How do you create a library labeled, ‘in case of apocalypse, read me’?
It’s a fascinating question and Grayson Clary devotes this fascinating Aeon piece to addressing it.
Mr Clary starts by considering the enormous reach of Egypt’s empire, say, during the reign of Ramses II. A citizen could “be forgiven for thinking his state sits at creation’s centre, a kernel of order anchoring the known world,” he writes. At the time, not only has Egypt already governed Northeast Africa for the better part of 2,000 years but after “trouncing Hittites at Kadesh, Ramses will confirm Egypt as the preeminent military power in the region and, for any Egyptian then living, the entire human fraction of the cosmos”.
As he points out, this is “what official accounts will show. Bombastic descriptions of the battle will decorate monuments across the empire. A millennium and a bit later, not a living soul will be able to read them.”
So there you have it. Cultural apocalypse. Egypt, as Mr Clary writes, had “an epoch of stunning continuity, followed by abrupt extinction.”
It should put humankind on notice, he says. We should consider the possibility that those who come after us, “will one day have no memory of Milton, or for that matter Motown.”
That’s the problem. What’s the solution? Is there one?
(Tomorrow: The Rosetta Stone was the time machine by which ancient Egypt travelled into the future)