We Were Visited by History

Excerpts from Said Akl’s “If Lebanon were to speak”

One day, a young girl told a poet from her country with whom she was in love without him knowing:
“This night, when dawn was about to break, I had a most improbable, yet beautiful dream!
“In the dream, I was a queen with a throne and a scepter, and I was visited by History.
“In the dream, History, my poet, wasn’t the heavy book I carry back and forth to school and whose pages struggle to cram knowledge into my little head. No! But, as the dream would have it, History was a woman and a city at once.
“In the dream, History visited me while I was in a crystal palace, my winter home which is eternally covered in snow. From its interior, I watched the beauty of nature without feeling the sting of cold.
Aye, History was two things: a beautiful young girl called Europe and an ancient city called Byblos.

“‘History, I welcome you,’ I said.
“Then a conversation started and History began to speak.
“How did that happen? This, my poet, is what I’m unable to
communicate to you.
“How can History be a woman and a city at once? How can it start telling stories from two different mouths? And how can I, the young student, be expected to remember all that was said?
“Never mind all this. In any case, I’ll try.
“The young girl was called Europe, and she was white as a cloud. The city was called Byblos: most ancient, lofty and multi-domed. Europe was the daughter of the King Ashnar, Sovereign of Tyre and father of the three heroes, those who were so ambitious that they made one forget that existence has boundaries. And Byblos was the capital of religion and culture, standing on a charming coast atop a small mountain which had gold threads that extended to the ends of the earth.
“Then History gave me a frowning look, and raised his voice in my face: ‘How could you claim, Queen of All Time, that you have access to history?’
“In a matter of moments, he was swept by a fit of anger, and I thought that an internal struggle arose between the woman and the city.
“Byblos claimed it was the most ancient city in the world, and this claim was passed down from historian to historian. She was the first daughter of El -the God of Time. She dared to slip through his fingers while her sisters the cities were apprehensive and shaking with cold.
“This happened around the beginning of Time, while her father was leaning on the foot of Mount Lebanon, gulping the air.
And Europe said that everyday she would play in its sands on the beach, and she would be seen by the mariners of the kingdom, who would lose their wits and share stories of their adoration of her with the waves, which in turn would deliver the stories to the ends of the world.
“Byblos developed to become the capital of sanctity and thought in the world, with people flocking to it from the four corners of the earth, and taking after it in its passion for adventure.
“In the dream, not only did its citizens build the most beautiful temples, stadiums, granite domes, and alabaster pillars which sang with the winds, the light, and lightening. Above all, they had the Courage to invade the unknown recesses of the Secret, So they ventured into the inner soul, into the heart of God.
All this was in the fream, my poet. All in the dream. You may or may not believe it. But that is how it was.
“The God of Gods in the West heard about Europe. He may have been called the God of gods because he was a hero, known for his skill in making humans out of clay or for playing with a bolt of lightning on his fingertips.
“He took off for her father’s kingdom and in a not-so-clever ruse, he kidnapped her and flew her over the destructive sea.
“If I were to recount to you, my poet, the story of the ruse, as it unfolded to me in the dream, you wouldn’t let me speak.
“Byblos: people learned wonders from it; they savored the beauty of the work of its hands, they knocked on the door of the unknown. But they especially got to know things outside the earthly realm: miracles, for instance, “divine madness which surpasses human reason,” as Paul the Apostle would have it, to the extent that one man by the name of Ramses claimed that he ‘offered it,’ as he boasted and wrote, ‘gifts more numerous than the grains of sand of the sea.’
“As for Europe, each of her three brothers set out for a different continent which they sought from land to sea, from gods to mortals. One of them was to carry with him fire, the alphabet, poetry, and adventure. He thus carried that which would later be called civilization. He also sowed it wherever he went.
“Byblos, the city, had new things to teach. It taught that the gods were not gods and that there was but one God, capable of everything, and that a human has a soul that mocks the darkness of the grave and lives forever.
“Thus the people were given the comfort that they had in Him: He who was able to do anything and that they would forever be.
“Europe, the woman, felt lonely in her isolation away from her kinsfolk while her husband was too busy creating men and gods.
Thus, she was consumed with nostalgia for a mountain overlooking Tyre and for its gardens which hung near the clouds.
“Her aloneness started when the God of gods moved her to a primitive continent, devoid of civilization, and more like a wasteland. But when he saw that she was almost losing her glow and withering from gloom He said: ‘For your sake, I shall make this arid continent the most beautiful of all continents, and I shall call it after you.’
“In the dream, from that day, the continent became Europe and Europe became the continent.
“How? That’s what the dream is about, my poet, that is the dream, so do not ask.
‘And one day, Byblos forgot everything about its history, save one chapter.
“On its land, they had written the first book the world knew. Thenceforth, languages in all civilizations dubbed the book ‘biblo,’ thus deriving its name from Byblos.
“In the same way, no longer was Europe, the daughter of the King of Tyre, heard of, but everybody started talking about Europe the continent, the fount of all civilization.
‘Aye, Byblos the city became the book and Europe the woman became civilization.
“History started boasting before my throne that it was the book and civilization together. It called itself Byblos one time and Europe another, until it became at a loss as to how it could be both entities at the same time. But it is the dream. Do I believe the dream?”
The poet was intently listening to the clever young girl as she recounted the tale of a night she spent in the company of fancy.
Finally, he spoke:
This time, do believe the dream, my girl. However, on this planet which is called Earth, only two things exist: the book and civilization,
Byblos and Europe. Both came from our land, the land you grew up in. They are slightly older than you. Remember this when you do not pretend to forget to be a queen with a throne and a scepter.”
How do people deal with the truth? Truth can sometimes reach the extent of becoming a dream, but still people will not believe it.

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