The Life and Death of Words, People, and Even Nature

Published on ZNet (first on Tom Dispatch), by Eduardo Galeano, May 01, 2013: (The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, Nation Books).

Memory on Legs (January 3):

  • On the third day of the year 47 BC, the most renowned library of antiquity burned to the ground.
  • After Roman legions invaded Egypt, during one of the battles waged by Julius Caesar against the brother of Cleopatra, fire devoured most of the thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.  
  • A pair of millennia later, after American legions invaded Iraq, during George W. Bush’s crusade against an imaginary enemy, most of the thousands upon thousands of books in the Library of Baghdad were reduced to ashes.
  • Throughout the history of humanity, only one refuge kept books safe from war and conflagration: the walking library, an idea that occurred to the grand vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, at the end of the tenth century.
  • This prudent and tireless traveler kept his library with him. One hundred and seventeen thousand books aboard four hundred camels formed a caravan a mile long. The camels were also the catalogue: they were arranged according to the titles of the books they carried, a flock for each of the thirty-two letters of the Persian alphabet.

Civilizing Mother (January 23):

  • In 1901, the day after Queen Victoria breathed her last, a solemn funeral ceremony began in London.
  • Organizing it was no easy task. A grand farewell was due the queen who gave her name to an epoch and set the standard for female abnegation by wearing black for forty years in memory of her dead husband.
  • Victoria, symbol of the British Empire, lady and mistress of the nineteenth century, imposed opium on China and virtue on her own country.
  • In the seat of her empire, works that taught good manners were required reading. Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, published in 1863, established some of the social commandments of the times: one must avoid, for example, the intolerable proximity of male and female authors on library shelves.
  • Books could only stand together if the authors were married, such as in the case of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The World Shrinks (February 21):

  • Today is International Mother Language Day.
  • Every two weeks, a language dies.
  • The world is diminished when it loses its human sayings, just as when it loses its diversity of plants and beasts.
  • In 1974 Angela Loij died. She was one of the last Ona Indians from Tierra del Fuego, way out there at the edge of the world. She was the last one who spoke their language.
  • Angela sang to herself, for no one else, in that language no longer recalled by anyone but her:
  • I’m walking in the steps
  • of those who have gone.
  • Lost, am I.
  • In times gone by, the Onas worshipped several gods. Their supreme god was named Pemaulk.
  • Pemaulk meant “word.”

Fame Is Baloney (April 23): … //

… Nature Is Not Mute (June 5):

  • Reality paints still-lifes.
  • Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim.
  • Meanwhile the climate goes haywire and we do, too.
  • Today is World Environment Day. A good day to celebrate the new constitution of Ecuador, which in the year 2008, for the first time in the history of the world, recognized nature as a subject with rights.
  • It seems strange, this notion that nature has rights as if it were a person. But in the United States it seems perfectly normal that big companies have human rights. They do, ever since a Supreme Court decision in 1886.
  • If nature were a bank, they would have already rescued it.

(full text).

  • (Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers.  He is the author of Open Veins of Latin America, the Memory of Fire Trilogy, Mirrors, and many other works. His newest book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books) has just been published in English.  He is the recipient of many international prizes, including the first Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the American Book Award, and the Casa de las Américas Prize. Mark Fried is the translator of seven books by Eduardo Galeano including Children of the Days.  He is also the translator of the recently released Firefly by Severo Sarduy. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.
  • This article first appeared on TomDispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project, author of The End of Victory Culture, as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).]
  • Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare. Copyright 2013 Eduardo Galeano.
  • This post is excerpted from Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History Copyright © 2013 by Eduardo Galeano; translation copyright © 2013 by Mark Fried. Published by Nation Books, A member of the Perseus Group, New York, NY. Originally published in Spanish in 2012 by Siglo XXI Editores, Argentina, and Ediciones Chanchito, Uruguay. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City, and Lamy, N.M. All rights reserved).

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