Posts tagged Library of Alexandria

The Cure by Alex Gough


The Ancient Library of Alexandria holds a certain fascination for fans and historians alike. With that, Ancient Rome Refocused has invited authors to provide us their fiction (2000 words or less) on this databank of the Ancient World. The guidelines for submission are simple: a story about the Ancient Library of Alexandria and how the fire affected the protagonist.

Alex Gough

Alex Gough

Our first submission is from the pen of Alex Gough. He is a vet from southwest England and the author of the Carbo series of novels, following the scarred and traumatized veteran of the legions as he tries, and fails, to achieve a quiet retirement. Alex is married with a daughter and a small menagerie of pets.

You can go to his website at:

Sign up for Alex’s email list by sending an email to, to receive updates on new works, freebies and special offers.


Novels by Alex Gough

Watchmen of Rome

Bandits of Rome

Carbo and the Thief and Other Tales of Ancient Rome

Killer of Rome (Due for release in 2017)

Mr. Alex Gough has given permission to the blog Ancient Rome Refocused to post his work of fiction “The Cure” one time. All other rights and privileges, including permission to repost or publish, are retained by the author.



By Alex Gough

Copyright © 2016 Alex Gough. All Rights Reserved.

  Hyginos slowly, delicately unrolled the scroll, and felt the crisp papyrus beneath his fingertips. He started at the top, and read. His mouth worked as he whispered the words on the page. He was no scholar, just a moderately wealthy and moderately educated Greek Egyptian. Or at least, he had once been moderately wealthy. Physicians were expensive, and the more outlandish, the more esoteric their ideas and their cures, the higher the fee they commanded. Maybe there was some equation that linked the degree of desperation to the price the solution could command. Philosophy intersects with mathematics. But Euclid and Plato were in another bay.

  He looked up, let his eyes scan the shelves. Rows and rows of books, most of them in the form of papyrus scrolls. So much knowledge, so much information.

When he had first stepped into the Library, he had been stunned. So much knowledge, so much thought, so many ideas. All gathered into one place. And he knew, just knew, that the answer had to be here somewhere. How could it not be?

One librarian told him that no one really knew how many scrolls the Library contained. It could be as many as half a million. It was the librarians’ constant endeavor to catalogue, to expand on the original index, Callimachus’ ‘Pinakes,’ but so vast was the collection it was a Sisyphean task. More scrolls arrived every day, and the librarians worked like quarry slaves to translate and transcribe them onto papyrus. The rulers of Alexandria, the Ptolemaic dynasty that had succeeded to this part of Alexander’s Empire, had been aggressive book collectors, funding trips to book fairs in Greece, seizing books from the huge number of galleys that passed through the important trading hub (copying them and giving the copies back to the owners while keeping the originals), and of course housing the works of the many scholars who in older, safer times, had studied and taught in the Museum of Alexandria.

Maybe the Ptolemies believed that knowledge was power. Maybe they thought the mere accumulation of the physical books was a demonstration of might and wealth, a symbol like the pyramids. Hyginos didn’t care. He was here for a reason. He continued to work down the scroll, reached the bottom, rolled it up carefully and replaced it on the shelf. One of the librarians, called Stephanos, looked up from their transcription work, nodded approvingly and continued scratching at the page he was filling with Greek lettering. The librarians largely left Hyginos to his own devices, unless he asked for help.

It had been different at first, all those months ago, when he had started looking for the cure. Then, they had treated him with suspicion and distrust. Many of them seemed to believe the scrolls were there to be admired, not to be read, so concerned were they that he would mishandle their charges. Persistence and coin had paid off, and soon he was viewed as part of the furniture.

He pulled the next scroll in the work from the shelf. Empedocles ‘On Nature.’ He had read this one before, but he had found a reference to the work in a newer treatise on humours, and he wanted to go back and see if he had missed anything the first time round. He reached the bottom of the scroll, and shook his head. No, there was nothing there, nothing new, nothing that would help. His eyes teared, blurring his vision, and a single drop rolled down his nose, and fell. He jerked his head backwards just in time to avoid the liquid falling onto the scroll, and instead saw it splash on the wooden desk.

Stephanos looked up at the sudden movement and frowned. Hyginos surreptitiously wiped his eyes, and sent a false smile in the direction of the man hunched over his work. The librarian hesitated, then smiled back and continued.

Hyginos sighed, ran his hands through his hair. He looked up at the shelves again. Above them, in large, ornate lettering, read, “The Place of the Cure of the Soul.” He shook his head.

The words had seemed inspiring at first. Now he found them irritating. It wasn’t his soul that needed curing.

The rows and rows of books loomed over him, seeming to mock him. How many had he read over the last months? How many more still to read? He cursed that he hadn’t been a more diligent student as a child, which he wasn’t able to read and understand with the speed and comprehension of the better behaved children. Then, he just wanted to do well enough to avoid the cane, and leave himself plenty of time to watch the horse races and chase his father’s prettiest slaves.

He ran his fingers along the shelves, noting the lack of dust. He read too much to let dust accumulate, at least on the medicine shelves. Maybe there were other amateur scholars looking for answers to their questions in the geography or the philosophy shelves, and those departments were just as well-used. But he knew their enquiries weren’t as vital as his.

Vitality. Life. Pneuma, air. The Stoic Chrysippus believed that Pneuma helped structure all things. The disciples of Hippocrates believed that Pneuma maintained the vital heat within the body. By dissecting corpses, Praxagoras had discovered that arteries were empty and veins full of blood, and believed that the arteries conducted Pneuma around the body. Erasistratus developed these ideas further, and taught them at the academy of anatomy that he had founded here in Alexandria with Herophilos the physician. The two great anatomists were often condemned these days, for their practice of vivisecting live condemned prisoners to ascertain the body’s workings. Still, Hyginos wished he had a fraction of the skills of those great men. He pulled out the first scroll in Herophilos’ ‘Therapeutics.’

No. He had been here before. He knew what he would find. The work, promising as it was, referenced so many times by other scholars, was incomplete. Just as it started to go beyond the discussion of the basic life forces, and to elucidate actual remedies, it ended abruptly.

He was going back over ground he had already covered, he knew. Yes, there were more books to read, more information to find, but he had studied all the major texts on physiology and medicine, and the scrolls now contained less and less of relevance, more and more that was implausible and wild and unbelievable. Just the same pattern as with the doctors.

He kicked his stool away, and it clattered to the floor with a loud noise. Stephanos leapt to his feet angrily. Hyginos held up a placatory hand, and stalked out. He walked past a  lecture hall, glanced in at the orator droning on about meter in Euripides to a stuporous audience, along the peripatos walk, and into the dining room. He paid for a cup of honeyed wine, and sat, ignoring the chatter all around him from philosophers, mathematicians, geographers and astronomers. He heard the monkey cries and elephant trumpets from the zoo that the Museum housed. Beyond that he heard something more, like the shouting of a crowd, but at a huge distance.

“Hyginos!” He looked up, and saw Pausanius hurrying over to him. Despite his mood, he smiled and stood to greet his friend. He had met Pausanius at the start of his studies, and after one glass of wine too many, had shared his story. Since then, Pausanius had taken on the role of research assistant, monitoring the new arrivals in the acquisitions department where he worked.

“Pausanius,” said Hyginos. “Join me. Wine?”

Pausanius looked around suspiciously and shook his head. “The boss would send me to the mines if he caught me drinking at work.”

“Aren’t you on a break?”

“No, I just came here to find you. Stephanos told me you were here. He said you seemed to be in a temper. Still nothing?”

Hyginos sighed. He said nothing, but his expression told Pausanius everything.

“Well, I’ve got some news that just might cheer you up. Caesar may hold the answer.”

Hyginos looked at him quizzically. He turned towards the docks, where the Egyptian Navy under Ptolemy XIII had Julius Caesar’s ships bottled up. Although the siege had been going on for weeks, there seemed to be more activity than usual.

“Pausanius what are you talking about?”

“One of Caesar’s slaves arrived at the Library this morning, with a cartload of scrolls. A donation from Caesar, from his own personal library. A bribe to help him get into Cleopatra’s bedchamber no doubt.”

“And? What are you saying?”

“Hyginos, it contains the missing scrolls from Herophilos!”

Hyginos’ jaw dropped. For a moment he stared at Pausanius. Then he leapt to his feet.

“Show me. Please, show me now!”

“It’s still in the acquisitions department. The head librarian is drooling over the gifts as we speak. Wait for me by the medicine shelves. I’ll bring them to you there as soon as I can. I must go before I’m missed.”

Pausanius hurried away, and Hyginos stared after him. After all this time, was the answer in reach?

A strange, crackling noise came from the direction of the docks. Hyginos glanced towards it, then dismissed it from his mind, and rushed back into the Library.

Hyginos paced up and down like an expectant father. Stephanos shot him irritated looks, but Hyginos ignored them. At last, it was coming to him. The answer to his prayers, his entreaties to the gods, all the money he had spent, and all the research he had done.

The cure.

An acrid smell reached Herophilus’ nostrils, and he sniffed curiously. Smoke?

Pausanius entered, looking around him shiftily. He clutched an armful of scrolls to his chest. Herophilus grabbed him and guided him to a desk. He took the scrolls greedily, and started to unroll them.

“Carefully,” admonished Pausanius but Hyginos paid him no attention.

He read, cursing his slow reading. The first scroll continued the discussion of the imbalances in the humours, and how the imbalance led to the dropsy. He knew this theory, from his other research, but the writing promised much more. It told him to read on, to discover the remedy. His heart pounded, breath caught in his throat.

A slave ran into the room, shouted something, and ran out again. Pausanius and Stephanos looked at each other in alarm, then Stephanos left at a run.

Pausanis shook Hyginos by the shoulder. “Hyginos. Hyginos!”

Hyginos shrugged him off, reading as fast as he could, lips working furiously as his eyes translated the markings on the page into sentences in his mind.

“Hyginos! The Library! It is on fire. We must run.”

Hyginos stared at him blankly, his mind elsewhere.

“Caesar set fire to his own ships to destroy the Egyptian navy. The fire spread to the docks, and now it’s reached the library. It’s spreading with the speed of a race horse.”

The crackling was loud now, the stench of acrid smoke becoming overpowering. Suddenly, flames appeared at the edges of the roof beams, licking the walls like serpent’s tongues, then slithering down into the stacks of scrolls. As the flames touched the papyrus, they combusted, each scroll infecting its neighbor so they too exploded into fire.

Pausanius tried to pull Hyginos away, but he resisted. Pausanius gave up and ran for the exit. Hyginos gathered the scrolls to himself, stood, dropped a scroll and fumbled for it on the floor.

A burning beam split in two and crashed to the marbled tiles, sending up a shower of sparks. Hyginos picked up the fallen scroll and staggered towards the door. Another beam creaked above him, and the shelves turned into raging infernos, the heat searing his face. He choked on the thick smoke, and he grabbed at his throat, dropping three scrolls as he did so.

He fell to his hands and knees, scrabbling for the essential, life-saving information. He crawled forwards towards the door, keeping below the smoke. The door drew nearer, and beyond he could see the corridor that led to the garden, as yet clear from flames. He reached the exit, thrust his head forward to breathe in clear air.

The creaking beam crashed down onto his back, knocking the wind from him. The scrolls scattered.

Through eyes half blind with tears from the smoke, he saw the papyrus cylinders roll sideways against the walls. The burning walls.

The first one to touch leapt into flames in an instant. The one next to it caught a moment later. Hyginos extended a hand in desperation, but his trapped legs prevented him from reaching. He struggled, thrust with blistering hands against the thick wood, wriggled and painfully slowly, he freed himself.

He turned back to the scrolls just in time to see the last one ignite. He scrabbled towards it, smacked the flames out with his agonized hands, and then dragged himself into the garden. Flames and smoke raged all around him. Everywhere he looked were fleeing slaves, yelling librarians, screaming students. Some ran to save themselves, some tried to save the scrolls.

Hyginos painfully rose to his feet. In the confusion and destruction, no one would notice one missing scroll. He limped out of the Library and away from the fire.

His wife lay on their bed where he had left her that morning, and where she would still be when he retired for the night. The same as every day now. At first she had been more active, but the illness, the dropsy, had taken her strength. Now the slightest exertion left her breathless. He noticed that even lying still, asleep as she was now, her breathing was rapid and shallow. Her face was pale, her lips blue and her cheeks drawn in. He understood that her belly was filled with fluid, but he still marveled at how fat and how wasted she could look at the same time.

He unrolled the last surviving scroll. The outer parts were charred, unreadable, but some of the words had survived. He read them, whispering them out loud.

“And so it is clear that assiduous application of the aforementioned remedy will be completely successful in the treatment of the dropsy.”

And that was it. His fingers relaxed, the scroll dropped to the floor.

His wife stirred from her sleep.

“Hyginos,” she said, voice weak.

“I’m here, my darling.”

“Did you find anything new today?”

He swallowed, for a moment not trusting himself to speak. After a moment, he took her hand and squeezed it.

“Not yet. But I’m near, I’m sure of it. Soon I will find the cure.”

She nodded and once again closed her eyes.

  – Fini –

Interview on Twilight Histories

(This interview was conducted by Jordan Harbour and is posted with his permission…in fact by his suggestion.   I recommend that you visit Twilight Histories   I spent an enjoyable evening listening to his podcast: Rome Industrial.  Mr. Harbour will be featured on a future podcast on Ancient Rome Refocused [It is currently slated for Episode 12.])

Excerpt begins…

This exclusive interview with Rob Cain, creator of the wildly popular Ancient Rome Refocused, was conducted by Jordan Harbour from the Twilight Histories Podcast in February, 2012.

Jordan Harbour: For all those who haven’t listened to your podcast, can you describe what Ancient Rome Refocused is all about?

Rob Cain: The podcast can be summed up in a quote from Seneca:

“What is then is now.”

We are not a show about the past, but about how the past relates to the now.  The show is about making comparisons.  Our films, plays, art, architecture, law and philosophy have a basis in Ancient Rome.  History, in my opinion, cannot be divided into epochs but lays upon a continuous thread.  Things change, diminish, die and blossom but never fully disappear.  We build on the past or we recreate it to suit our vision of the present.

On the show, we interview authors, artists and historians who have used Ancient Rome as their inspiration.   No matter what the year,  whether 1412, 1812 or 2012 a monk, politician or a guy who sells bikes in Aspin can see similarities between themselves and the Ancient Romans.

It is because of this– ROME will never die.

On the blog, I play a game with the readers called “Name That Classical Connection” and show a picture of something that could be traced back to Rome or Classical Greece and people consistently guess the right answer.  It’s almost like we are hard-wired for it.

On the blog and podcast we delve into other subjects:  Ancient Troy, Egypt, and Greece.    The show is usually divided into three or four parts: a dramatic narration, a small lecture, or an interview with an expert in a field using the past as their inspiration for their art or field of study.

The podcast is protected by two muses.  Yes, I have called on them for inspiration:  Calliope (the muse of epic poetry) and her sister Clio (the muse of history).  On each episode we color between the lines, adding color to make the past come alive, but ALWAYS…ALWAYS… respecting the facts.

Do I want to be Indiana Jones?  I sure do.

Do I want to take you on an adventure?  Most definitely.  Ancient Rome Refocused, history for the brave…

Jordan Harbour: What inspired you to make Ancient Rome Refocused?

Rob Cain: The truth is I should have been an historian.  I would have been happier.  My father recognized this in me, but many sons make the mistake of not listening to their Fathers.  He loved history.  He lived it as a soldier in World War II.   There are few that can say they ‘witnessed’ history.

The director Bryan Dorries who wrote his own translation of the play AJAX, and took it around the country to perform for soldiers suffering from PTSD, said something that sums it up.  “Those that have lived lives of mythological proportions have no trouble relating to ancient myth.”

Today, many people are living on that scale.

They are on their own ‘Odyssey.’  Soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have the best understanding–carry an M16 and you have something in common with Achilles.   I suspect police officers, doctors, and anyone that must make the BIG decisions  between life and death have to wrap their lives around  ‘the will of the gods’ or ‘fate’ or ‘luck’ can understand the outcomes of mythology as well.

It does not have to be taken literally.  Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to the gods  for fair winds.  How many professionals have sacrificed family for the sake of their careers?

Sysiphus pushed a stone up a hill for eternity, and how many of us have borne an unimaginable weight on a daily basis?  The classics live in our everyday lives.

What inspired me to start Ancient Rome Refocused?  Love of history, and for something else:  ‘street cred.’  I am an aspiring writer (which I’ll talk about later) and I feel the podcast allows me to establish some credibility in this genre I have chosen to undertake.  Ancient Rome Refocused is my crucible.  I made a promise to the listeners I would respect the facts.  If I was totally without merit, totally without understanding of the times, the history and without respect for the truth the listeners would have called me on it – and so they should and so they have.

So far I have retained a certain amount of credibility.  Someone on the blog-o-sphere described me as an enthusiastic amateur.  That’s OK  I can live with that…but just a reminder  that sometimes amateurs have contributed greatly to certain fields.  Maybe, my contribution is promoting an interest in the past. I think it’s working.  Ancient Rome Refocused has been blessed with over 600,000 down loads across 9 episodes.

Someone is listening out there.

The show is going to get even better on future podcasts, by the way. We intend to go on location.

Jordan Harbour: Many of your podcasts are shaped by creative writing that sends your listener back in time.  Are there any authors you look to for inspiration.

Rob Cain: Steven Saylor is my hero.  I was lucky enough to interview him.  He rocks.  The man is a wealth of knowledge and is enthusiastic about his subject.  If you ever get the chance to hear him lecture, do so.  During the interview I found out we owned the same REMCO Roman Galley toy.  The oars moved and it propelled itself across the floor.   Forget computer games–the 60s had some great toys!

Jordan Harbour: Have you thought of delving into some historical fiction writing yourself?

Rob Cain: Check out  in the near future to see my new ebook.  It is a novella.    Yes, a gutsy thing to do but what do I have to lose?

Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes said, “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” I am building those wings as fast as I can.

In addition, I have finished a full-length historical novel about Ancient Rome.

Talk about Sysiphus  pushing a rock.

I totally understand his pain…I mean it.  Novel writing is like pushing a boulder up a hill, watch it fall back down to the bottom of the hill and then push it back up in the rewrites.  Right now I am living in my own Hades…but I hope my pain will end soon.  Advice to novel writers:  outline your work, and have a timetable for finishing.

Jordan Harbour: How has your military service influenced your understanding of the Romans?

Rob Cain: That is a HARD question!  I have met an awful lot of stoic characters that would have made perfect centurions or legion commanders.  I still have a memory of falling into a stream during the dead of winter and given a choice: wait in a cold truck or continue the march.  That is an example of Roman stoicism or an attitude of just ‘suck it up’ American professionalism.

I include the Canadians and British in on this as well  (stiff upper lip?).  I have been on road marches and could not help imagine a Roman column moving down a road.

I have flown in on a Huey Helicopter to a tank defensive position and from the markings on the ground imagined a Roman fortification in upper Germany.    I have seen the military’s tendency to have logos and patches imbued with meaning (references to battles and attributes)  and can’t help but think of the Roman practice of placing the legion standards lovingly in a camp temple.  I have carried the platoon standard and felt a surge of pride.  I have mourned friends who have been killed in battle.  I have held the hand of a soldier’s wife (KIA) as she walked away from her husband’s grave while the sound of taps were played across the fields of Arlington.

There are hundreds out there who can make better comparisons which makes this a question I would love to explore on the blog or podcast with other veterans.  

Jordan Harbour: As our trusted time travel agent, what kind of package tours to Ancient Rome would you offer us?

Rob Cain: Keep it under wraps, I don’t want the federal government to find out I own a time machine.   I’ve talked to my shareholders and we are discussing a variety of packages.      I can’t bring myself to offer the expected tour.  To take us to the opening of the Coliseum under Titus somehow seems amoral.   I don’t think I have the gall to expose paying customers to the slaughter that we would find there.  Those that died in the arena were not shadows.  THE WERE REAL PEOPLE.  I have no wish to be perverted by the sights one would see.   My ‘package deal’ would be more fireside, more tame, and somehow more illuminating.

Juvenal Play Rob Cain Ancient Rome Refocused


Meet the playwrights of the Ancient World.  Attend the opening night of an actual play by the satirist Juvenal.   Dinner is included in the price plus an after-hours wine tasting with the playwright himself who will answer questions.  Latin- to-English translators available.

See the basis for western drama and art.

($120,000 per  ticket).

Library of Alexandria Rob Cain


Visit the original Library of Alexandria.  Library guides will take your requests for specific manuscripts and provide a reading room for you to review obtained works.  Get a copy of a lost manuscript, bring it back to the 21st century and publish.  Copying time takes six to 12 weeks.  A visit to the zoo and aviary are available for the kids.  Latin- to-English translators available.

Find knowledge lost to mankind due to the famous fire.

($145,000 per ticket).

Ancient Rome Rob Cain


Groups can pick the time period to visit the city.  Early Republic or Imperial Rome – it’s up to you.  Guests will be escorted about the city on litter and guided by resident philosophers of the age.  The Imperial Rome package contains a day at the races at the Circus Maximus.  Special shopping excursion are available.  All purchases are yours to keep.   Great deals to be found on jewelry, pottery and wine (imagine having the oldest vintage at your next party in modern time).  What you do on your vacation time is your business. Take back with you artwork in glass, gold and silver done by first rate artisans. No duty, no taxes.  NO SLAVES WILL BE TRANSPORTED UP-TIME.

($300,000 per ticket).


Ancient Roman painting Rob Cain Ancient Rome Refocused


Drop into this time frame with the right amount of gold, and you can live out your life in luxury.  Recommend the extensive Latin immersion course before you go.   Augustan period recommended during the PAX ROMANA.  Leave your politics at the door.   This package is recommended for those who want to live a quiet life (avoid politics) and obey the law (Draconian measures are common in this time period).    Just to be safe, take our packaged sword and dagger fighting course before you go is highly recommended.

This package is for those who need to disappear or just bored with the modern times we live in.

($3.5 million dollars per ticket — set up time includes house, servants and cover story for the locals).

Jordan Harbour: Any closing words or plugs?

Rob Cain: YES!  Come and visit us over at Ancient Rome Refocused.  Our podcasts are on itunes and hipcast.  Come to the blog at:  There is a facebook page group as well.   We have a pretty lively group who get into some pretty interesting discussions.  If you agree, leave a comment.  If you disagree, you are required to leave a comment.  If the facts are wrong, you must write in to leave a comment.   You can call in too at:  855-209-6230.

We are looking for professors, students, and fans to be guest editors on the show.  All you have to do is write me at:   Got any papers or dissertations about Ancient Rome?  We will post them with full credit.  Just have an opinion?  We will post that as well.

What’s more–and this is non-negotiable–make sure you listen to Twilight Histories

I do.