Did My Heroes Take A Little Dramatic License?

The clip below, a statement on the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the death of Hypatia, is from the “Who Speaks For The Earth” finale to the original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series (and was later restated, essentially unchanged, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the “Unafraid of the Dark” finale for the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series). For reasons to numerous and personal to go into, I’ve always thought of it as being among the most profound statements I’ve ever heard:

Well, leave it to my son, the ancient history nut, to point out a few “errors” in that segment – which, I’m ashamed to admit, inspired me to react in a way very similar to the way my elders so often reacted to me when I was young:

Blasphemy! How dare you question the words of Sagan and Tyson?!?!

But wouldn’t you know my son was right? Apparently, both Dr. Sagan and Dr. Tyson made use of that dramatic license thingy to help make the deeper point that has stuck with all these years: that every human life should be cherished, and the knowledge we’ve accumulated over the ages should be preserved and protected for the benefit of us all! If you’re curious as to the specific historical inaccuracies contained in the clip, you should read the Cosmos follow-up: Hypatia and the Library of Alexandria post on Alex R. Howe’s Science Meets Fiction blog. It pretty much confirms every one of my son’s criticisms.

Now I’m not about to sit here and become yet another of the “apologists” who try to put a positive “spin” on the factual misstatements of their heroes. Instead, I’ll just remind you of Carl’s closing words from that segment…

We must not let it happen again

His reflections on The Pale Blue Dot, and leave it to him to ask you what I think of as the most important question of all…

In the hope that you, like me, will join him in the answer…

That can help us build a better dream…

I want ice water.

More from the Random Ravings volume

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