The GREAT LIBRARY MUSICAL
An experiment in musical theatre - using new media to create an online interactive collaborative work in 7 acts (plus prelude and postlude) appearing here in serialized installments. The work is based on actual events leading to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in 415 AD and on the supposed contents of the Library itself.
Act 0 Scene 0
The place: right here on earth.
William Butler Yeats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats
(excerpts from “the second coming”, first published 1920)
(To hear the author reading the entire poem go to)
"Turning, turning in the widening gyre.
Meanwhile, back at the present...
While not far away, a mere ten minutes from here,
What have we done?
See how far we've come.
The ending has begun.
To be staring down the barrel of a deadly loaded gun.
<song> NOW YOU KNOW
(electric guitar, bed track engineer - Keith McKie; Bass - Scott Kennedy;
keyboard - Paul Gellman; vocals, lyrics, music, drums, guitars - J.Jarvis)
Never dreamed I'd live to see the day when everything
I'd ever loved or leaned on or wished for
Melted away like the mist on a summer's day.
Maybe there's another day ahead, I'll have to wait
and hope I find my way to Tomorrow;
But now is all I know. All I know is now.
Time is an imaginary line I draw to connect the past to tomorrow.
Time is dividing the moments of now and then.
Space is what I call the place where here and there are joined,
the same in all directions. But here is where I am. I am always here.
If I believe that all I see and smell or hear and and taste is real, I am deluded.
Even the tangible teachings of the heart and hands.
I am a victim of my memory telling me things will be the same or worse,
So I've concluded, (can't refute it.)
I no longer know what it would mean to say “I understand”.
All I know is now.
So now you know …
<song> HOW FAR BACK (J.Jarvis)
Is it too late too alter fate?
Can anything be done but watch and wait?
In order to affect the future profoundly, a time-traveller would have to intervene in a number of carefully chosen events, to change the weave of history.
Is it too late to alter fate? Can anything be done but watch and wait?
How far back up the one-way track
Before the burning bridges overlooked?
The branching path no one ever took,
When we lost our golden destiny with one wrong turn.
Too many questions and there's no time left to live and learn.
The answers may be written in a book.
Called COSMOS, by the late Dr Carl Sagan.
(lines in quotes taken from the book ‘COSMOS')
“If I could travel back into time,
The Library of Alexandria at its height.
ACT 0 scene 2
<song> Alexandria Duet (text by Carl Sagan, Lyric and music J.Jarvis)
“It was in Alexandria , during the 600 years beginning around 300 B.C.,
that human beings began the intellectual adventure
that has led us to the shores of space…
The city was founded by Alexander the Great
[who] encouraged respect for alien cultures …
the gods of other nations. …
and the open-minded pursuit of knowledge.
The greatest marvel of Alexandria was the library …
This place was once the brain and glory of the greatest city on the planet…
The scholars of the library studied the entire Cosmos….
the deep interconnectedness of all things…..
the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together.
The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and the head of the Neo-Platonic school of philosophy.
Her name was Hypatia, whose martyrdom was bound up with the destruction of the library seven centuries after its founding...
She was born in Alexandria in 370 AD. Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditionally male domains...
The Alexandria of Hypatia's time was a city under grave strain. The growing Christian Church was attempting to eradicate Pagan influence and culture.
Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified with Paganism.
In great personal danger she continued to teach and publish until, in the year 415 AD, on her way to work, she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners.
They dragged her from her chariot and flayed her flesh from the bones.
The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory.
Our past is fractured. We're disconnected.
Where the powers that be protect the guilty.
“What if that light that dawned in the Eastern Mediterranean had not flickered out?
I think we – a different ‘we' of course – might by now be venturing to the stars”.
ACT 0 scene 3
Narr : So when we eventually encounter alien species, in addition to the intergalactic language barrier, we're not going to have a clue what to talk about.
Bill Nye : (excerpted from “How to speak to an alien”)
We think we know how we came to be here on our world.
It would be great to know though, we're not alone.
It would be a heck of a thing.
It would change the world.
<song> ALIEN BROTHER (J.Jarvis)
What would you say to an alien brother?
Voice of the BBC:
Deep in rural Wiltshire is a thatched sixteenth century cottage belonging to
It wasn't until we started asking questions about Mars and thinking about its atmosphere, that we suddenly start looking at the bits of the Earth like the atmosphere and oceans in a totally different light. You've got oxygen, mixed with methane that would be explosive if it were different in composition. Then it occurred to me that both gasses were made by living organisms at the earth's surface. Then the earth must be a great self-regulating system almost alive, that's holding its atmosphere constant.
Then my friend and neighbour William Golding, the celebrated author suggested that if I was going to have large ideas like that about the earth I better have a proper name; and he said: “and I suggest GAIA, the Greek Goddess"
What will you say to your God when you meet Him.
Sometimes I wonder ‘bout Adam and Eve.
Tell me: WHY omnipotent God would be jealous or even care?
Prof James Lovelock:
One of the most important things about Gaia is its ability to self-regulate, to keep the temperature, for example constant. To keep the amount of the various gasses in the air within certain ranges, so as always to keep the planet habitable. It was Life that regulated the planet and looked after the atmosphere and the climate. It applies to the organisms and their environment; and for us on earth this means All Life takes part in Gaia together with the atmosphere, oceans and surface rocks.
We've only put, (what is it) 6% more CO2 in the atmosphere and we're all in trouble
already! It doesn't take much to change the temperature, by changing the gasses. It will play absolute mayhem with our civilization in the next ten to hundred years.
And when you see the whole picture it really is fearsomely bad.
If it doesn't, then we will die off.
Can you imagine an infinite being?
The planetary lottery somehow we've won.
Or try to explain.
< Spott Farm (Live 1974) performs an excerpt from Genesis' “Watcher of the Skies”>
Professor James Lovelock:
I went at first [to the library] to get science fiction.
ACT 0 scene 4
Time is not the enemy. Neither is it friend. At this pivotal hinge of history purpose is not to be presumed. A long-linked chain of causes and effects has brought us to this place, where continuity of life on earth is not to be assumed. The waters rise, the ice caps nearly gone. Rogue waves crash on mountains far inland, the mighty weight of oceans displaced. The very air rebels against us now. The prophecying poet once foretold:
W. B. Yeats: (more excerpts from "the Second Coming")
"The blood-red tide is loosed; and everywhere the ceremony of innocense is drowned. The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity!
Ungoverned armies wage unwinnable war with devastating
If I.. If I could... If I could...
Lucille Sinclair (quoting from Carl Sagan's COSMOS):
"What if that light that dawned in the eastern mediterrannean had NOT flickered out?
Voice of the BBC:
“..but how on earth do we travel through time? How do we find a path through the
FOURTH DIMENSION ?"
Let's ask Professor Stephen Hawking. He knows all there is to know about time and space.
All my life I have sought to understand the universe and find answers to these questions;
But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history.
Look. Look Up!
Maybe we should patent the universe and charge everyone royalties for their existence.
Look up past the lights.
Its a straight shot line like a ray of light - To intersect the twisting track
At a point through which
this earth once passed
On its winding way to NOW.
Here is the invitation, giving the exact coordinates in Time and Space.
Maybe, someday, someone living in the future will find the information
and use a wormhole time machine to come back,
proving that time travel will, one day be possible.
I wait just till the turning face presents the landing place exact.
Leave this body here at home. Let my mind and senses go
Back to where I've never been: Alexandria 415 AD.
<song> TRAVELING LIGHT (J.Jarvis)
Take that step put into darkness,
Come on down and take a place in line.
Move yourself through time
To the farthest starlight shine.
I've seen how we're connected through the dream time and beyond
To this planet we're neglected, rejected.
What more could anybody want?
Meanwhile the stars are calling:
Take that step out into darkness, Come on down and take your place in line.
Move yourself through time
To the farthest starlight shine.
A billion suns burn through the blackdrop of a subtle summer night.
We could take forever
We could take forever and never get it right.
We could disappear and never leave a trace. We could disappear and never leave a trace.
We could disappear....
(become unstuck to one location)
(consciousness is free to roam)
No departure or arrival (to be here and now or everywhere)
Shed a little light - on this corner of the night.
The Light of stars is calling.
The light of stars is calling.
The Light of stars is calling.
The light of stars is calling.
We wonder if portals to the past or the future could ever be possible.
If I could travel back into Time...
Voice of BBC:
Crevices, wrinkles in time. Down at the smallest of scales, Smaller even than molecules. Smaller than atoms. We get to a place called the quantum foam. Tiny tunnels or shortcuts through space time and space, Constantly form and disappear within this quantum world.
Lucille St Clair: (reading from Carl Sagan's “COSMOS”)
What if that light that dawned in the eastern Mediterranean had not flickered out?
In order to affect the future profoundly,
To change the weave of history”
And we're there!
<end of ACT 0>
ACT I - Scene I
Geronimo is floating in a timeless void. Still in a limbo state between 2 worlds. Neither fully conscious nor unconscious – his lost soul sings:
What Am I Now? ( I am Flowing )
Where, When and How? ( All unknowing )
Nothing but questions. ( No Time Turning )
No one is asking. ( I am Learning )
Behind closed eyes ( I am seeing )
Nothing that dies ( Only Being )
There is no Limit ( Still Pulsating )
I am Infinite ( Only waiting )
Dreaming or waking ( Someone' s waiting )
What Am I NOT?
ACT I scene 2
(So below decks on the Trireme, plying the waters towards Alexandria.The massive drums pound out the rhythm and synchronize the efforts of the galley slaves, chained in rows, singing):
<Slaves Song> (J.Jarvis)
We bend time and space with our unending motion.
Breaking our backs to move cargo cross oceans.
Chained in place we pull the oars.
All we know is how to row.
We never see where we're going.
We only know when we're rowing.
Pushed past all human endurance
Pain till the end of existence
Hard labour is our life sentence
No pension no health insurance.
The Glory of Rome is the wealth of all nations.
We are the engine of civilization.
And when we grow too old to row,
Heave-Ho overboard we go.
We pray for a fair wind blowing
To grant a respite from rowing .
Used up and weak from starvation,
Whip crack our main motivation
Eat sleep and crap at our stations
No chance of emancipation.
ACT I scene 3
(onboard the same ship above the deck, two figures are bent over the drenched body of Geronimo as he coughs and sputters into wakefulness)
Old Blind John:
Here you are now. Steady lad. You very nearly slipped away T'was a close call indeed
I thought I'd died! I was everywhere at once; and nowhere at all.
In truth, you might have drownded. Rolled overboard and hardly floundered.
A lucky chance I heard the splash and reached out to haul you back.
Else your waterlogged carcass might one day have been found,
Washed up on a sandy tract of beach.
You can thank my quick-witted companion , fair Athenia, whose ministrations got you breathing once again. She is quite clever at all kinds of healing.
Look here - I even snagged your lute. T'would be a shame to lose such a beautiful musical instrument!
What is this ships destination ? Where am I bound? Where are we now?
Well-wined indeed you must have been last night.
We've crossed the most part of the Middle Sea while you so drunkenly did dream. We've been at sea three days, or maybe four.
Just now we've come in sight of Egypt's shore. Look there, you see the flare of the Pharos Lighthouse – a wonder of the world. The illuminating beacon which guides all sailors to safe harbour.
That means my calculations were correct. I hit the moving target, but when...
Sailor: Land Ho!
Almost at our journey's end. We've made it at long last dear friends, to the Jewel of the Mediterranean.
Westernmost mouth of the mighty Nile, Capital of Memory, Greatest City of the Central Sea – Just there off the starboard bow, the manmade spit and causeway which connects the isle of Pharos to the main
But when are we?
It is the morning of Marsday,
or Tuesday of Easter Week.
But what year?
A mighty weighty question this, you speak as one who may have lost his way in time as well as space...
But to do the matter justice and speak true, I must say it depends on who you ask.
The Roman calendar would number this year 1168 since the founding of Rome.
And 22 years since the famed Olympic Games were banned by Emperor Theodosius' decree, ending the time-honoured tradition which began 1290 years ago.
But the Babylonians mark this 1164. The Jewish Scribes number the years from Abraham and call this 4175.
A mere 959 years since Buddha gained enlightenment, and Hindus say there s are but 85 years till the darkest age of Kali, when the sun will begin to advance back to the Grand Centre of the Universe.
Egyptians, with the longest memories of all will count the year 4641, Nearly 750 years since Alexander's founding of the city which still bears his name.
While far afield the Mayan race (of some far west, as yet unknown place) refer to this as 3534 in their long count of years.
But if I divine correctly I suspect, for you it would be called 415 of the Common Era, or Anos Domine. (though that time-keeping system has not yet come to be)
How can you know these things? What manner of human being are you?
There's many things that I can see and know, being blind I am not fooled by appearances and illusion, as are the minds of the nearsighted human race.
I make my own way through the times and space, guided by some other kind of sense.
For me, what is yet-to-be, I can see behind.
And my memories include your future time.
We're here. Let's get our baggage to dry land. I cannot stand another minute on these planks!
We leave this rolling sea, with heartfelt thanks to all the gods.
And I'll be glad to reach dry land, though I can still hardly stand.
Indeed! And Blessings to our captain and his crew, as well as those who toil unseen below.
Come, new-met friend and join our landing party. Let us disembark.
Off we go!
Off We Go.
ACT 1 Scene 4
(As passengers disembark walking down the gangplank one by one, they are met on the wharf by the customs official)
Customs Agent :
Welcome to the City of Alexandria. We hope you will enjoy your stay. But before you head off to see the sights and sample our wares it is my duty to request you to turn over any reading material you may have brought with you.
I've heard about this. You want our books for the Library's permanent collection, Right?
Precisely! It has long been our custom, by decree with the force of law, to examine every piece of writing which comes to our shore.
To maintain a comprehensive compendium of the world's written wealth.
We collect works from all times, in every language, by every author on earth, Kept safe and accessible to our universal college –
To enhance and increase the sum of the world's store of knowledge.
(SONG "Clearing Customs"-J.Jarvis)
Seven hundred years the wealth of words is growing.
To the centre here come many men of learning.
Entering our college. Nowhere else on earth
is such a store of knowledge. Every written word
in every human language, carefully preserved.
Ships from cross the sea and camel caravans
bring whole libraries of books from distant lands.
Added to this storehouse, wisdom of the ages,
Lessons of the ancients, teachings of the sages,
Gathered all together in the Citadel of Memory
Have you any books? Any scrolls? Any stage plays or poems?
Any journals, biographies, stories, or tomes?
All your personal papers you may, of course, retain;
But I must ask again if you'd deign to surrender your books?
Every ship coming to our docks
Will be dutifully inspected and all written works collected:
Mathematics,Philosophy, History and Fiction
Every art of the muses of whatever erudition.
No need to be concerned, there's no cause for remorse.
This is only a loan. We'll replace these, of course.
We grant you great honour. Your pages will share a home
With the finest literature the world has ever known.
SO - Here's your receipt. Keep it safe and before you leave
Show it to the clerk at the front desk. A fair copy you'll receive.
Te original stays in our permanent collection. Very well!
Let us proceed with our customs inspection for your books.
Let us have a look
Senator Gaius Mucous :
Here's a slender volume of some homely poems
Composed while sitting idle in the Senate Forum
Still, as yet unpublished. I would be quite pleased
To donate to the Library's “political science” department.
Geronimo (to no one in particular)
I'd always thought that arse-kissing was more an art than a science.
Nothing to declare.
I have no use whatever for the written word. You may keep your scribbling and scrolls. To try and capture knowledge on a printed page seems quite absurd – even for one who can see to untangle those cryptic marks.
Although for me the outer world is dark, my memory contains more truths than scores of Libraries , and what I don't recall from prior experience I need only summon forth whatever knowingness is called for.
The muses will deliver faithfully what needs be known, for one who calls upon them with true humility. Their songs are sweetly singing in my inner ear most constantly.
Always first invoke the 9 muses, the daughters of gentle mother memory Memnosyne. (memNAHsinee) and thundering father Zeus.
T'was Hesiod the poet shepherd tending his flock near Holy mount Helicon heard their pitying mere mortal men. They spoke to him first – it was recorded thus:
“Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame.
Mere bellies, undeserving any other name
We know how to speak many false things as if they were true,
But when we wish we also may speak things which ARE true.
When we choose to honour someone at his birth we pour sweet dew upon his tongue,
and henceforth all people trust his judgements., greeting him as a god with gentle reverence.”
It seems I have been so blessed and find my true vocation
in repeating the sacred poems and rhymes
So please direct me to the Market Square – I feel compelled to do some declaiming there, and learn if Homer's words divine will earn enough coin to buy my breakfast.
ACT 1 scene 5
( Some time later, in the market place, Old Blind John sets down his bowl , strikes a pose and begins to declaim) :
RAGE - ! Sing goddess. Sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles, Murderous and Doomed.
Sing of the rage that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
Hurling down into Hades' Dark House so many sturdy souls,
Great fighters' souls, Heroes' souls;
But also made their bodies carrion,
Feasts for dogs and birds, even as Zeus' will was done.
Begin, O Muse, when the two first argued and clashed.
The Greek King Agamemnon, lord of men, and the brilliant, god-like Achilles.