred inspiration. The difficulty has to do with making the library useful to thinkers throughout the world, without attracting a crowd of thrill-seekers. The founders, supporters, and keepers of the library swore they would not take chances with these exquisite works.”
The librarian turned around and pointed at the shelves: “Here are some works of Hermes Trismegistus, who was better known as The Thrice Great Intelligencer; the Avesta of the Zoroastrians, which, contrary to popular belief, was taken by Alexander the Great’s men from the royal treasuries of Persepolis and Samarkand when these cities were attacked by the Greeks, in 330 B.C. These twenty-one books were taken complete. We have copies of the Qabbalah that were made after the plundering of the temple of Jerusalem in 54 B.C.,” he continued.
Copyright © 2012 by Pedro Blas González