The Lies that Grow in the Flames by Shelly Jones

They say that I was burned, that a Roman statesman ordered my destruction with his words, screaming them into the Mediterranean winds, salt crusting his beardless face. But one man’s words alone did not curl my pages in flames, the knowledge held within incinerated to grey ash. My timbers were sagging, my support beams rotting away long before Caesar’s ships sailed to Alexandria. They will tell you that I am the victim of a horrible accident, the devastation of war, flames lapping at the docks like the tide: unchangeable, uncontrollable. But that is not the truth I carry in my singed walls.  

I was the cherished undertaking of the great Ptolmey, students of Aristotle, intellectual refugees escaping persecution. But like all bastard children who attempt to live under the reign of a new father, my days were numbered. Athletes’ chiseled muscles, generals’ pugilistic arms burrowed their way under my roof, greasing palms of politicians, besmirching the scholarly pursuits of Aristophanes, Epithetes, and Aristarchus. Philology, zoology, and medicine were replaced with administrative memos, work orders, and sycophantic praise of unthinking rulers. 

Once I breathed nothing but brine and papyrus, my archways buoyed with knowledge. But now my scrolls molder, my relics strewn into the streets to be desecrated by the powerful, discarded by the fearful.

I am no casualty lost to war, but to the championing of ignorance, the quiet surrender of complacency.


Shelly Jones, PhD (she/her) is a Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in PodcastleNew MythsThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @shellyjansen.

Photography by Al Kratz