One of the most common ice-breakers is that eons-old question “if you could go back in time to anywhere in history, where would you go?” and while in theory it can be telling, in practice, the answers end up awful predictable. The strident want to prevent an assassination or commit one. The devout just want to meet whosoever founded their particular faith.
Now and again, you get the practical sentimental who just wants to ask their dead grandmother about some family mystery, I respect that answer more than those others, but the most frequent among history nerds is “The Library of Alexandria, in ancient Egypt, before it burned.” Which sounds great on paper, it was the world’s largest depository of knowledge at the time, after all. But I’m here to tell you, that library wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I should know, I was there. I watched the thing roast to the ground.
There are a thousand downsides to immortality, every one as heartbreaking as they are boring, but on the upswing, it gifts one with context and perspective. You needn’t romanticize the past because you were there, I was there, I got to see the world as it actually was, as it actually is and how little humanity has changed in the millennia since.
If you want to know the truth, many of the scrolls were political propaganda, serving the history the current leaders wanted people to believe, that and a load of pseudo-scientific garbage of the time. Genealogical lists of kings. Fanciful alchemy. Meanings of the stars in the nightsky. More or less the same as the internet now, the Library of Congress now. Some actual science was lost too, sure, but you people caught up on most of it on your own, centuries ago. Don’t idealize the distant past so much, believe me, basic human software was the same then as it is now. We’ve changed so little in my too-long lifespan, it is actively hilarious. If anything, that fire itself was glorious, beautiful, the most amazing thing I ever saw, worth happening. I didn’t start it but I didn’t try to stop it either. Seriously. You aren’t missing out on all that much.
Myself, I’d go back to time immemorial and ask Grandma what we were like before civilization, before she got the crazy idea to start planting grains in the same place every year, leading to our first permanent settlement and all the ridiculous accidents that came with that: borders, cultures, religions, possessions. Ancient though I am, I grew up within it, even if the whole thing was only twenty years old when I came along, for me, it was my normal, it had always just been that way. I’d ask her what it was like, before all this artifice, before all these mutually-agreed convenient absurdities that are the lattice upon which shared culture hangs. What we were like before these interconnected grotesque astonishing miracles were even a gleam in her eye.