Home » Philologist Irene Vallejo: ‘Alexander the Great’s library was the first step towards the internet’ | Classics

Philologist Irene Vallejo: ‘Alexander the Great’s library was the first step towards the internet’ | Classics

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B.Born in 1979, Irene Vallejo is a Spanish author, historian, philologist, and regular columnist for newspapers. El PaisShe had written several books before publishing, including novels, essays and children’s books. El infinito en un Junko (infinity in the reeds), won many awards in Spain, including the National Essay Award, and spent 18 months on the bestseller list. Mario Vargas Llosa called the book a “masterpiece” and is now published in 30 countries. The title of the English translation by Charlotte Whittle is papyrus: Invention of books in the ancient world.

What sparked your interest in ancient writings and the beginnings of type?
It goes back to my childhood. My parents loved to read and had many books at home.I was fascinated by the rows of tiny black insects crossing [the page] Something only adults can interpret. After that, through my research on classical philology, I learned about the era when books first appeared. And I was always interested in what happened first.

In your book, when you were a child, All the books were written for you, and you had only one copy at home.
And I thought my father was. Homerbecause he was talking to me Odyssey!My parents used to change the names of the main characters in the stories. [to] me or my friend. So I thought all literature was written for me.

why Great Library of Alexandria Is it that important in your book?
Alexander the Great was perhaps the first to see the world with a truly global perspective, and it was his honor to build this inclusive public library open to everyone, even slaves and people from unprivileged families. So this was different from the democratization of knowledge. They wanted to collect all books from all cultures and make them available to all. It was like my first step into the internet.

The original title of papyrus in spanish El infinito en un junco (Infinity in a Reed). Can you explain?
It’s a metaphor to describe what makes books great.The idea that there can be infinite emotions, experiences, fears and emotions [contained] To something very small and mundane.I’m thinking of the first book in history that was a papyrus scroll. [made from a type of reed]It is also a tribute to Pascal [Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher], he described humans as reeds. He said we are fragile like reeds, but we have the power to learn and understand.

What was the most amazing thing you learned while writing the book?
The biggest revelation in my research was Enheduanna – The first person to sign the text was a woman.she is not [textbooks] in high school or college. I had been studying classical philology for many years before hearing her name. It is more difficult for women to enter the literary canon, and I wanted to recover these names and fragments of poems and speeches, and strive to restore the existence of these women.

Do you think we underestimate books in our society, where they are so readily available?
yes. We take them for granted, but before this there was a long story of people facing danger and sometimes dying because of books. A history of adventure. This is an essay about books and reading, but it’s also a big adventure and I thought you could read it with the same kind of thrill you get from a novel.

how the success of papyrus changed your life?
It was a big surprise. In Spain you are not expected to succeed in essays and I had a very difficult time writing this book. Our son was born with a very serious health condition and had a long hospital stay. I wrote this book. [It] Born as a safe haven in those troubled times. I wasn’t even sure I could finish it. I wasn’t sure if someone would publish it. It was accepted by many readers and changed my life. All of this happened during lockdown, and it was very unexpected that books on history and classical philology could help in those difficult times. Yet somehow, readers found solace in my book.

where and how to write
Lately I’m not [working on] Promotions are too demanding and I travel all the time, so it’s a big project. But after becoming a mother, I got used to working and reading anywhere. A spoon in one hand and a book in the other.

Which living author do you admire the most?
Mary Beard She is also a classical philologist like me, so she was a model for me. She constantly pushes boundaries and defies commonly accepted knowledge about the ancient world. And she is able to communicate with sarcasm and a sense of humor.She became a bestseller in Spain.I love it, too Tom Hollandhis essay is very inspiring.I love Orlando Figes When terry eagletonI like books that border on fiction and non-fiction, and essays with humor and irony. I have always been greatly influenced by the British essay tradition.I love it, too John BergerWhen darkening Year By Catherine Nixie. This kind of essay is not very common in Spanish literature. Academic I have her essays, but using the skills I learned as a novelist, [write] A kind of essay aimed at a wider audience. I think the most prominent examples of this kind of essay are written in English these days.

If you could only have one book from the ancient world, which one would you choose?
my first answer was Odysseybecause it was a story [through] I fell in love with literature. It’s essential for me. But I love ancient history such as Herodotus and Tacitus. and Thucydides. He is very insightful and helpful in analyzing today’s world.so after OdysseyI save Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War.

papyrus: Invention of books in the ancient world By Irene Vallejo, published by Hodder & Stoughton (£16.99).to support Guardian When Observer Order your copy at Guardian Bookshop.com.Shipping charges may apply

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