Hieroglyphs in the Sun – Chapter 3

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 14/05/2024

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  Alexandria

The next day they set off for Alexandria. This city of Egypt was built by the Greeks, developed by the Greeks, and its entire history is intertwined with Hellenism. Sophia knew a lot about Alexandria, and she didn’t expect Nefeli to tell her about it, although she would appreciate learning more.

The journey was long, about three hours to get there and another three to return. The landscape was very interesting because as they traveled along the Nile, around them was green, cultivated land; there were none of the miserable apartment buildings of Cairo, the sky was blue, and a feeling of euphoria flooded Sophia.

Her fellow travelers, fully identifying with the syndrome of students on a field trip, sang songs, told jokes, and listened to the guide who explained what they saw on their way. It was a very pleasant atmosphere, reminiscent of school trips and the joy of children.

In this climate, the two women found the opportunity to talk about their lives. Sophia told Nefeli about her marriage to Kyriakos, about the monotonous life she lived with him, but also about the fact that he left her a good nest egg that now allowed her to make this trip. She also spoke about the years she was a teacher and the love she received from the children.

-This love turned out to be the most precious thing I got in my life, and I thank God for it, she said.

-Otto, said Nefeli, was certainly not fanatically religious, nor narrow-minded. He was very clever, dynamic but also quite authoritarian. I had a rich life next to him, I lacked nothing, but I was always in his shadow. I had a very difficult childbirth and then I couldn’t have another child. So, the most precious thing I have is Hans. Don’t see him like that, lonely and inexpressive, adolescence is to blame, the fact that he lost his father, but also the problem he has with his leg. Until he was twelve he was a very happy and sweet child. Then he started to feel inferior, to think he was a monster and other similar things.

-How old is Hans now? Sophia asked.

-A few days ago, he turned eighteen. But basically, he is still a teenager. At least that’s how he behaves.

-Yes, boys are slow to mature, Sophia agreed. Even up to 25, I would say, they are teenagers.

-I hope he gets over it sooner, Nefeli said, laughing. I won’t be able to stand it for so many years!

This conversation made Sophia reconsider her view that Hans was an adopted child.

-It is obvious that Nefeli gave birth to him, she thought. Perhaps he resembles her parents. Who knows?

The entrance to the city of Alexandria through a huge gate with the name of the city written in Arabic made Sophia focus on the landscape around her and leave her thoughts aside. Their guide told them that the name of the city on the gate used to be written in Latin characters and that was more impressive. It gave it a cosmopolitan character that expressed its true origin and history.

The sky was blue, and the light was bright, predisposing them to something pleasant. They initially passed through an industrial area, which gave them the feeling of development, and then they reached the center of the city. One could see its old glory reflected in the imposing buildings that adorned the streets, but now neglect and lack of maintenance have turned them into crumbling structures. They felt their hearts squeezed again. It was a pity, a great pity.

They first visited the Patriarchate and later the house of the great Greek poet of Alexandria, Cavafy. Their final destination was what Sophia was eagerly awaiting: The new library of Alexandria.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, as it is called, is an impressive structure, built parallel to the Mediterranean Sea, roughly where the ancient library of the city, built by Ptolemy I, the Savior, once stood. It is a modern complex consisting of the library building, an observatory, and a museum. It was designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta. They are the same architects who designed the famous Sydney Opera House. The roof is round, glass, and inclined towards the seaside, resembling a solar disk emerging from the ground, a key element of ancient Egyptian civilization. The central reading room, a columned, terraced hall inspired by pharaonic architecture, is the largest reading hall in the world. On the granite wall surrounding the building, samples of all known forms of writing in the world have been engraved.

According to the information provided by their guide, the construction of the library was funded with the assistance of UNESCO and many countries worldwide, including Greece.

-I think there is no more moving gesture than humanity contributing to the collection and preservation of knowledge. Knowledge is humanity’s most precious asset over time, and when everyone contributes to its preservation, without national and religious exclusions, it is magnificent, said Sophia.

-I totally agree, Nefeli replied. I was moved by the external wall with samples of writing from all over the world. It’s as if every tribe of humanity deposits its presence with the symbols of learning it possesses.

-I am really happy I could come! Sophia said. I hope one day this library will be able to gather all the knowledge of the world, as was the ancient library. Where do you think most of the texts of human thought are today?

-I believe in the Vatican, Nefeli replied. I once read that beneath the building there are seven or nine floors – I don’t remember exactly – with texts from all over the world and from all epochs. But not everyone can access them. They preserve them for their own purposes.

-Of course, whoever has knowledge, has power. Don’t forget that! And religions everywhere want to maintain their power and impose themselves on the masses.

The interior of the library was bright, thanks to the glass ceiling. It was a unified space that ascended in tiers, ensuring that all readers had light. The library’s spaces were adorned with artworks representing the great minds of knowledge and writing from all epochs and all races. Among them was a bust of Cavafy, the great Alexandrian poet, depicting “Ithaca” and “Waiting for the Barbarians,” a bench resembling an open book from Shakespeare’s work, as well as a bust of the ancient Greek Demetrius of Phalerum, who guided Ptolemy I in creating the ancient library and undertook the provision and classification of the texts it contained. There were also Islamic inscriptions, modern sculptures, and many other pieces.

The group of travelers from Cyprus went up and down the various levels of the library, admiring the artworks. Sofia and Nefeli went together, commenting on what they saw. Hans, however, moved on alone and silently. At one point, Sofia noticed a woman looking at them. She was a blonde woman, around 40-45 years old, with straight hair down to her shoulders, colorless, without any distinctive features. What made her notice her was the feeling that she had seen the same woman the previous day when they were at the museum and later at the pyramids.

-Don’t overthink it, Sofia she said to herself. All tourists visit the same places. You probably saw her yesterday because her group also visits the same sights. And even if she’s still watching us, so what? Nefeli is so impressive that everyone looks at her.

And she dismissed the thought from her mind. But in some deep layers, that woman remained to be watched over.

On the return journey, Nefeli found the opportunity again to add some information about the city of Alexandria.

-Do you know that there is a great controversy about where the tomb of Alexander the Great is located? she asked Sofia.

-Of course! Alveler says it’s in Vergina, others say it’s in Alexandria, and others say it’s in Amphipolis. As far as I know, when Alexander the Great died in Babylon, a procession began to transport his body to Macedonia for burial, but Ptolemy stole it and buried it in Alexandria.

-That’s the prevailing view, and it’s quite well-documented in some way. There are testimonies in ancient writings that until the 4th century BCE, significant figures of antiquity, such as Julius Caesar, visited the tomb in Alexandria. On the other hand, the skeleton found in Vergina belongs to a man over 40 years old, while Alexander the Great was only 33 when he died. But I would like to tell you about another interesting version.”

-Tell me, you’ve intrigued me!

-Let’s start from the beginning. There is an Egyptologist named Andrew Chugg, who has studied the subject extensively and has written a book about it, ‘The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great.’

-According to Andrew Chugg, Alexander the Great, who was named Pharaoh, was initially buried in Memphis in the tomb of a Pharaoh who had been exiled by the Persians and died abroad. In this tomb, statues of ancient Greeks were found, such as Homer, as well as many others, which is extremely strange for an Egyptian Pharaoh. Later, his remains were transferred to Alexandria and buried in a mausoleum, where, as I told you, ancient historical figures visited him.

-Andrew Chugg presents an ancient map of Alexandria showing the location of Alexander the Great’s tomb. When, in the fourth century CE, references to Alexander the Great ceased, other references began to emerge regarding the tomb of another important figure: the Evangelist Mark, who is also believed to have been buried in Alexandria. Here the author presents another map, Byzantine this time, showing the location of the Apostle Mark’s tomb. And guess what? If you superimpose these maps, the location of the two tombs fits perfectly!

-Incredible!

-Do you know that when Christianity prevailed, many important monuments of antiquity were destroyed as pagan, and others were transformed into Christian ones? It is very likely that Alexander’s tomb was forgotten and ‘discovered’ as the tomb of the Evangelist Mark.

-But the story doesn’t end there. The remains of the Evangelist Mark were later transferred to Venice and placed in the cathedral of St. Mark there. Andrew Chugg visited Venice, but of course, he was not allowed to examine the remains of the Evangelist Mark. However, he found there a broken marble plaque depicting a shield with the sun of Vergina and a part of a very long spear, like the sarissa of the Macedonians. The dimensions of the plaque, if extended, match the dimensions of a sarcophagus.

-Very interesting indeed. I will look for that book when we return.

-Of course, all of these are theories for now, but notable theories.

The two women fell silent. The road back was long, and it had gotten dark. On their left, they could see the moon rising, red and majestic. A full moon or nearly full. Sofia couldn’t take her eyes off it. The beauty of the starry sky always enchanted her, especially with such a radiant moon.

Whether it was fatigue or the magic of the sky, it made all her fellow travelers fall silent. Sofia, who had never before experienced such a moment in her life, coupled with the sensitivity that characterized her, felt a reverence within this bus traveling from Alexandria to Cairo.

-Oh my God, what a fulfilling day! she thought. “My heart is filled with gratitude for this experience I’ve had, and I look forward to more encounters with the history and richness of this country. Where there is civilization, there is the heart of humanity and the dwelling of God. I wish Kyriakos could perceive this. Together, we would live a much more interesting and less mundane life. But thank goodness, he left me the money to live it.”

That night she slept peacefully. The anxiety and uncertainty she felt in the first days had already vanished. She, too, was a modern traveler, consciously walking in the footsteps of an ancient civilization, not because fate had dictated it, but because she had chosen it. She was fulfilled.

In her dreams, images alternated between the journey and the library. In the background, that woman with blonde hair and piercing gaze lingered. But when she woke up, she dismissed her unkindly. A new day was beginning. Sofia opened the channels of her soul to welcome new experiences.

 

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