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Library of Alexandria (Original)

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Author Topic: Library of Alexandria (Original)  (Read 7065 times)
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« on: March 31, 2008, 01:07:41 pm »


Member # 1890

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   posted 07-26-2004 09:33 PM                       
Magic Engineer, with all due respect, your friend is a little whacked! There are many, many references to the Library of Alexandria in history. It survived, in part, at least, into Roman times, and the Romans kept very good records. Great that you have the temerity enough not to believe him, though. Off the topic, but I've also heard that the Romans built more roads by themselves than the whole of modern civilization..! That was from a documentary, though, so it may not be trustworthy.
Here is an interesting link on ancient technology. I'm quoting the part that concerns the Library of Alexandria, but the rest of the link is definitely worth checking out:

An International Repository : The Great Library at Alexandria

The Great Library at Alexandria was the first recorded attempt at making a collection of all the world's
recorded knowledge. Records report that it was connected to the Mouseion, or Museum, the "Temple of the
Muses" which an academy of learned men dedicated to preservation, copying, cataloguing of knowledge.

The Great Library probably contained a lot of the knowledge of Ancient Egypt that was then taken to be
Greek. It also contained works from the Jewish, Babylonian and Zoroastrian and the newly emergent Roman
traditions. It probably housed about 40,000 publically available works out of a possible 5 million.

It was founded by the Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter around 300 BCE and was greatly embellished by Ptolemy II
Philadelphus who gave it the mission of procuring a copy of every book that existed. Ptolemy III Euregetes
wrote to all the world's sovereigns asking to borrow their books in order to copy them. The Greeks lent him the
texts to Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles; he copied them, kept the originals and sent the copies back. In
doing so he forfeited the rich deposit he had laid down but he had the originals. Any ships that came into
Alexandria were searched for books and the same copying and return procedure was inflicted. Works were not
accepted as originals without rigorous textual criticism and comparison to other copies of the same work. In
this way scribal mistakes could be routed out.

Demetrius of Phaleron was the 1st recorded librarian at Alexandria between 290 - 282 BCE. Demetrius began
the translation of many works into Greek, his first job was the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew
into Greek for which the Library hired 72 rabbis.

Kallimachos of Kyrene was the most famous librarian, implementing a subject index or Pinakes divided into 8
major subject categories; Oratory, History, Laws, Philosophy, Medicine, Lyric Poetry, Tragedy and Miscellany.
Some fragments of the Pinakes remain showing details of authors life, works and number of lines in each


There are records of the library's existence until around 300 CE although there are three main stories of it's
destruction before this date.

Julius Caesar

The library caught fire when Julius Caesar set fire to the Ptolemaic fleet in 48 BCE. However there are records
of the library functioning after this date.

Amr Ibn el-As

Took Alexandria for the Persian caliph Omar whose instructions have been recorded as:

"As for the books you mention, here is my reply. If their content is in accordance with the book of Allah,
we may do without them, for in that case the book of Allah more than suffices. If on the other hand,
they contain matter not in accordance with the book of Allah, there can be no need to preserve these.
Proceed, then, and destroy them."

The books were then allegedly taken to the public baths where they were burnt in the stoves that heated the
water. This took 6 months.

However, it has been argued that by the time the Arabs got to Alexandria the Library had already declined to a
shadow of it's former self and the logistics of burning so much parchment (which apparently doesn't burn very
well) were fairly infeasible.


Patriarch of Alexandria and patron saint of Arsonists. Said to have razed the Library around 391 AD in an
attempt to destroy symbols of paganism and get everyone to be a Christian.

Reading between the lines of the different accounts of the destruction of the library it would seem that it fell
into disrepair over the 600 or so years that it was in existence and was also subject to several major
catastrophes. As the coastline of Alexandria has changed so radically, it's position is now on the sea floor.

Posts: 544 | From: Madison | Registered: Mar 2004   
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