Alex took a moment to survey the lecture hall, which buzzed with conversation, as always happened before a class began. The seating had shifted dramatically, though, with a large number of students crowding the front rows. Alex recognized many of those faces as ones that had asked questions and followed her to the coffee shop in the student union.
Good. Those are my most engaged students. The rest look interested, too.
Of course, she had the usual rows of slackers in the very back, most of whom had eyes focused on phones, tablets, or laptops.
“Well,” she began pleasantly, “hopefully now that we’ve got the Civil War out of our way, we can dive into a lecture I had actually planned out.”
That drew a few laughs.
“We begin with Alexander the Great, whose legacy of conquest and empire should be well-known to anyone. He also left us a string of Alexandria’s throughout his empire to fuel his ego. One of which, the most famous, became ruled by one of Alexander’s generals, Ptolemy Soter, who went on to found the Great Library of Alexandria, the most important repository of knowledge the world has ever seen, prior to the modern-day library of Alexandra.” She pointed to herself.
She took a bow to scattered laughs and groans, almost in equal numbers. “Thank you, that might be on the test. Now, Ptolemy did not just found the library, he contributed to it, but nothing of his contribution has survived.”
“How do we know he contributed, then?” Someone from the middle rows yelled out.
“An excellent question. We know because others have talked about his writings in their own.”
A wave of warmth swept over Alex, and she had to take a step to steady herself. She felt lightheaded, but it was familiar. She pushed ahead.
“Arrian of Nicodemia wrote his own history of Alexander the Great’s campaigns, and used Ptolemy’s account as one of his primary sources.”
The brass pen dipped into the inkwell, and an older hand, a man’s hand, began writing on aged vellum.
“The city of Thebes has been crushed by Alexander. Only the House of Pindar and the priests have been let free. The city itself has been razed and the citizens made into slaves for their rebellion to their king.
“I have heard among soldiers and those who lived that Alexander spared them out of a sense of mercy. That he did not wish to affront the gods by destroying their houses and servants, but this is not the case at all. For Alexander is a man of strategy and conquest, first. He knows, as do I, that the poets and the priests shall carry words of what has happened to the once great Thebes to Athens, and that their fear shall be a potent weapon to Alexander.”
Alex blinked, feeling a chill sweep through her bones, making her shudder where previously she sweated under the hall’s lights. One hand on the side of the lectern helped her keep her feet.
It happened again, just like with Lee, but this time I was Ptolemy. Those passages have not been in any book I’ve ever read. No paper has ever talked about Ptolemy commentating about Alexander using fear tactics. Nothing in Arrian’s works even hint at it. What is happening to me? Am I imagining all of this?
She suddenly realized that the lecture hall shifted in uncomfortable silence, and caught sight of many students holding up their phones, no doubt plastering this on various social media platforms.
“As I was saying,” she straightened, taking firm steps away from the lectern, “Ptolemy’s lost history is an example of how we must enquire. His history will almost certainly not be discovered sealed in some forgotten corner of the world, discovered by Indiana Jones. We must study and infer from what we do have.”
Many students lowered their phones to resume taking interest, but Alex caught sight of a blond woman in the second row who had a curiously intent expression on her face. She scribbled furiously in an old-fashioned spiral notebook.
What is she taking notes on? I haven’t said that much, yet.
“Historical enquiry,” she resumed, “is more about reconstruction than it is about discovery. It is a puzzle with an unknown number of pieces, and the pieces are hidden inside other pieces. We can reconstruct part of Ptolemy’s history from Arrian’s account as well as accounts about Ptolemy himself as a ruler. When we understand him, we will understand how and what he wrote.
“Now, given this, it’s time to address the semester projects, and to let you all know that while the simulation is the most looked-forward to part of the class, it’s by no means easy. We will be doing a great deal of research, so consider well what you vote for. Your choices are. . . .”
Alex ran through the choices, flashing the slide up, but her eyes kept straying to the young woman in the second row. Her eyes were still on Alex instead of the slide, her pen still furiously scribbling.