In Part 1 we discovered that it was during the Stone Age that books were invented, but they were inscribed directly onto the walls of the cave and so were not portable. Although the use of animal skins became popular the Ice Age put paid to them as people needed the skins to keep warm and survive. Thus it was, and thus it were, and thus it did, that books vanished for an age. Eventually Bronze Age person rediscovered them and, using the newly invented and infinitely shinier bronze, books were rediscovered and enjoyed by many. But then the Iron Age came along and messed it all up as books moved on to the much less shinier, duller and way more heavier iron. These books were so heavy and wordy that they had to be pulled along by horses which, being new themselves, only the rich could afford. And thus, again, books fell out of common use and into the hands of the rich. Bloody iron age, spoiling stuff for the low people. The more enterprising of them took to scratching stories into the mud, but they were invariably trampled over or dug up and smeared over straw bales to make houses with.
And so Britain was stuck in a bookish rut. The Iron Age dragged on, and books were dragged about, for what seemed like 1000’s of years. That was until the Romans turned up. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here.
Let’s backtrack a tad and see what the Egyptians were doing book-wise, shall we? No? well, tough.
And so, onto..
Part 2: The Ancient Egyptians.
The Ancient Egyptians were an clever bunch of peoples. The invented the brick, something that wouldn’t appear in Britain, albeit in a smaller form, for over a thousand years, give or take a few. They also invented cats which, being cats, got away and infected, I mean did spread – they sprud – across the globe and mankind never slept undisturbed throughout the night again.
As we discovered in Part 1, letters arrived on Earth with the asteroid that wiped out the Dinosaurs and were flung into the atmosphere, endlessly circling until they found a way down and into the heads of people to form into words. That’s what scientist now say anyway and who are we to argue? But, possibly due to anti-cyclones, high pressure, sand storms, who knows really, they never found their way to Ancient Egypt. Instead, the Egyptians, like the cave-men of Stone Age Britain, drew their stories onto stone. They were much, much better at it though. They used more colours, more symbols and wrote in straight lines – unlike the cave-men who just hastily scribbled wherever there was space on the walls before their wives got home and made them clean it off again. Even later, when written onto animal hides, they were still all higgledy-piggledy. Egyptian society was far more ordered and civilised. Their hyiero…hyro…hiyall…heroglyph…picture-writing was so neat and tidy that people started coming from all over Egypt to see this new, to them, way of telling stories. The most skilled picture-writers, or Artists, as they were to become known – the first recorded use of the word, meaning ‘picture writer’ in ancient Egyptian – became household names drawing great attention from across the land. People flocked to read the new books and to attend signings by the artists. These people, or Tourists, as they became known – an Ancient Egyptian slang word meaning ‘nosey buggers’ – started to become a nuisance. They invaded people’s homes, private spaces and left litter and a trail of destruction wherever they went.
Something had to be done. And it was…done.
As with the cave-men’s books, being made of stone and such like these could not be easily transported about. The Ancient Egyptians hadn’t discovered bronze or iron, but they did have gold. Lots and lots of gold. The trouble was was that gold was too shiny and, in the bright sunshine of Egypt, people were being blinded by the glare from the few books that had been transcribed onto the precious metal. These were also heavy, not as heavy as the iron books of the Iron Age, but heavy enough to wear people out carrying them around as well as blinding them. Soon the numbers of blind people in Egypt was getting silly and so the Queen of Egypt at the time declared them illegal and gold books disappeared forever.
That still left the problem of the tourists and the mess they left. Although sandstone was a much lighter material it still wasn’t practical to drag them through the soft sand that Egypt was made from at the time. Egypt didn’t have horses – they had only been newly invented and even then they were only available in Europe – but they did have camels; a horse-like creature only grumpier, smellier and with a tendency to spit at you if you pissed them off. Or just stood near to them. Or looked at them. Or spoke near them. Or walked past them. They experimented with camels dragging the books behind them in order to take them as a travelling exhibition, but they generally broke up and some very expensive and exciting books were lost to the sands. Plus the slaves leading the camels got so sick and tired of being spat at and drenched in camel saliva that they staged a mini revolt and the idea was quickly abandoned.
Something had to be done…again. And it was…again.
One day an enterprising young Egyptian, whilst dunking his teabag in and out of his goblet, struck upon the idea of building a place, a place like no other, one that could hold all of the books and the people who came to see them. He was inspired by the shape of his teabag, a new invention brought over from China, by some Chinese traveller I expect, a triangular shape – one that would stand out amongst the other buildings of the area. He presented his idea to the Queen, a forward thinking woman he knew would embrace the idea, and she was justly impressed. The idea was thus: to build a structure that would house all of the books in a single building that people could then visit, free of charge, to view and enjoy them for all eternity. The Queen loved the idea and instantly gave the go ahead to build the huge triangular building.
The new building was to be named the Pyramid, and thus the first library was created (Pyramid meaning library in Ancient Egyptian).
The Egyptians loved their books so much that great care and attention was lavished upon its construction. It was huge, nearly 150 ft high, and was topped with the very gold that had blinded so many book reading Egyptians years earlier. It was put there to act as a beacon to direct people to the new library. It could be seen for miles and miles around, and, once it opened, people flocked to it. Extra camel parking spaces had to be created as demand to see the new and exciting Pyramid was so high.
The architects of the Pyramid lavished it with treasures and adorned it with expensive gifts and tributes to the Queen who commissioned it (sadly her name has been lost to history for reasons that will become clear later). Such was the great wealth that soon accrued inside the Pyramid that the Queen became increasingly paranoid that greedy Tourists would steal items. It was decided that someone should stay inside the Pyramid permanently – someone who could oversee the Tourists, dust the walls and ornaments, and lock up at night. They employed a young man by the name of Brian Khufu – or Cheops as he was known to his friends. He was given the title of Pharaoh – meaning ‘Keeper Of The Books’. Such was the importance lavished upon this role that he was given his own living quarters within the Pyramid which, over time, he decorated to his own tastes and style. He had a huge bed installed, a large stone affair that had a stone lid cast in his likeness – or a likeness that he aspired to anyway, as he was quite an ugly man – which he had suspended above his bed. No one knows why he did this, but it is also thought that the inside was once polished gold, so he probably enjoyed looking at himself in it. The role of Pharaoh was highly sought after and male Pharaohs were particularly popular with the ladies so you can make your own mind up there.
As the Pyramid became more and more popular the Queen and her architects started to worry more and more about theft and so they decided to install some security measures that would be activated in the case of thievery. These were strictly to be used only in the event of an emergency, but one night tragedy struck.
The role of Pharaoh was a vitally important one in Ancient Egyptian culture, but it came at a price; they never left the Pyramid. Khufu, who up until his employment had been used to his freedom, was also a bit of a party animal. He was becoming slightly disillusioned with the whole affair and decided to invite a few select friends over for a bit of a party to cheer himself up, and no doubt show off a bit. The party itself went well – much rejoicing was had – but whilst asleep in his bed one of his friends decided he’d had enough of being cooped up in the dark Pyramid and, despite the warnings not to leave the Pyramid figured, what was the worst that could happen? and wanted to go home. Unaware of the security measures put in place he accidentally triggered one of the booby traps and he, and the Pharaoh and his friends were trapped inside forever more. It is of course unknown what happened to them in the wake of the disaster, but at some point Khufu must’ve returned to his bed whereby, for reasons unknown, the lid fell down and sealed him up inside where he suffocated to death wrapped in his bedsheets. It is known however that at some point he wrote his name upon the walls of the great Pyramid which is why he is now credited with its construction and not the great unnamed Queen who should be. This is also how the title of ‘Pharaoh’ became confused with the King or ruler of Egypt at the time. Sad times.
The Ancient Egyptians were rocked by this tragedy and memorial services were held throughout the land in memory of the great Pharaoh (librarian) Khufu. There were attempts to reopen the Great Pyramid, but they were quickly abandoned as it was just too hot that week – it was during a particularly prolonged heatwave – to dig through several dozen metres of limestone and granite. They couldn’t be arsed in other words
So they decided to build another one. This one was slightly smaller, but no less impressive inside. They didn’t bother with the gold topping this time, just too much faff frankly, but they did decide to build a great statue of a cat next to it. The Egyptians were incredibly fond of their cats and figured that this would bestow great luck and good fortune upon the new Pyramid and it’s new Pharaoh, Khafre – a manservant of the Queen who was known to be a right boring bugger and wouldn’t do anything silly like invite unwanted guests in at night and ruin the library for everyone else. However, the master sculptor’s young apprentice, Willy Sphinx, possibly for a bet, we shall never know, took the original drawings of the cat and changed the head for that of his mum. The master sculptor, maybe due to the heat and pressures to complete the statue on time, never noticed this amendment and it made it into the final statue. When the covers were taken off during the Grand Opening there was much shock and laughter as the master sculptor did a Jimmy Finlayson style double take, gibbered most apologetically to the Queen, who was most definitely not amused, and along with the young Willy was flung into a pit of vipers. That learnt ’em.
With the expense of the new Pyramid starting to creep up it was decided to leave the great statue as it was – they figured it would soon be covered up in the drifting sand anyway. The young joker’s mum was dead chuffed though that her son loved her enough to immortalise her in stone and it quickly became colloquially known as the ‘Sphinx‘, a name that has stuck to this day.
The new Pyramid was a great success with people coming from near and further than near to see the new books and to marvel at the ‘Sphinx’ (Incidentally, Mrs. Sphinx didn’t live very long to enjoy her fame as she ironically tripped over a sleeping cat and fell down several flights of stairs into the very same pit of vipers that her son Willy had been flung months earlier. There are many theories as to why Mrs. Sphinx was standing precariously at the top of the stairs to the pit where her son had been cast, why the cat was there right in the middle of the top step, or even why there were so many stairs leading down into the pit in the first place. It kept Ancient Egyptian conspiracy theorists awake for years, that one).
Sadly for the Egyptians, and the new Pharaoh Khafre in particular, they were not a people to learn from past mistakes. Once again they installed new and better, so they thought, security measures and Khafre got ideas above his station and began to elaborately decorate his living quarters as Khufu had before him – even down to the suspended stone bed lid thing. So sure were they that the ‘Sphinx’ would protect them. Of course, history being history, like a pickled onion, repeated itself and once more the Pharaoh was sealed within his bed and the Pyramid forever.
This pissed the Queen right off (regarding Mrs. Sphinx, one theory is that she arranged for her to be ‘taken care of’: planting the cat at the top of the stairs and telling Mrs. Sphinx that her son was still alive in the pit, surviving by feeding on the snakes, to end the curse that she felt was to blame for the double disaster. I know right, bloody silly idea, but you know conspiracy theorists!), and there was very nearly a riot amongst the people as once again they were deprived of their beloved books and Pyramid.
So, a final Pyramid was built. By now they were running out of stones and patience, so it was a lot smaller than the previous two. This Pyramid also had three smaller Out-Pyramids: one housed the children’s library – it was felt that there was to much for them to damage inside the main Pyramid and they were better off having their own room; the other was a place where refreshments were sold – a popular addition as it turned out and the first recorded cafe; and the third one was the first ever toilet block – such was the demand that the original ones couldn’t cope and, after a particularly nasty over spill one very hot day, the Queen demanded better facilities.
A new Pharaoh was once more installed, an understandably nervous young man by the name of Menkaure. After he had settled into his new role he was no better than the others, frankly – lavishing his living quarters with expensive, shiny artefacts, etc – but at least he lived naturally to the end of his life. Eventually though the popularity of the Pyramids dwindled; the ‘Sphinx’, as predicted, had become covered in sand and had lost its appeal, and a new invention, brought over from Ancient Greece, parchment, had started to take off. A few years later the Queen, the great architect of the Pyramids, and the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-you-get-the-idea-grandmother of the library, died. The running of the Pyramid, and the general upkeep of the other two, became bogged down in bureaucratic arguments and infighting. With their cost spiralling and their appeal general dwindling, the decision was taken to close it down. After living to a ripe old age Menkaure, after his death by natural causes, was granted the honour, as had is predecessors accidentally before him, of being buried inside his Pyramid. Only this time the Pharaoh was dead before the library was sealed up forever.
And so and thus the age of the Great Pyramids came to a close. The library was temporarily lost to humanity. But a new revolution was on the horizon.
As mentioned earlier, the Ancient Greeks had discovered a new type of surface on which to write their stories, and they crucially had words with which to write them. This new surface was to be known as Parchment. It was as light as a feather and could be rolled up and easily transported about one’s personage.
So join me next time in Part 3 where we travel to Ancient Greece and Rome and discover just what the flipping hell was going on as the History Of The Book enters a new and exciting phase.
Peace and Book Love, TBBB X