Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Bibliotheca Ulpia

I adore the Emperor Trajan. Counted among the "Five Good Emperors," he succeeded in pressing Rome's boundaries to what are acknowledged as their furthest extent.

When I was in Iraq in 2004, I thought about the fact that I was in several places that I know Emperor Trajan also stood during his final campaign before he died in AD 117.

But what makes me adore him all the more is that when he wanted to make a lasting monument to his greatness, granted he made a massive column celebrating his victory over Dacia. But he placed that column in the courtyard of two facing buildings--a library--the Bibliotheca Ulpia.

At its height, the Bibliotheca Ulpia was a rival in size and scope with the more famous library in Alexandria. Like the library in Alexandria, we don't know exactly when it ceased to be a functional deposit of human knowledge.

But the fact that Emperor Trajan wanted a library as his legacy speaks volumes about the man. 

In my novel In Saecula Saeculorum, a group of four high school students are sent back in time on a mission to retrieve information the future world hopes may reside in the Bibliotheca Ulpia. Without this information, the world will come to an end in the year 2013. The students will have to grapple with the reality that an ancient library was not a place where you get a card and check things out. It was, instead, a place where you had exactly one chance to convince the guardians that you were a scholar worthy of entrance. And if they don't pull this off, the world will end. That's quite a lot of pressure for a couple of eighteen-year-olds!

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