“Brightness of Black Ink” a historical novel by Victoria Zabukovec, is set in the 9th century AD. Several enlightened rulers were contemporaries for at least part of their lives.
Alfred the Great of England, remembered for defeating the Danes. However, he was also a great scholar and translator of Latin. He established schools, churches, monasteries, commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and was a writer himself.
Charlemagne of the Frankish Kingdom was establishing schools in Aachen and had similar ambitions as Alfred.
Constantinople under Byzantine rule becomes the setting for the central action in the novel. It’s Magnaura School, established by Emperor Justinian, attracted scholars from as far as King Alfred’s Winchester.
While Rome was recovering from invasions and chaos, the great Basilica of Santa Sophia,in Constantinople houses in its library the bibliothecar Cyril and his brother Methodius, from Salonika, about 850 AD, who developed the Slav alphabet and spread Slav literacy.
Literacy enabled vernacular literatures to flourish in the native languages of the Slav speaking peoples, who adopted the Cyrillic alphabet, without having to go through Latin first, as other western cultures did.
Magnaura School continued to teach not only the Greek and Roman Classics, but the Mathematics and Sciences of the Arabs, that Harun- al-Rashid encouraged in Bagdad, only 20 years earlier.
The title “Brightness of Black Ink” was inspired by the rhyming couplet at the end of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 65:
“Oh, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.”
The metaphor was confirmed repeatedly by the images of light and fire in the poetry and songs celebrating this age, the 9th century.