Except it isn’t like that…


A month ago I wrote about a selection of Seven Wonders of Fictional Worlds and concluded with the fantasy of time travel to visit the traditional Wonders of classical antiquity. One of them, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, is seen in the background of this imagined hall of the Great Library in that same city.


In 1980 Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage reinforced a story I’d learned in school. About 20% of both the first and last episodes of that documentary miniseries recount the importance and grandeur and then the tragic loss of the Great Library of Alexandria. The account makes it seem like a seven-century run that came to an end on one disastrous day. The last librarian, Hypatia, was murdered by a mob of zealots and the scrolls were burned.

Historians and scholars, along with both fans and authors of science fiction, hold onto the fantasy of time travel to before that terrible day. What books would you save if you had the chance? Dr. Sagan is not immune here:

“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.”

The story of the apparently sudden disaster portrays the mob as ignorant acting in defense of its ignorance. The loss to knowledge remains incalculable and is, probably rightfully, regarded as a one or two thousand-year setback to nearly all fields of study. Dr. Sagan provided a sense of perspective on this loss:

“We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”

There are nine missing books of the poetry of Sappho and none of the works of Pythagoras survive. A full inventory of what was lost is also lost!

In the 2009 film, Agora, Hypatia is the hero and acts out our fantasy of salvage.


Hypatia was not merely the last librarian. In an age when women were still widely regarded as little more than property she was among the world’s leading mathematicians and astronomers. Further, she was a philosopher and teacher.

The mob that killed her and destroyed the Library is painted as acting out of fear but it seems more likely they were motivated by anger. In addition to the roles mentioned above, Hypatia was also not afraid to express political views. She is believed to have been a supported of Orestes, the governor of Alexandria; this made her an opponent of Cyril, that city’s bishop and successor to Theophilus.

But it didn’t happen quite that way.

As presented, the tale of the final moments of Hypatia and the Library is often a summary of at least four events and a compression of almost 400 years. The impression that there was just one very bad day at the Library is a false one. Julius Caesar did damage in 48 ʙᴄ and more may have happened toward the end of the reign of Aurelian (c. 275 ᴀᴅ).

There were at least two other libraries in Alexandria and – in summary – they may all have been conflated into one. One of these other libraries was part of the Serapeum Temple, which was ordered destroyed by the Bishop of Alexandria – Theophilus – in 391 ᴀᴅ.

This means Hypatia was more likely the victim of an assassination rather than a martyr of scholarship and/or science. The manner of death was particularly brutal to be sure but it cannot have been part of the attacks by Caesar or Aurelian; she wouldn’t have been born yet. She doesn’t seem to have come to prominence in Alexandria until nine years after the destruction of the Serapeum and its own library. The murder took place fifteen years later still.

“The books were distributed to the public baths of Alexandria, where they were used to feed the stoves which kept the baths so comfortably warm. Ibn al-Kifti writes that ‘the number of baths was well known, but I have forgotten it’ (we have Eutychius‘ word that there were in fact four thousand). ‘They say,’ continues Ibn al-Kifti, ‘that it took six months to burn all that mass of material.’”

Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library (University of California Press; 1st edition (Aug. 29, 1990))

The Library of Alexandria is said to have held between Eutychius’ estimate and one million scrolls. Many of these were the result of the “books of the ships” policy. All ships entering the harbor of Alexandria were inspected. Any books found aboard were seized and a copy was made. The originals are said to have been kept for the library, the original owner of the books got the copies.

In addition to the time travel fantasy: What answers and inspirations would you save of you could? – we should also ask: Were the scrolls and books in the library during its destructions the last copies in existence? What’s easier – inventing time travel or holding out hope while in diligent search for missing copies?

Note: The title of this post is a quote from Nova: Season 8, Episode 12. “It’s About Time” (Dec. 30, 1980).

You are invited to rampantly speculate and muse in answer to these questions via comment on this post. Given that this blog is [Thankfully] visited by people from 78 nations and counting, the perspectives are sure to be fascinating.



Astronomical proportion…

The work of other artists often fascinates me. I can appreciate a technique or admire a style but the sources of inspiration are what captures my attention ultimately. Since 1979 I would have to say my favorite contemporary artist has been Wayne Douglas Barlowe. Most of his inspiration seems to come from works of literature and science fiction/fantasy. There is, however, a deeper level of inspiration. It is this aspect that prompts the selection of specific details. In this Mr. Barlowe’s process is unmatched, in my opinion. His choices all lend to the realism of his creations. The allure of the work of William Roger Dean (my second favorite non-comic book artists during my high school years) comes mostly by selection of color but his work presents the fantastical without Barlowe’s diligence at the plausible.

Even before the release of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials I was (as you might guess from prior posts here) obsessed with Star Trek. Anyone familiar with the franchise knows there is any number of details on which one’s thoughts may dwell. One in particular – for me – was the selection by the production team (presumably William Ware Theiss) of the now famous arrowhead as the emblem of the USS Enterprise (and later all of Starfleet). I’m not the only fan to wonder what symbolic meaning the design would have held for the characters. Some have speculated that it was meant as a reference to the red chevron in the NASA logo.


— which itself is said to represent the two lines from Alpheratz to Almach and to Adhil, respectively. All three of these stars are in the constellation Andromeda. Homage to one nation’s space program seems unlikely for an organization that represents more than one world (i.e., the United Federation of Planets).

The UFP is said to have been formed by people from Earth in association with:

α Centauri Toliman Human colony
Vulcan ο² Eridani Keid T’Khasi (Minshara)
Andorian α Canis Minoris Procyon Andor (Fesoan)
Tellarite 61 Cygni The Flying Star Tellar Prime

I can’t say when I began to wonder where one had to be within deep space to see the homeworlds of the non-human co-founders as the points of the Starfleet arrowhead. At a guess, I’d say this inspiration came in the mid-1980’s – before the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

About June of 2009, however, I got my first CAD (computer-aided design) software and began plotting stars to teach myself how to use it. After a while I had almost 3,000 stars mapped and could rotate the entire field to solve this puzzle. No, I won’t say where one has to be to achieve this view.

arrowhead for blog

In on-going work with The Nerdy Duo and with Leanna Renee Hieber, a new star field is in development to get the science right in our projects together (whether Star Trek or not). As obsessed with the details and choices of other artists as I may be, I’m not content with my own work unless I can provide a “tour” of some details I wish to highlight. They say “the devil is in the details” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say the bedevilment is contained therein.

And that got me thinking…

It may be safely assumed that writers approach their work by different paths. It seems likely that, having once been a scientist, my road is a bit more systematic than that of others. But I am also an artist with more than a passing interest in map making – the art that became a science (if I may borrow the subtitle of Lloyd A. Brown’s book).

While watching the news, I noticed a curious gap in a weather map. The clouds seemed to be consciously avoiding a very large region. When I say that I think visually, I really mean it. This prompted my imagination to follow some curious tracks – musing on fiction and on a dozen different kinds of maps.

Most of my thinking eventually takes the form of a map in one way or another. I could blame Tolkien if this hadn’t already been my habit long before I read any part of his legendarium. So – if the clouds were deliberately leaving at least three States off their itinerary – Why? What’s happening in there anyway? What are those clouds afraid of?

Two maps grew out of these questions:

Mantoacmantoac map










Once I have three novels* off my To-Do List, the saga these maps describe will be the next one on. There are two dozen or so presently hidden layers in the Photoshop file that amount to a literal – visual – outline of the story in question.

My method of musing probably wouldn’t work for everyone. There are a few people I can think of that might find this an odd wending. Storytelling as an art reflects how we see the world and/or how we’d like to. Sharing a story is a very different process than crafting one.

Posts here don’t have maps in their origins. I’m going to save myself the time of wondering what those might look like.

* Working titles: All We Now Hold True, A Song Heard in the Future, and Air Raid Sirens
And, yes, each has at least one map associated with it.

All fled – all done? No. Not yet begun…

1658478_10152339202313623_868086721_oAn announcement was recently made so a post here that I’d expected to make next month can be early. (That might make up for missing a post or two while away at Dragon Con and Space Coast Comic Con.)

An opportunity to contribute to an upcoming anthology of Cthulhu-related stories was shared with me by my business partner and coauthor – Leanna Renee Hieber. A gentleman with whom she’s worked in the past, one Mr. Simon Berman, was collecting work for the project.

There were several topics to choose from and I selected the one that most closely matched a long-standing interest of mine. If you’ve been reading Surfing the Zeitgeist, you may even be able to guess. Ms. Hieber chose a different but no less compelling subject.

Guessing, however, won’t have to last very long. There will soon be a kickstarter effort to bring the anthology to a shelf near you (hopefully one in your own home library). Once that’s a success, you can confirm your suppositions about the topics selected. Until then, enjoy taking the role of paranormal investigator.

This was a very enjoyable project and also exciting. I may not yet have arrived but I can see the road signs.


“Let me sum up.”

An annoyingly catchy tune from 1992, Dizz Knee Land by Dada, has been on my mind for the past few days – but with “Dragon Con” substituted for “Disneyland”.

thom at dragon conNote: I apologize if that song is now playing on repeat in your head.

This will be my second year attending Dragon Con. I will be posting a schedule of the panels on which I’ll be presenting as the date grows a bit closer.

This event is, as you might suppose, always very exciting. It has been a busy year for me since my first time there. I’m in progress on two novels, which readers of this blog are aware. Together with my coauthor and business partner, Leanna Renee Hieber, we have introduced the adorable “feels assistants” – a.k.a. Pandora’s Pets to more than 100 customers and a growing number of stores. I was quite honored to develop the four separate covers for Ms. Hieber’s upcoming release of the Dark Next Chronicles.

DNCWe have both written separately for an illustrated anthology of Lovecraftsmanship that’s expected to launch in October – probably just in time for Halloween. Along with the other two members of PsychWing (i.e., The Nerdy Duo) we are developing a short science fiction film.

combo logo

It has been a year (plus) of dreams coming true.

Note: Until after Dragon Con there may be a slight disruption in my once-a-week posting to Surfing the Zeitgeist.

It’s poetry in motion…

We are – for lack of a better word – programmed to look for meaning. Our education works to enhance this natural tendency. It may be why some have an affinity for sacred geometry. Certainly Johannes Kepler attempted to demonstrate that meaning was a built-in feature the solar system (Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1596).

Kepler-solar-system-1The phenomenon of one or two orbits helping to predict the next may not be by design but gravity does create some poems in the cosmos. Resonances – such as that between Jupiter’s moons of Io, Ganymede and Europa – are my favorite example. For each of Io’s orbits, Europa makes two and Ganymede makes four.

Galilean_moon_Laplace_resonance_animation_2But science is not the only field of study.

Imagine there were some mental equivalent of gravity and celestial bodies. Suppose that this explains why certain ideas – presumed forgotten – return to us from time to time. Or that it is precisely why certain locations are thought to be frequented by ghosts. Wouldn’t that be cool?

For quite a long while I have enjoyed this poetry and I can see why it has an appeal, particularly in astrology. It would be very nice to know why the wheels seem to fall off the wagon when Mercury is in retrograde (which it isn’t) or why it’s a good idea to be more mindful when Uranus is in retrograde (and it is). And though these changes are not caused by planetary action, the poetry serves as a reminder that they do, however, happen.

Notwithstanding ☿ and ⛢, et al. – or haunting thoughts or spirits – the cosmos is a very big and usually unpredictable place. Maybe it’s unfair to consider astrology a pseudoscience.

Certain aspects are really just a To Do List.

ceteris paribus…

It is probably reasonable to assume that the faith of our parents, if any, is assumed in our early years to be the only faith. I remember noticing and asking about the different iconologia and emblemata of the 14 houses of worship in my very small hometown. It was a disproportionately large number of options. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this post, I was a member of at least five different congregations belonging to different Christian denominations before the age of 12.

And prior to that age, the United States was ramping up to its Bicentennial celebrations and participating in the first two Olympics of which I was aware (some years before the Winter and Summer Games were split and staggered). On display at home was a vast array of old and newly minted patriotic symbols. Each nation of the more than 90 competing The Games (half the world at the time) had brought an entirely different selection of icons to the stadium.

Surely formal education contributed to an awareness of how much larger the world is than I might have imagined before adolescence. But the diversity of religious and national expression was given sharp emphasis by experience and observation. This has allowed me to acknowledge that dignity can arise everywhere on the planet – from each person who will allow it to manifest – regardless of place of birth.

There is a vogue in political thought here, the notion of American exceptionalism. The nation may unfortunately have been born with it. The soil here is not a magical home plate (to employ the metaphor from our “national pastime”). It isn’t where a person is born or lives that makes their accomplishments special. Accomplishment and the person who achieves it are both special – anywhere. I’m not running for office. I don’t have to perpetuate a myth.

As readers of this blog may have guessed, flags and maps fascinate me. A flag is not just the equivalent of a postal code. It is a declaration of a certain set of beliefs and, it must be said, opinions. A map is more than a tool for where to find things. For me, maps have long and collectively been metaphors for the intrinsic potential of what things may be found.

thank youSurfing the Zeitgeist is intended to share my perspective on the value and mission of creative expression – along with a certain view on the universality of potential. The above map shows the nations from which Visits have been made. I track this as a reminder that there isn’t just one zeitgeist to surf. Each visit is more than a “pin in a map” for me. It’s a vantage point – a reminder that my point of view is only one way of examining the zeitgeist. I’m curious about them all – and I think I always have been.