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Monday, November 2, 2015

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro on Adapting Our Beliefs

People once believed in protective house gods,
and Ugallu, the storm-demon,
depicted on this ancient Assyrian stone panel
in the British Museum.

In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's novel A Flame in Byzantium, Captain Drosos of the Byzantine army puts off carrying out Emperor Justinian's orders to burn the Libraries of Alexandria for as long as long as he can. He sends back letters requesting clarification of his orders, and looking for any excuse not to destroy all this precious, accumulated knowledge. But finally he receives orders both explicit and final. He can delay no longer. He must raze these libraries, or someone else will assume command and do it for him.

With a heavy heart, Drosos follows Justinian's orders. As he watches the great libraries burn, he cannot believe that the Emperor knew the significance of his orders. In earlier discussions with Olivia, he argued that they must give the Emperor the benefit of the doubt, and trust his judgment in all things. He had been selected by God to lead all of Byzantium in the correct path to follow. He was the divine representative to humanity. How could he order such senseless destruction?

After his recall to Constantinople, he tries to suggest that Justinian misunderstood the situation, or had been ill-advised. The Emperor takes his comments for a lack of loyalty, and like General Belisarius, releases him from his command. Drosos wanders Constantinople in despair, having lost his military commission, the respect of society, and the trust of his emperor.

Drosos' life becomes a tragedy, because he steadfastly refuses to adapt his beliefs and principles in view of changing circumstances and others' actions. Like Drosos, we often clutch ideals to our chests long after the world has proven that they no longer apply to present circumstances. Refusing to release outdated beliefs can leave us irrelevant and alienated. Even if we're not vampires.

Dragon Dave

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