Archive for the ‘000s’ Category


pompeii_03I saw Pompeii in October 2008. Here is my account of it:

Pompeii is a town near Naples, Italy that was buried under six metres of ash when Mount Vesuvius blew its top on a summer day in the year 79. It was not uncovered till the 1800s, making it the best preserved town from Roman times.

It is a whole town: street after street, house after house. Even the pictures in the whorehouse are still there. Much of the town was destroyed, but much of it was covered so quickly in ash that it was preserved – even the shape and position of dying men and dying dogs. It is the closest thing we have to a time machine back to Roman times.

The way you can walk the streets of a lost world is like – Disney World! That is the only other place that is built to be another place and yet is not that other place. It is a strange feeling.

Something that Pompeii makes clear is the power of small, simple changes:

  • The streets are made of large stones – making them uneven, so you always have to always watch your step so you do not twist your foot or fall over. It makes walking down the street slow and harder than you know it has to be.
  • The writing had no spaces, making it hard to read.

Not only are the Romans gone from Pompeii, so is the smell. People threw their waste out into the street and it had to be regularly washed away down the street. That is why there are sidewalks and crossing stones.

Pompeii-couplePompeii did have running water: you can still see the lead pipes running along the streets. The rich had both hot and cold water – nearly 2000 years ago.

One building that is strangely familiar is the basilica, the courthouse, the largest building in town. Only bits of it are left but it had the same layout as St Patick’s cathedral in New York: a huge, long room with a line of inner columns to the right and to the left and a raised part at the far end – where the judge sat, and, in St Paritick’s, where the priest and the altar stand. It is as if  the Church took over the courthouses after the fall of Rome.

The pictures in the whorehouse are still there. They show different positions: you pick the one you want.

Pompeii was not built very high: most of the houses are one or two floors, all of them pretty small. And yet from the way Pompeii is built you can tell people were shorter then,  by like about a foot (0.3 m). Even the beds are shorter.

The rich had a courtyard inside their houses and pictures on their walls.

The bricks were not laid and cut so that the outer walls are smooth and even,  but some were made smooth by covering them with plaster.

– Abagond, 2009.

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The birth of Jesus Christ took place in the town of Bethlehem near Jerusalem. This is when Christians say that God, who created the heavens and the earth, became a baby, when God was made flesh.

For a long time people thought Christ was born on December 25th in the year 1. That is why Christmas, the day that marks his birth, falls on December 25th and why the years are numbered the way they are. But from what we know now, it seems more likely that he was born in the spring in about the year 7 BC.

Most of what we know about his birth comes from the Bible, the Christian holy book. Here is the story it tells:

Jesus Christ was born to Mary, a virgin. Even the Koran agrees on that point. The father was not Joseph, the man she was about to marry, but the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel visited her and told her about it. She wondered why God chose her but, being a faithful servant of God, she accepted it.

Just before Mary was to give birth, the Romans, who ruled the land in those days, told everyone to go to the town of his birth to be counted. So Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, where they were living, and travelled to Bethlehem.

When they got to Bethlehem the town was full – there was no place for them to stay. So they wound up in a stable for animals. It was there that Mary gave birth to Jesus. He was not born in a palace to a princess but to a simple but pure woman in a stable.

The shepherds who were taking care of their sheep nearby heard about this from angels, who filled the night sky. They went to see.

When Jesus was born there was a strange star in the sky, called the Star of Bethlehem. There are different ideas about what it was, but whatever it was it brought wise men from the east called magi. They gave him three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Westerners say there were three wise men. It does not say that in the Bible (see Matthew 2:1).

King Herod found out from the wise men that a king of the Jews was born, meaning Jesus. Herod was only half Jewish and owed his power to the Romans. Jesus, on the other hand, was born of royal blood in the line of the greatest Jewish king of all time, King David.

Not wanting to take any chances King Herod had all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed. An angel warned Joseph. He took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt just in time. They came back after Herod died.

Right up till the day he died many expected Jesus to make himself king and free the Jews from Roman rule. It turned out very differently. He was not here to free Jews from Romans, but man from sin.

– Abagond, 2007.

Update (2021): The post said there were three wise men. I corrected that.

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Clement-of-Rome-icon-206x300.jpgSaint Clement (000s) was a Christian martyr and one the first popes. He was pope from 88 to 99. That was in the time of emperor Domitian of Rome, who wanted to get rid of the Christians and Jews.

Clement wrote a long letter to the Corinthians, now called “1 Clement”. It was found in some early Christian Bibles. It is one of the earliest Christian writings apart from the New Testament itself. It used to be read in churches. Even today it should be read by anyone who wants to know the history of the popes and their powers.

There is also “2 Clement”, but scholars say it was written in a later time.

Clement was raised in Rome by his father, who believed men’s fates were written in the stars. He gave his son a good education in Greek letters and philosophy. Clement later became a Christian.

When he was a boy his mother and his two older brothers went to Athens but were never heard from again, apparently lost at sea. His father went looking for them. He did not come back either. Then Clement set out to look for them. He met St Peter, who brought him together with not just his father but his mother and two brothers too.

He and Peter became friends. He followed Peter first to Antioch and then to Rome. He brought some of the top people of Rome to Christ. Later he became pope, as the bishop of Rome is called.

Clement refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor, as if he were a god. So he was sent away across the sea of Pontus (the Black Sea) to an island. Thousands of other Christians had already been sent there. They lived there cutting marble out of the earth.

Because the marble was far from any water, the water had to be carried from springs from far away. When Clement heard this he prayed. Then he saw a lamb that no one else could see. He knew was Jesus Christ. The lamb showed him where there was water nearby. Clement struck the ground and out came water.

The Christians on the island rose up against Rome and tore down all the temples and built churches in their place. But then Rome sent a general to put them back under Roman rule.

The general put an anchor round Clement’s neck and threw him into the sea. He died. But the Christians all prayed to see the body of their dead hero. The sea withdrew and showed a temple that was under the waves. In that temple was Clement’s body.

The sea withdrew every year at that time. But then when the people started to turn against God, the miracle stopped too. But the old stories of it lived on. Later they found his body and brought it back to Rome and built the church of St Clement.

Feast day: November 23rd.

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Roman Empire


The Roman Empire, circa +197.

The Roman Empire (-27 to +476) was the circle of lands round the Mediterranean Sea ruled by Rome. Its ideas about law, government, religion, language and writing became those of the West.

Before -27 Rome was called a republic because the Senate still had some power. But Rome had ruled lands outside of Italy since at least -220. Did it matter to those in Greece or Carthage whether they were ruled by one Roman (the emperor) or many (the Senate)?

And even after Rome fell in 476, the empire in the east continued, ruled from Constantinople, which did not fall to the Turks till 1453. We call it the Byzantine empire, but that is a name made up by French scholars in the 1800s. The empire called itself Roman. Even the Arabs and Turks called them Rumi.

In 117, Rome at its height ruled the lands from Scotland to Egypt, from Morocco to Mesopotamia. It was bound by the Rhine and Danube rivers in the north (except for Dacia, now Romania), the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Sahara in the south and Persia in the east.

Rome brought peace to all the lands round the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of years: the Pax Romana or Roman peace.

Rome took the best ideas of Egypt, Babylon and Greece and added ideas of its own about law and government.

Latin was the main language in the west, Greek in the east.

Some of the early emperors were cruel and sick men, like Caligula, Claudius and Nero. They ruled from 37 to 68. Later it was ruled by five good emperors, from 96 to 180: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. They brought Rome to the height of its power and glory in the 100s.

In the 200s war was common: the empire had no peaceful, orderly way to hand power from one emperor to the next.

By the 200s the Christians were seen as a threat to the social order: they did not believe the emperor was a god. They would not even give the idea lip service. But by the 300s most people were Christians. They now became the social order, closing down the old temples and burning old books.

By the 300s the emperor rarely came to Rome. He spent most of his time in Milan and the new city of Constantinople, founded by Constantine. Sometimes the empire was ruled by two emperors, one in the west and one in the east. The last emperor to rule both halves together was Theodosius I from 379 to 395.

In the 400s the army in the west was mainly German defending the empire against other Germans! No surprise, then, when the west soon found itself cut up like a birthday cake among German generals, some of them from the Roman army itself. One of those generals, Odoacer, overthrew the last emperor in the west in 476.

In the 500s Justinian sent Belasarius to take back the west. He took much of Italy – by destroying its cities – but in time even Italy was lost.

– Abagond, 2007, 2016.


The Roman Republic / Empire from -510 to +530.

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The 000s (1-99) are also known as the first century after the birth of Christ according to the Gregorian calendar. We now know that Jesus Christ was not born in the year 1, but it was the best anyone knew when they were setting up the calendar 500 years later.

For the first time ever there was an unbroken chain of kingdoms and empires from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east: Rome, Parthia (Zoroastrian), Kushan India (Buddhist) and China, which now reached across the desert north of Tibet. This made the Silk Road possible. Along the road Buddhism came to China.

This was also when Christianity was born. Jesus Christ died on the cross in early 30s. In the 50s and 60s Saint Paul made his teachings into a religion for all mankind and spread it along the roads, towns and ports from Jerusalem to Rome.

The Roman Empire now had all the lands in Europe south of the Danube and Rhine rivers. It took over Britain, something that Julius Caesar could not do, and kept control of Armenia. Cappadocia was still ruled by its own king.

Rome in these years tried to take over Germany but failed. In the battle of the Teutoberg Forest it lost over 15,000 men, a grave loss. That is why Germany never became part of the Roman Empire.

In the late 60s the Jews rose up against the empire. In 70 the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, never to be rebuilt. In 73 the last Jewish stronghold fell, the one at Masada where nearly a thousand men, women and children killed themselves rather than live under Roman rule.

Britain also rose up against Rome under Queen Boudicca, who destroyed London. She was put down too. Rome ruled all of Britain as far north as the middle of what is now Scotland.

The Roman emperors in the middle years, like Caligula, Claudius and Nero, were evil and sick men. But starting with Nerva in 96, Rome had five good emperors in a row. The empire would then reach the height of its power and glory.

Tacitus wrote about the years from 68 to 96 in one of the best histories ever written about Rome.

This was also when Pliny was alive and wrote his “Natural History”. It was, in effect, the world’s first encyclopedia. He was curious about everything. In the end this killed him: in 79 he got too close to Mount Vesuvius when it blew its top. It buried him along with the towns of Pompeii and Heraculaneum, preserving them for the ages.

Nearly all the books of the New Testament were written in these years. And the Old Testament as Jews and Protestants know it also took shape.

Christians started making books with pages and covers (a codex), not out of a roll of paper like everyone else.

What to read:

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Saint Luke

Saint Luke (000s) was a Christian saint who wrote the book of Luke and Acts in the Bible. The book of Luke is one of the four gospels, which tell of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. St Luke was the first person we know of who used the word “Christian”.

Luke was a Greek doctor from Antioch in Syria. He was not Jewish. As a follower of St Paul his gospel is, in effect, the gospel according to Paul. When Paul talks about the gospel as a written thing, he is probably thinking of the book of Luke.

Luke travelled with Paul as he spread the Good News of Jesus Christ along the roads and ports of the Roman Empire. Even when Paul was thrown in prison, Luke stuck by him when few would.

It is from Luke that we get the stories of the Three Wise Men, the Prodigal Son, the Road to Emmaus, the Annunciation (where the angel Gabriel visits Mary) and many others.

Luke wrote more about Mary than anyone else in the Bible. He wrote things that only Mary would know. If you read his gospel it seems like he met her when she was old. Some say he even painted pictures of her (icons).

Some say Luke was one of the two men on the road to Emmaus. Luke names one man, Cleophas, but not the other. So some think that the unnamed man is Luke himself. If so, then Luke saw Christ after he rose from the dead.

Apart from that, Luke never met or saw Jesus. Because he wrote one of the four gospels, some assume that he was one of the Twelve Apostles. Not so. But he did know people who knew Jesus when he was alive on earth.

By closely comparing the book of Luke with the other three gospels we know that he had the gospel of Mark, but not Matthew or John. He also had Q, the lost book of the sayings of Jesus.

He wrote in Greek. Some say he wrote the gospel in Achaia (Greece). If so, then he probably wrote it in the 50s. Some scholars say he wrote it in the early 60s where the story in Acts suddenly ends. Acts and the book of Luke seem like they were written at the same time. Others say he wrote it in the 70s or later.

He was a virgin all his life and died at the age of 84. Jerome says he died in the Holy Spirit in Bithynia, now known as northern Turkey.

A thousand years later when the Turks made war on his hometown of Antioch, a man in white appeared to those praying in the church of St Mary of Tripoli. They say it was Luke. This gave the Christians the strength to hold out against the Turks.

St Luke is the patron saint of doctors and artists. His feast day is October 18th.

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daughterofminosOvid (-43 to +17), a Roman, was one of the best poets ever to write in Latin. He wrote the “Metamorphoses” and the “Art of Love”, among others. Most of our old Greek and Roman stories about heroes, gods and goddesses come from him.

At the end of “Metamorphoses” Ovid said his words would last down through the ages and so they have. The stories he told had been told for ages, even in his time, but no one has told them better.

As one of the best-loved authors in the West from 1100 to 1650, he influenced Dante, Botticelli, Shakespeare and Milton, among others. Shakespeare, for example, did not invent “Romeo and Juliet” – he took it from “Metamorphoses” and set it in Verona.

But even though Ovid was a great poet and storyteller, his writing is not what you would call deep. What depth it has comes from the stories themselves, which he merely retold.

Ovid came from Sulmo to the east of Rome across the mountains. He came from a family of rich blue bloods. His father sent Ovid and his brother to Rome to study rhetoric and law. Ovid did well and in time became a judge.

It looked like one day he might become a senator, but Ovid followed the true passion of his heart and became a poet. He became famous and all was well. But then in the year 8 the First Citizen, Caesar Augustus, banished Ovid.

Augustus gave no reason. Ovid’s “Art of Love” had offended him, it is true, but that was not reason enough. It seems that Ovid knew some deep, dark secret about Augustus.

Ovid was sent to live at the edge of the Black Sea, then called the Pontus. He lived there till his death. We still have the sad letters that he wrote from there.

The “Metamorphoses” tells the history of the world from the Creation down to the time of Augustus by means of stories about Greek gods and heroes. Love, jealousy, betrayal, murder – it is all there, just as in Shakespeare. So are Hercules, Venus, Icarus, Minus, Daphne, Aeneas and so on. It is called the Metamorphoses – Greek for “changing form” – because men turn into trees, birds, cows, stones, stars and even gods.

His “The Art of Love”, written in verse, is just what it sounds like: a handbook for men and women in the art of love. It offended many and helped to get him into trouble.

His earliest work was “Loves”. Well-written but not deep, nevertheless it greatly influenced how love is written about in the West.

In his book “The Feasts” Ovid wrote about the months of the year, telling us a lot about Roman history, custom and religion along the way as well as more of the old Greek and Roman stories. He never finished it: he only got up to June.

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Virgin Mary

Virgen_de_guadalupe2The Blessed Virgin Mary (-21? to +49?), also known as Our Lady, was the mother of Jesus Christ and wife of St Joseph. She has become one of the chief Christian saints. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe she is in heaven where she can hear their prayers and put in a good word for them. Though not a goddess, she is almost like their mother in heaven.

So much has been written and argued about Mary that special terms have sprung up:

  • Immaculate Conception: the doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin. Believed by Catholics.
  • Annunciation: the archangel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Christ. Reported in the Bible
  • Virgin Birth: the doctrine that Mary gave birth to Jesus while still a virgin. Believed by Christians and Muslims. The Bible says the Holy Spirit was the father.
  • perpetual virginity: the doctrine that Mary was a virgin for life. Believed by Catholic, Orthodox and Gnostic Christians. Doubted by present-day Protestants, even though such leading lights as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wesley all said it was true. The Bible does mention brothers and sister of Jesus. Gnostics say these were his half brothers and sisters through Joseph.
  • Mother of God: the doctrine that Mary is the mother of Jesus, as both God and man. The original Greek term is Theotokos, “God-bearer”. Jesus as the Son of God existed before Mary, but once he became flesh it became impossible to say where the human part of him left off and the divine part began, so Mary is the mother of both together. The arguments over this in the 400s were about the nature of Christ, not Mary. Believed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, denied by Nestorians.
  • Assumption: the doctrine that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven. Believed by Catholics and many of the Orthodox, who call it Dormition.
  • Mariolatry: Mary worshipped as a goddess. What Protestants think Catholics do. Catholics honour her as the Mother of God made flesh, not as God.

Sightings: Catholics say Mary has appeared several times:

  • 1531: Guadalupe, Mexico (then New Spain)
  • 1858: Lourdes, France
  • 1917: Fatima, Portugal
  • 1981: Medjugorje, Bosnia (then Yugoslavia)

The Catholic Church says the first three were real, but is not yet sure about Medjugorje. In addition to Medjugorje, there are many other sightings which the Church has not (yet) recognized as real.

Most sightings are reported by pious Catholic girls, but one was reported by a Calvinist.

In her appearances, Mary speaks. Most of what she says supports Catholic doctrine. But at times she says something uncomfortable. For example, in 1846 at La Salette in the French Alps she said, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” The Church does not recognize that sighting.

That was not the only time she predicted the future. In 1917 at Fatima Mary said Russia will be in darkness for seven decades, which turned out to be true: atheist communists ruled Russia from 1917 to 1991.

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Jesus Christ


Picture of Jesus Christ from the Roman catacombs (300s).

Jesus Christ (-6? to +33?) was a Jewish teacher who founded Christianity, the religion of a third of mankind. Christians believe he is the Son of God, that he is God who lived among us as a man.

What early non-Christian writings say:

  1. He was a Jewish teacher.
  2. Many believed he healed the sick and cast out demons.
  3. Jewish leaders opposed him.
  4. By +36 he had died on the cross by order of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the reign of the emperor Tiberius.
  5. By +64 there were already many followers of his in Rome who believed he rose from the dead.
  6. By +100 he was worshipped as a god.

See: Josephus (+93), Pliny the Younger (+112), Tacitus (+116), Suetonius (+121),  and the Talmud.

What the earliest Christian writings say:

  1. He was born in Bethlehem, a town near Jerusalem, to a virgin named Mary. He was a descendant of King David, a great Jewish king.
  2. He worked miracles and taught about the coming Kingdom of God. He called himself the Son of Man and was called the Son of God. He gathered thousands of followers. His top followers were the Twelve Apostles.
  3. He said he will return in the future on Judgement Day to morally judge the living and the dead. The bad will go away into everlasting punishment, but the good into eternal life.
  4. He was a threat to the power of both the Jewish priests and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate had him nailed to a cross, a common punishment in those days for revolutionaries (think Spartacus). He died and was buried.
  5. Two days later he rose from the dead. Over 500 people saw him alive again. After 50 days he went up to heaven.
  6. He gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins, to help us get right with God.

See Paul (by +60), Q Gospel (by +80), Mark (by +80), Signs Gospel (by +90) and Matthew (by +100).

What others say:

  • Jews of the time said Jesus got his powers from the devil and used them to lead Jews away from their faith. They say that the Messiah will come some day, but Jesus was not him.
  • Gnostics in the 100s and 200s said Jesus came not to die for our sins but to tell us a secret way to heaven. He only told the deserving few. Everyone else was fed a lie.
  • Arians in the 300s said Jesus is neither God nor man but something in between. He was a divine creature higher than the angels but lower than God.
  • Muslims since the 600s say Jesus was a great prophet, like Moses or Isaiah. He was born of a virgin and worked miracles, but was only a man. He only seemed to die on the cross. Christians rewrote the Bible to make him into God.
  • Western intellectuals since the 1700s say Jesus was merely a wise and holy man. Since miracles are impossible, the ones in the Bible are pure fiction, including the virgin birth and rising from the dead.

Holidays: His birthday is Christmas (December 25th). Easter is when he rose from the dead (the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring).

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The Library of Alexandria (-295 to +646) was the largest library of ancient times. It stood for almost a thousand years. In 2002 a new Library of Alexandria was opened.

The ancient library had about 490,000 scrolls. That comes to about 100,000 of our books or, on a computer, 64 gigabytes. For us that would be a small-city library. In its time only the Library of Pergamum (the library that invented parchment) came close. In our time, the Library of Congress, now the largest, did not pass that size till the late 1800s.

The Library was conceived as a universal library: to have a copy of every book ever written. At 490,000 scrolls it probably came close that for Greek books.

It was not a free-standing, public library. It was part of the Museum of Alexandria, which in turn was part of the king’s estate. It was not a museum as we think of it but something like a research institute, which brought together some of the greatest minds of the age. It had labs, an observatory, a botanical garden and a zoo with a polar bear.

The Museum and Library gave us, among other things:

  • putting things in alphabetical order,
  • dividing a work into “books” (= separate scrolls),
  • the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament),
  • the works of Homer as we know them,
  • grammar books in the form we are used to seeing them,
  • punctuation,
  • the first good measurement of how big the earth is,
  • latitude and longitude,
  • heliocentrism.

The Library had a branch in the temple of Serapis. It was about a tenth the size but seems to have been opened to the public.

Ships that came to Alexandria were searched for books. Those that were found were copied: the owner got the copy, the Library kept the original! The Library sent buyers abroad to find the oldest copies of books. The older the better. If it had several old copies of the same book, it would work out what the original must have been. That is how the Library came to have the most trustworthy copies in the world.

It had the stolen originals of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and books from the libraries of Aristotle and Theophrastus..

Languages: it had books in at least Greek, Egyptian, Aramaic (Babylonian) and Hebrew..

The Library was (partly) destroyed in:

  • -48 under Julius Caesar, who may have taken some of its books to Rome;
  • 272 under Aurelian to put down an uprising in Alexandria;
  • 295 under Diocletian to put down yet another uprising;
  • 391 under Theodosius when the Serapis branch was destroyed as a temple to idols;
  • 646 when Arabs destroyed what remained.

Of its books, 99% are lost forever. But if it were not for the Library, we would not have much of what do have, through copying and recopying, like the works of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides and Herodotus.

Of the physical remains of the actual books that once sat in the Library, all we have are some torn pages.

– Abagond, 2006, 2015.

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An encyclopedia (or encyclopaedia) is a book of knowledge. The word is Greek for “in the circle of learning”: it brings together all of mankind’s general knowledge of the world into one circle, one place. The first real encyclopedia was Pliny’s Natural History.

An encyclopedia is made up of articles. Each article covers one subject — China, Napoleon, music, insects, eighteenth century science and so on. It gives the most important facts and ideas in the space allowed.

The purpose of the encyclopedia is not to tell you everything. To the contrary, its purpose is to save you time, space and money. So it tells you only the most important things. Pliny, for example, took the facts he found in 2000 books and put them in the 37 books of his Natural History.

An encyclopedia can take different forms. It may all be between two covers in one volume – a desk encyclopedia. It may have many volumes or it may even be on the Web. There is no telling what form it may take a century from now.

Right now in the English-speaking world the two most important encyclopedias are the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Wikipedia.

The Britannica is very serious and very trustworthy but online it is not free and not easy to use. It is a good example of how shovelware does not work. But before the Web came along, nothing was better.

The Wikipedia is the opposite: it is on the Web –  it was born there – it is very easy to use (when its computers are not overworked), but it is not entirely trustworthy and not always serious. It is a good example of how not having a real editor does not work. But nothing on the Web is better.

The encyclopedia and the Web are a match made in heaven. The Web has three things an encyclopedia needs that print cannot give it:

  1. Search engines make finding an article faster.
  2. Links make going to a related article faster.
  3. It is easy to keep content current, which means what you read is not ten years old.

The Web makes everything about an encyclopedia faster. That makes it easier to use and means the content can be better.

But there is more: an online encyclopedia can be far larger than one in print. The Wikipedia is already far too large for anyone to print the whole thing. This is in part because it is easier to use, so it can be larger, and in part because the Web is a much cheaper medium than print.

But wait, we said the purpose of an encyclopedia was to save us time, space and money. Like with Pliny boiling down all those books into his Natural History. What about that? Yes, that is just it: a web encyclopedia done right will let us go just as deep into any subject as we wish.

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A codex is the form that most books take today: paper is cut up into leaves and bound between two covers. Each leaf contains two pages of writing – one on each side. Invented in the late first century, it replaced the scroll in the third and fourth centuries.

To us a codex is simply a book, but when they first appeared it was called a codex. Back then when you said “book”, people thought of a scroll. Jesus did not open a book – he unrolled it!

Because it uses both sides of the paper, a codex requires only half as much paper as a scroll. It could also fit more paper into a smaller space. This meant that even an early codex could replace a box of four or five scrolls. Because of the covers, the paper could be much thinner than in a scroll, so over time the difference became even greater. All this made a codex much easier to carry.

Not just easier to carry, but also easier to use: to go from one page to another you did not have to go through all the pages in between. So you could go to a given page much more quickly. This made it easier to follow a line of argument and to do research. You could bookmark several places in the book and move quickly between them. Scrolls had bookmarks too, but moving between them was a pain.

The codex is such a good invention that even in this age of invention it still holds its ground. E-books, for example, have made almost no headway against the codex.

And yet even so, it took over 300 years for the codex to replace the scroll. And even then it may have succeeded less on its merits and more because of a change in religion in the Roman Empire: Christians preferred the codex over the scroll and the codex did not become the preferred form till most people were Christians! The four gospels required four scrolls but only one codex.

The codex was invented at least twice. It was invented a second time in the 1100s in Japan as the butterfly book. Because the ink they used went through paper, however, only one side of a leaf had writing on it, so it did not have the advantages of the Western codex.

Both the Japanese and the Mayans invented a book form halfway between the scroll and the codex: the folded book. Instead of rolling the paper to make a scroll, it was folded between each page to fold up into something very similar to a codex. The Japanese called it an orihon, a folding book, and even added covers.

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