Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Alexandria: a city before its time?

Posted in History, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on December 25, 2007

I keep on finding out interesting things about the history of Alexandria. For example, it was the “first city ever to have numbered addresses“:

Its banks oiled the commerce of East and West alike, its freight terminals churned with the trade of the world. Its celebrated library boasted seven hundred thousand scrolls and had been built in pursuit of a sublime: that every book ever written might be gathered in one place. There were even slot machines and automatic doors.

Now I read this quote, from President Abraham Lincoln in an 1860 presidential speech:

The advantageous use of Steam-power is, unquestionably, a modern discovery. And yet, as much as two thousand years ago the power of steam was not only observed, but an ingenious toy was actually made and put in motion by it, at Alexandria in Egypt. What appears strange is, that neither the inventor of the toy, nor any one else, for so long a time afterwards, should perceive that steam would move useful machinery as well as a toy.

I first found the quote in the “Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism” book.

How to interpret this? 15, maybe even 10 years ago, my chest would have swelled with pride over the achievements of early Arabs, partly because back then I did not know that the Alexandria described was a Greek creation. During my childhood I read a book that described how so many of the scientific discoveries of the West during the Renaissance were actually rediscoveries of what Arab scientists had already written about. It wasn’t all exaggeration.

But now, I just get annoyed. There is no point in inventing or discovering something if you do not use it.

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