Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Shaw Said It Better

Gabriel Pascal's 1945 film of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra was the most expensive British film ever made, stars Claude Rains, Vivien Leigh and an unlikely Stewart Granger, was a box office flop and is utterly glorious. See it if you can- but don't bother with the versions on YouTube because they've had most of the brilliant technicolour bled out of them. Shaw called Pascal a genius, as did Meher Baba.

We caught it last night on Talking Pictures- a channel which specialises in old movies- most of them British, most of them rarities. This was opportune- synchronistic even- because...

...Part way through there's an exchange of dialogue which says what I was trying to say in yesterday's post- only with rather more panache. Caesar is besieged in the Palace at Alexandria, Ptolemy's followers have set fire to the ships in the harbour and Theodotus, an elderly scholar, comes running in to say the fire has spread to the library

Theodotus. The first of the seven wonders of the world is in flames. The library of Alexandria is in flames.

Caesar. Is that all?

Theodotus. All! Caesar: will you go down to posterity as a barbarous soldier too ignorant to know the value of books?

Caesar. Theodotus: I am an author myself; and I tell you it is better that the Egyptians should live their lives than dream them away with the help of books.

Theodotus. Caesar: once in ten generations of men, the world gains an immortal book.

Caesar. If it did not flatter mankind the common executioner would burn it.

Theodotus. Without history, death will lay you beside your meanest soldier.

Caesar. Death will do that in any case. I ask no better grave.

Theodotus. What is burning there is the memory of mankind.

Caesar. A shameful memory. Let it burn.

Theodotus. Will you destroy the past?

Caesar. Ay, and build the future with its ruins.
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