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Library of Alexandria (Original)

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Chronos
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« on: December 27, 2007, 01:22:45 am »

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Chronos

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I thought we might devote a thread specifically to the Library of Alexandria, which, in it's time, was reputed to have gathered all the accumulated knowledge of the ancient world. Much has been made of the fact that Plato's accounts are the only existing writings of Atlantis. The library had more than 500,000 ancient scrolls in it's time, before it was burned to the ground, under still mysterious circumstances (most blame Caesar). If there were other accounts of Atlantis, they might well have been there, like a great deal of the other wisdom of the ancients that is now lost to us. Alexandria is the starting point, but feel free to discuss any knowledge the ancients may or may not have had that we don't give them credit for now.
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« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2007, 01:23:17 am »

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Here's an account of the library by Carl Sagan to start with:
The Library at Alexandria


From Cosmos, Carl Sagan:

Only once before in our history was there the promise of a brilliant scientific civilization. Beneficiary of the Ionian Awakening, it had its citadel at the Library of Alexandria, where 2,000 years ago the best minds of antiquity established the foundations for the systematic study of mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, literature, geography and medicine. We build on those foundations still. The Library was constructed and supported by the Ptolemys, the Greek kings who inherited the Egyptian portion of the empire of Alexander the Great. From the time of its creation in the third century B.C. until its destruction seven centuries later, it was the brain and heart of the ancient world.

Alexandria was the publishing capital of the planet. Of course, there were no printing presses then. Books were expensive; every one of them was copied by hand. The Library was the repository of the most accurate copies in the world. The art of critical editing was invented there. The Old Testament comes down to us mainly from the Greek translations made in the Alexandrian Library. The Ptolemys devoted much of their enormous wealth to the acquisition of every Greek book, as well as works from Africa, Persia, India, Israel and other parts of the world. Ptolemy III Euergetes wished to borrow from Athens the original manuscripts or official state copies of the great ancient tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. To the Athenians, these were a kind of cultural patrimony -- something like the original handwritten copies and first folios of Shakespeare might be in England. They were reluctant to let the manuscripts out of their hands even for a moment Only after Ptolemy guaranteed their return with an enormous cash deposit did they agree to lend the plays. But Ptolemy valued those scrolls more than gold or silver. He forfeited the deposit gladly and enshrined, as well he might, the originals in the Library. The outraged Athenians had to content themselves with the copies that Ptolemy, only a little shamefacedly, presented to them. Rarely has a state so avidly supported the pursuit of knowledge.

The Ptolemys did not merely collect established knowledge; they encouraged and financed scientific research and so generated new knowledge. The results were amazing: Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth, mapped it, and argued that India could be reached by sailing westward from Spain. Hipparchus anticipated that stars come into being, slowly move during the course of centuries, and eventually perish; it was he who first catalogued the positions and magnitudes of the stars to detect such changes. Euclid produced a textbook on geometry from which humans learned for twenty-three centuries, a work that was to help awaken the scientific interest of Kepler, Newton and Einstein. Galen wrote basic works on healing and anatomy which dominated medicine until the Renaissance. There were, as we have noted, many others.

Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came there to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word cosmopolitan realized its true meaning -- citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos...

Here clearly were the seeds of the modern world. What prevented them from taking root and flourishing? Why instead did the West slumber through a thousand years of darkness until Columbus and Copernicus and their contemporaries rediscovered the work done in Alexandria? I cannot give you a simple answer. But I do know this: there is no record, in the entire history of the Library, that any of its illustrious scientists and scholars ever seriously challenged the political, economic and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned; the justice of slavery was not. Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy -- an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia's time -- by then long under Roman rule -- was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces. Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism In great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter's Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

What happened to the Library's half-million scrolls? Accounts of the details vary; this is taken from The Vanished Library by Luciano Canfora:

The books were distributed to the public baths of Alexandria, where they were used to feed the stoves which kept the baths so comfortably warm. Ibn al-Kifti writes that 'the number of baths was well known, but I have forgotten it' (we have Euty****s's word that there were in fact four thousand). 'They say,' continues Ibn al-Kifti, 'that it took six months to burn all that mass of material.'

Aristotle's books were the only ones spared.

http://departments.weber.edu/physics/carroll/honors/cosmos.htm


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« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2008, 01:03:23 pm »

The Burning of the Library of Alexandria
by Preston Chesser
The loss of the ancient world's single greatest archive of knowledge, the Library of Alexandria, has been lamented for ages. But how and why it was lost is still a mystery. The mystery exists not for lack of suspects but from an excess of them.

Alexandria was founded in Egypt by Alexandria the Great. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolomy II Soter, founded the Museum or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. The Museum was a shrine of the Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens. The Museum was a place of study which included lecture areas, gardens, a zoo, and shrines for each of the nine muses as well as the Library itself. It has been estimated that at one time the Library of Alexandria held over half a million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations. Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The library was so large it actually had another branch or "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis.

The first person blamed for the destruction of the Library is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In 48 BC, Caesar was pursuing Pompey into Egypt when he was suddenly cut off by an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria. Greatly outnumbered and in enemy territory, Caesar ordered the ships in the harbor to be set on fire. The fire spread and destroyed the Egyptian fleet. Unfortunately, it also burned down part of the city - the area where the great Library stood. Caesar wrote of starting the fire in the harbor but neglected to mention the burning of the Library. Such an omission proves little since he was not in the habit of including unflattering facts while writing his own history. But Caesar was not without public detractors. If he was solely to blame for the disappearance of the Library it is very likely significant documentation on the affair would exist today.

The second story of the Library's destruction is more popular, thanks primarily to Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". But the story is also a tad more complex. Theophilus was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385 to 412 AD. During his reign the Temple of Serapis was converted into a Christian Church (probably around 391 AD) and it is likely that many documents were destroyed then. The Temple of Serapis was estimated to hold about ten percent of the overall Library of Alexandria's holdings. After his death, his nephew Cyril became Patriarch. Shortly after that, riots broke out when Hierax, a Christian monk, was publicly killed by order of Orestes the city Prefect. Orestes was said to be under the influence of Hypatia, a female philosopher and daughter of the "last member of the Library of Alexandria". Although it should be noted that some count Hypatia herself as the last Head Librarian.

Alexandria had long been known for it's violent and volatile politics. Christians, Jews and Pagans all lived together in the city. One ancient writer claimed that there was no people who loved a fight more than those of Alexandria. Immediately after the death of Hierax a group of Jews who had helped instigate his killing lured more Christians into the street at night by proclaiming that the Church was on fire. When the Christians rushed out the largely Jewish mob slew many of them. After this there was mass havoc as Christians retaliated against both the Jews and the Pagans - one of which was Hypatia. The story varies slightly depending upon who tells it but she was taken by the Christians, dragged through the streets and murdered.

Some regard the death of Hypatia as the final destruction of the Library. Others blame Theophilus for destroying the last of the scrolls when he razed the Temple of Serapis prior to making it a Christian church. Still others have confused both incidents and blamed Theophilus for simultaneously murdering Hypatia and destroying the Library though it is obvious Theophilus died sometime prior to Hypatia.

The final individual to get blamed for the destruction is the Moslem Caliph Omar. In 640 AD the Moslems took the city of Alexandria. Upon learning of "a great library containing all the knowledge of the world" the conquering general supposedly asked Caliph Omar for instructions. The Caliph has been quoted as saying of the Library's holdings, "they will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous." So, allegedly, all the texts were destroyed by using them as tinder for the bathhouses of the city. Even then it was said to have taken six months to burn all the documents. But these details, from the Caliph's quote to the incredulous six months it supposedly took to burn all the books, weren't written down until 300 years after the fact. These facts condemning Omar were written by Bishop Gregory Bar Hebræus, a Christian who spent a great deal of time writing about Moslem atrocities without much historical documentation.

So who did burn the Library of Alexandria? Unfortunately most of the writers from Plutarch (who apparently blamed Caesar) to Edward Gibbons (a staunch atheist or deist who liked very much to blame Christians and blamed Theophilus) to Bishop Gregory (who was particularly anti-Moslem, blamed Omar) all had an axe to grind and consequently must be seen as biased. Probably everyone mentioned above had some hand in destroying some part of the Library's holdings. The collection may have ebbed and flowed as some documents were destroyed and others were added. For instance, Mark Antony was supposed to have given Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library long after Julius Caesar is accused of burning it.

It is also quite likely that even if the Museum was destroyed with the main library the outlying "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis continued on. Many writers seem to equate the Library of Alexandria with the Library of Serapis although technically they were in two different parts of the city.

The real tragedy of course is not the uncertainty of knowing who to blame for the Library's destruction but that so much of ancient history, literature and learning was lost forever.

Selected sources:
"The Vanished Library" by Luciano Canfora
"Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbons
http://www.ehistory.com/world/articles/ArticleView.cfm?AID=9
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« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2008, 01:04:51 pm »

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I suppose the ruling parties of our time will try to do likewise when the writing's turn up on the memorial stone's just like Plato said they would. evolutionist's would be out of a job,the archaeological society would refute it. I still wonder what the finder will find, nobel prize or a rope? I don't think too much has changed do you? ha! only the name's to protect themselves, innocent be hanged. I've enjoyed your writings in both threads Chronos,its been so long since I'd read alot of it, Thanx. I hope to contribute more in the future but all things in order eh what? Have you ever studied Ogam? not too many do, still,its challenging, oboy its hard.
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« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2008, 01:05:08 pm »

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Chronos I apologize, I went and got off on the great library part. Too bad Alexandria didnt copy on rocks.
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2008, 01:05:24 pm »

 
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Chronos, I'm of the opinion the library may have had some ancient history, dealing with Atlantis, that we don't know about, too. Everyone says that Plato is the only source for the Atlantis story. What if there were others he, or Solon, based the account on, but they have been lost?
One of the strangest things about the library of Alexandria is that no one even seems to know exactly where it was in Alexandria.


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« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2008, 01:05:42 pm »

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Dhill,
I agree with you that the library at Alexandria is much older than our current concept of history. It didn't just pop up out of nowhere.

Tom



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« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2008, 01:06:00 pm »

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Chronos,
I remember hearing years ago that the other "Great Library" (University) of the time was in Scotland and that many great families of the Mediterranean area sent their sons all the way up there to be educated.

Anybody else hear anything on this?


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« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2008, 01:06:22 pm »

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I have a friend who is going to study to be an archeologist, and for as long as I have known him, he has been 100% obsessed with little else but history (to the point that his word on a historical matter is often taken at face value by some of my other friends). But, I was talking with him one day about the Library, and according to him, some archeologists theorize that the Library of Alexandria wasn't in Alexandria at all! It was another of Alexander the great's deception ploys to hide his riches. (mind you, as I write this, I can plainly see many contradictions, and I personally want more proof than my friends word on the matter, but hey, at least its discussion fodder  ) That being said, it's possible we might one day find the TRUE library, and find even greater riches (material/knowledge,etc.) within.
Lets hope that much is true!

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Aut Vincere, aut Mori!


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« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2008, 01:06:43 pm »

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Tom, I've actually heard that the Library of Alexandria is ten thousand years older than we have given it credit for, but the source, I think was Cayce. You know a lot about Cayce, do you know anything more about that?
Rockessence, I have heard about another library in the north, but it's another one of those things where I can't remember the source off hand. What else do you know about it?



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« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2008, 01:07:02 pm »

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http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/science/05/26/egypt.university.discovery.ap/index.html
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« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2008, 01:07:41 pm »

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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:
http://www.akri.org/museum/ancient.htm

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
work.

Destruction

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.

Theophilus

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.



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« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2008, 01:15:13 pm »

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Dhill,
Yes, my source is Cayce. Here is the reading that comes to mind:


quote:
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315-4
Before that we find the entity was in the land that has been called the Atlantean, during those periods when there was the breaking up of the land and there had been the edict that the land must be changed.
The entity was among those that set sail for the Egyptian land, but entered rather into the Pyrenees and what is now the Portuguese, French and Spanish land. And there STILL may be seen in the chalk cliffs there in Calais [Galice?] the activities, where the marks of the entity's followers were made, as the attempts were set with those to create a temple activity to the follower of the law of One.
Then in the name Apex-l [Apex-el?], the entity lost and gained. Lost during those periods when there were the turmoils and strife that brought about the necessity for the sojourning from the land and the entering into the others.

Gained when there was the establishing of the associations with those that had built up the Egyptian land. And, as will be seen from those that may yet be found about Alexandria, the entity may be said to have been the first to begin the establishement of the library of knowledge in Alexandria; ten thousand three hundred before the Prince of Peace entered Egypt for His first initiation there. For, read ye, "He was crucified also in Egypt." [Rev. 11:8]


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Cayce also had a few comments about the destruction, which I will try to locate.

Tom



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« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2008, 01:15:33 pm »

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Dhill,
I enjoyed the site that piece is from. This quote is from a few paragraphs preceding earlier:

"Since those first excavations in Egypt, conventional Egyptology has helped to revise the Renaissance model and for almost a century that model has managed to accommodate the role of the Egyptians in the history of Knowledge. There are some however that The question that remains unanswered by Egyptology is that of how a civilisation so relatively technically advanced as the Eyptians could suddenly appear out of nowhere at such an early time in human development."

Then Tom offers:

"And, as will be seen from those that may yet be found about Alexandria, the entity may be said to have been the first to begin the establishement of the library of knowledge in Alexandria; ten thousand three hundred before the Prince of Peace entered Egypt for His first initiation there."

That would be 12,300 years before present. How does this align with all of you on the accepted timing of "Atlantis" being the progenitor of Egypt?



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« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2008, 01:16:08 pm »

 
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Excellent topic, here is some more material for it. I hope it will be of use:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria was once the largest in the Mediterranean world. It is usually assumed to have been founded at the beginning of the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt after his father had set up the Temple of the Muses or Museum. The initial organization is attributed to Demetrius Phalereus. The Library is estimated to have stored at its peak 400,000 to 700,000 scrolls. A new library was inaugurated in 2003 near the site of the old library.
Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Destruction of the Great Library
2.1 Evidence for the existence of the Library after Caesar
2.2 Destruction of the pagan temples by Theophilus
2.3 Conclusions

3 Other libraries of the ancient world
4 References

Overview

One story holds that the Library was seeded with Aristotle's own private collection, through one of his students, Demetrius Phalereus. Another concerns how its collection grew so large. By decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to surrender all books and scrolls in their possession; these writings were then swiftly copied by official scribes. The originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners. While encroaching on the rights of the traveler or merchant, it also helped to create a reservoir of books in the relatively new city.

The Library's contents were likely distributed over several buildings, with the main library either located directly attached to or close to the oldest building, the Museum, and a daughter library in the younger Serapeum, also a temple dedicated to the God Serapis. Edward Parsons provides the following description of the main library based on the existing historical records:

A reconstruction of the main hall of the Museum of Alexandria used in the series Cosmos by Carl Sagan. The wall portraits show Alexander the Great (left) and Serapis.


In this reconstruction, the doors from the Museum lead to storage rooms for the Library. Most of the books were probably stored in armaria, closed, labeled cupboards that were still used for book storage in medieval times.

A covered marble colonnade connected the Museum with an adjacent stately building, also in white marble and stone, architecturally harmonious, indeed forming an integral part of the vast pile, dedicated to learning by the wisdom of the first Ptolemy in following the advice and genius of Demetrios of Phaleron. This was the famous Library of Alexandria, the "Mother" library of the Museum, the Alexandriana, truly the foremost wonder of the ancient world. Here in ten great Halls, whose ample walls were lined with spacious armaria, numbered and titled, were housed the myriad manuscripts containing the wisdom, knowledge, and information, accumulated by the genius of the Hellenic peoples. Each of the ten Halls was assigned to a separate department of learning embracing the assumed ten divisions of Hellenic knowledge as may have been found in the Catalogue of Callimachus of Greek Literature in the Alexandrian Library, the farfamed Pinakes. The Halls were used by the scholars for general research, although there were smaller separate rooms for individuals or groups engaged in special studies.


In 2004 a Polish-Egyptian team claimed to have discovered part of the library while excavating in the Bruchion region. The archaeologists claimed to have found thirteen "lecture halls", each with a central podium. Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities said that all together, the rooms uncovered so far could have seated 5000 students.

To commemorate the ancient library, the government of Egypt has built a major library and museum complex at Alexandria, called the Bibliotheca Alexandrina(website (http://www.bibalex.gov.eg)).

Destruction of the Great Library

One of the reasons so little is known about the Library is that it was lost centuries after its creation. All that is left of many of the volumes are tantalizing titles that hint at all the history lost from the building's destruction. Few events in ancient history are as controversial as the destruction of the Library, as the historical record is both contradictory and incomplete. Not surprisingly, the Great Library became a symbol for knowledge itself, and its destruction was attributed to those who were portrayed as ignorant barbarians, often for purely political reasons.

Much of the debate rests on a different understanding of what constituted the actual Library. Large parts of the Library were likely decentralized, so it is appropriate to also speak of the "Alexandrian libraries". Both the Serapeum, a temple and daughter library, and the Museum itself existed until about 400 CE. Only if one believes the Museum to be distinct from the Great Library, an event of destruction prior to that point becomes plausible.

One account of such an event of destruction concerns Julius Caesar. During his invasion of Alexandria in 47–48 BCE, Caesar set the enemy fleet in the harbor on fire. Some historians believe that this fire spread into the city and destroyed the entire library. While this interpretation is now a minority view, it is based on several ancient sources, all of which were written at least about 150 years after the destruction supposedly took place. Edward Parsons has analyzed the Caesar theory in his book The Alexandrian Library and summarizes the sources as follows:

A final summary is interesting: of the 16 writers, 10, Caesar himself, the author of the Alexandrian War, Cicero, Strabo, Livy (as far as we know), Lucan, Florus, Suetonius, Appian, and even Athenaeus apparently knew nothing of the burning of the Museum, of the Library, or of Books during Caesar's visit to Egypt; and 6 tell of the incident as follows:


1. Seneca (AD 49), the first writer to mention it (and that nearly 100 years after the alleged event), definitely says that 40,000 books were burned.


2. Plutarch (c. 117) says that the fire destroyed the great Library.


3. Aulus Gellius (123 - 169) says that during the "sack" of Alexandria 700,000 volumes were all burned.


4. Dio Cassius (155 - 235) says that storehouses containing grain and books were burned, and that these books were of great number and excellence.


5. Ammianus Marcellinus (390) says that in the "sack" of the city 70,000 volumes were burned.


6. Orosius (c. 415), the last writer, singularly confirms Seneca as to number and the thing destroyed: 40,000 books.


Of all the sources, Plutarch is the only one to refer explicitly to the destruction of the Library. Plutarch was also the first writer to refer to Caesar by name. Ammianus Marcellinus' account seems to be directly based on Aulus Gellius because the wording is almost the same.

The majority of ancient historians, even those strongly politically opposed to Caesar, give no account of the alleged massive disaster. Cecile Orru argued in "Antike Bibliotheken" (2002, edited by Wolfgang Höpfner) that Caesar cannot have destroyed the Library because it was located in the royal quarter of the city, where Caesar's troops were fortified after the fire (which would not have been possible if the fire had spread to that location).

Furthermore, the Library was a very large stone building and the scrolls were stored away in armaria (and some of them put in capsules), so it is hard to see how a fire in the harbor could have affected a significant part of its contents. Lastly, modern archaeological finds have confirmed an extensive ancient water supply network which covered the major parts of the city, including, of course, the royal quarter.

The destruction of the library is attributed by some historians to a period of civil war in the late 3rd century CE -- but we know that the Museum, which was adjacent to the library, survived until the 4th century. There are also allegations dating to medieval times that claim that Caliph Omar, during an invasion in the 7th century, ordered the Library to be destroyed, but these claims are generally regarded as a Christian attack on Muslims, and include many indications of fabrication, such as the claim that the contents of the Library took six months to burn in Alexandria's public baths.

Evidence for the existence of the Library after Caesar

As noted above, it is generally accepted that the Museum of Alexandria existed until ca. 400 CE, and if the Museum and the Library are considered to be largely identical or attached to one another, earlier accounts of destruction could only concern a small number of books stored elsewhere. This is consistent with the number given by Seneca, much smaller than the overall volume of books in the Library. So under this interpretation it is plausible that, for example, books stored in a warehouse near the harbor were accidentally destroyed by Caesar, and that larger numbers cited in some works have to be considered unreliable -- misinterpretations by the medieval monks who preserved these works through the Middle Ages, or deliberate forgeries.

Inscription referring to the Alexandrian library, dated 56 CE

Even if one considers the Museum and the Library to be very much separate, there is considerable evidence that the Library continued to exist after the alleged destruction. Plutarch, who claimed the Great Library was destroyed (150 years after the alleged incident), in Life of Antony describes the later transfer of the second largest library to Alexandria by Mark Antony as a gift to Cleopatra. He quotes Calvisius as claiming "that [Mark Antony] had given her the library of Pergamus, containing two hundred thousand distinct volumes", although he himself finds Calvisius' claims hard to believe. In "Einführung in die Überlieferungsgeschichte" (1994, p. 39), Egert Pöhlmann cites further expansions of the Alexandrian libraries by Augustus (in the year 12 CE) and Claudius (41-54 CE). Even if the most extreme allegations against Caesar were true, this raises the question of what happened to these volumes.

The continued existence of the Library is also supported by an ancient inscription found in the early 20th century, dedicated to Tiberius Claudius Balbillus of Rome (d. 56 CE). As noted in the "Handbuch der Bibliothekswissenschaft" (Georg Leyh, Wiesbaden 1955):

"We have to understand the office which Ti. Claudius Balbillus held [...], which included the title 'supra Museum et ab Alexandrina bibliotheca', to have combined the direction of the Museum with that of the united libraries, as an academy."

Athenaeus (c. 200 CE) wrote in detail in the Deipnosophistai about the wealth of Ptolemy II (309-246 BC) and the type and number of his ships. When it came to the Library and Museum, he wrote: "Why should I now have to point to the books, the establishment of libraries and the collection in the Museum, when this is in every man's memory?" Given the context of his statement, and the fact that the Museum still existed at the time, it is clear that Athenaeus cannot have referred to any event of destruction -- he considered both facilities to be so famous that it was not necessary for him to describe them in detail. We must therefore conclude that at least some of the Alexandrian libraries were still in operation at the time.

Destruction of the pagan temples by Theophilus

In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by Christians had reached new levels of intensity. Temples and statues were destroyed throughout the Roman empire, pagan rituals forbidden under punishment of death, and libraries closed. In 391 CE, Emperor Theodosius ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and the bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, complied with this request. Socrates Scholasticus provides the following account of the destruction of the temples in Alexandria:

5th century scroll which illustrates the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus (source: Christopher Haas: Alexandria in late antiquity, Baltimore 1997)

"Demolition of the Idolatrous Temples at Alexandria, and the Consequent Conflict between the Pagans and Christians."


"At the solicitation of Theophilus bishop of Alexandria the emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rights of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. [...] Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples. These were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church; for the emperor had instructed Theophilus to distribute them for the relief of the poor. All the images were accordingly broken to pieces, except one statue of the god before mentioned, which Theophilus preserved and set up in a public place; `Lest,' said he, `at a future time the heathens should deny that they had ever worshiped such gods.'"


The Serapeum housed part of the Library, but it is not known how many books were contained in it at the time of destruction. Notably, Paulus Orosius admitted in his History against the pagans: "[T]oday there exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen, and, when these temples were plundered, these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our time, which, indeed, is a true statement." This indicates that any books that existed in the Serapeum at the time were destroyed when it was razed to the ground.


As for the Museum, Mostafa El-Abbadi writes in Life and Fate of the ancient Library of Alexandria (Paris 1992):

"The Mouseion, being at the same time a 'shrine of the Muses', enjoyed a degree of sanctity as long as other pagan temples remained unmolested. Synesius of Cyrene, who studied under Hypatia at the end of the fourth century, saw the Mouseion and described the images of the philosophers in it. We have no later reference to its existence in the fifth century. As Theon, the distinguished mathematician and father of Hypatia, herself a renowned scholar, was the last recorded scholar-member (c. 380), it is likely that the Mouseion did not long survive the promulgation of Theodosius' decree in 391 to destroy all pagan temples in the City."

Conclusions

There is a growing consensus among historians that the Library of Alexandria likely suffered from several destructive events, but that the destruction of Alexandria's pagan temples in the late 4th century was probably the most severe and final one. The evidence for that destruction is the most definitive and secure. Caesar's invasion may well have led to the loss of some 40,000-70,000 scrolls in a warehouse adjacent to the port (as Luciano Canfora argues, they were likely copies produced by the Library intended for export), but it is unlikely to have affected the Library or Museum, given that there is ample evidence that both existed later.

Civil wars, decreasing investments in maintenance and acquisition of new scrolls and generally declining interest in non-religious pursuits likely contributed to a reduction in the body of material available in the Library, especially in the fourth century. The Serapeum was certainly destroyed by Theophilus in 391, and the Museum and Library may have fallen victim to the same campaign.

If indeed a Christian mob was responsible for the destruction of the Library, the question remains why Plutarch casually referred to the destruction of "the great library" by Caesar in his Life of Caesar. It is important to note that most surviving ancient works, including Plutarch, were copied throughout the Middle Ages by Christian monks. During this copying process, errors have sometimes been made, and some have argued that deliberate forgery is not out of the question, especially for politically sensitive issues. Other explanations are certainly possible, and the fate of the Library will continue to be the subject of much heated historical debate.
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Other libraries of the ancient world

* The library of King Ashurbanipal, in Nineveh— Considered to be "the first systematically collected library", it was rediscovered in the 19th century. While the library had been destroyed, many fragments of the ancient cuneiform tables survived, and have been reconstructed. Large portions of the Epic of Gilgagmesh were among the many finds.


* The Villa of the Papyrii, in Herculaneum— One of the largest libraries of ancient Rome. Thought to have been destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Rediscovered in 1752, the contents of the library were found to have been carbonized. Using modern techniques, the scrolls are currently being meticulously unrolled, and the writing deciphered.

References

* Luciano Canfora: The Vanished Library. A Wonder of the Ancient World, trans. Martin Ryle. University of California Press. Berkeley, 1989 ISBN 0-520-07255-3
* Mostafa El-Abbadi: Life and fate of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Paris: UNESCO, 1992 (second, revised edition) ISBN 92-3-102632-1
* Paulus Orosius: The seven books of history against the pagans. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari. The Catholic University of America, Washington 1964.
* Edward Parsons: The Alexandrian Library. London, 1952. Relevant online excerpt (http://www.humanist.de/rome/alexandria/alex2.html).

External links

* Ellen N. Brundige: "The Library of Alexandria" (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/Students/Ellen/Museum.html)
* James Hannam: "The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria" (http://www.bede.org.uk/library.htm) and "The Foundation and Loss of the Royal and Serapeum Libraries of Alexandria" (http://www.bede.org.uk/Library2.htm). Hannam, "a member of the Christian Cadre of internet apologists", analyzes the destruction of the Library and concludes that Caesar is most likely to be responsible.
* Bibliotheca Alexandrina (http://www.bibalex.org/)



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