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Royal Library Of Alexandria History Essay

The Alexandria Library was the major and most complete library of antiquity and certainly the greatest before the invention of printing. Only fragments and minor comments in ancient authorities are extant in current times. However, the history of the Alexandria Library [Library] remains of central importance in the intellectual history of the classical world as it is thought to support the best-kept collection of classical literature.

With the help of historians and theorists as well as texts and historiographies, you'll be able to retrace the founding, patronage, and operations of the Library; relate estimates about range of scrolls housed in the Library; and examine legends of its ultimate demise. The purpose of this essay is to review and synthesize the current understanding of this most famous Library and reconsider its devote classical intellectual history.

Alexandria, Egypt: Crossroads of Culture

Scholars at the Center of Hellenic Studies at King's College, London, view Alexandria of Ptolemaic Egypt as a city that was multi-cultural from its beginnings and a focal point for international trade and cultural development. Situated between Africa and Europe, the meeting host to all races and creeds, Alexandria was the guts of learning in the ancient world. It was a city of Greeks, Macedonians, Egyptians and Jews with the latter group making up about a third of the populace. During the height of its power, Alexandria was said to have "most abundant and helpful resources and become a nursing mother to men of each nation. "

The Creation and Patronage of the Royal Library of the Ptolemies

After the death of Alexander the fantastic in 323 BCE, his empire was divided into three parts with the Ptolemies dominating Egypt. Under the rule of the Ptolemies, Alexandria housed a Greco-Macedonian court ruling an Egyptian kingdom. Green explains that the Ptolemaic dynasty ran Egypt as an exclusive estate and at a profit which supported scholarship, mercenaries, processions, etc. The Museum and its own library played a simple role in justifying the rule of the Macedonian-Greek dynasty over Egypt. The Library and its own community of scholars flourished through the Hellenistic era of the Ptolemies. It's been thought to survive through the Roman Empire, but this finding is a way to obtain debate among scholars.

Historian John Marlowe describes how the Library at Alexandria emerged during the period roughly modern day with Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, Zeno's Stoa and the institution of Epicurus. Aristotle's school in Athens, the Lyceum, had a shrine of the Muses and a library and promoted a universal concept of studies. The Ptolemies envisioned Alexandria as a meeting place where scholars of the earth should extend the scientific horizons of man, suggestive of the Lyceum itself. Based on research from historian Edward Parsons, the foundation of the Museum-Library is related to Ptolemy Soter and/or his son Ptolemy II. The building blocks and continuing support of the Museum and Library owed much to the pioneering work that Aristotle, and, to a lesser extent, Plato's Academy, had already undertaken.

The Alexandria Museum ("Temple of the Muses") was a gathering of scholars from all around the globe. A Museum (Mouseion) was a shrine or center focused on the Muses and frequently associated with literary studies. The Muses been linked with thinkers and philosophers at least as early as enough time of Pythagoras. According to Green, by the time of Aristotle a Museum embodied the top features of an intellectual community including cult center, residence buildings, common meals, library holdings and research, and surrounding cloisters and garden. Timon of Philus, lampoonist, wrote of Ptolemy's Alexandrian think tank: "In the polyglot land of Egypt many now find pasturage as endowed scribblers, endlessly quarreling in the Muses' bird cage. "

For the first three generations of Ptolemies, at least, relations with the Alexandrians were good. This, then, was the atmosphere where Ptolemaic scholars, poets, and scientists operated.

History of the Royal Library Operations

Information about how precisely the library was run is at the mercy of speculation. According to Parsons, scholars do not have significant amounts of information about where and how the papyrus scrolls were stored; the dimensions of the collections; what role the other library, the Serapeum library, had in Alexandrian cultural life. Even the info about the demise of the library refers to a space of six centuries, from the age of Caesar to age the prophet Muhammad.

It is probable the first Ptolemies acquired and stored papyrus scrolls in the Museum. To be able to manage this huge and increasing collection of texts, scholars devised a way to classify and order them according to various criteria, the main evidence that is represented by the work of Callimachus of Cyrene, who was a leading figure not only in the annals of the library of Alexandria, but also in the tradition of Greek scholarship.

Historian Roger Bagnall has described that despite volumes of scholarship, both the historical evidence and archaeological remnant of the Library and Museum at Alexandria are rather scant:

"The disparity between, on the one hand, the grandeur and importance of

this library, both in its reality in antiquity and in its image both ancient

and modern, and, on the other, our almost total ignorance about any of it, has

been unbearable. No-one, least of all modern scholars, has had the opportunity to

accept our insufficient knowledge about a phenomenon that embodies so many

human aspirations. In consequence, a complete literature of wishful thinking

has grown up, in which scholars - even, I fear, the most rigorous - have

cast aside the time-tested methods that normally constrain credulity, in

order to have the ability to avoid confessing defeat. "

The position of Demetrius (ca. 384-348) of Phaleron is better, as he was a prominent figure in the foundation of the Museum and Library. Aristeas, writing a century after the library's inception, records that Ptolemy I handed assigned Demetrius the job of gathering books and scrolls, as well as letting him supervise a massive effort to translate other cultures' works into Greek. Demetrius recommended that Ptolemy gather materials on ruling in the design of Plato's philosopher-kings. An estimated 30-50 scholars were probably permanently housed at the Museum, funded by the royal family, and later by public money.

Demetrius have been a pupil of Aristotle and Theophrastos at Aristotle's Lyceum. The practice to getting the best scholars or poets to educate the crown prince was something that Ptolemy had had occasion to observe in Macedonia, where the young Alexander had been taught by Aristotle himself. It became the practice for the Librarian also to serve as royal tutor: Apollonius and Aristarchus certainly did so.

Parsons describes Demetrius as an orator and philosopher who dyed his hair blond and rouged his cheeks and "anointed his person with Eastern salves. " He ruled Athens for ten years "with moderation and without disaster is an achievement. " His critical judgments of ancient texts were much admired. Green describes the responsibility that Demetrius was required to the Library including a solid sense that the literary heritage of archaic and classical Greece was in danger of being lost through indifference and neglect. Taking a look at the next history of the transmission of texts, the fear seems well justified.

According to Green, the scholars who staffed the Library saw their mission as the rescue of past Greek literature, and set themselves to obtain copies of each known work. Royal purchasers combed the book marts of the Aegean and Asia Minor, the best of which were found in Athens and Rhodes. It was inevitable that numerous forgeries commenced to circulate. With this influx of material, the Librarian's first major task was to organize accessions and cataloging. In about 25 BCE Vitruvius writes about how Aristophanes of Byzantium earned the job of librarian after memorizing almost all of the Library's contents.

Parsons describes how the Ptolemies and their agents ransacked the Hellenic, Mediterranean and Asian cities for literary manuscripts and records. In the port of Alexandria, vessels were searched and books which were found were confiscated with copies designed for their rightful owners. These rolls, known as "the salvaged material, " weren't (says Galen) delivered right to the Library, but consigned in the beginning to warehouses, where these were stored "in heaps" a description. Based on sources from Ellis, Ptolemy III wrote a letter to all the world's sovereigns asking to borrow their books. Legend has it that whenever Athens lent Ptolemy the texts of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, he had them copied, returned the copies, and kept the originals. Another of the Librarians' duties was the establishment of sound texts purged of scribal errors made during the procedure for transmission.

The librarians were reputed to include some of the fantastic figures of ancient scholarship. Bevan refers to the first recorded librarian in Alexandria as Zenodotus of Ephesus, holding that post until 245 B. C. E. His successor Callimachus of Cyrene, might have been Alexandria's most well-known librarian, created a subject catalog in 120, 000 scrolls of the Library's holdings. The Greek alphabet with significantly less than thirty symbols was learned by everyone. An improvement took place in handwriting and developed a more elegant, flowing script, which made both for easier copying and quicker, and convenient reading.

According to Marlowe, librarian Eratosthenes (275-194 B. C. E) amassed a catalog of 44 constellations complete with background myths, as well as a list of 475 fixed stars. Eratosthenes, drawing on Egyptian and Near Eastern observations, deduced the length of the entire year to 365 1/4 days and was the first to suggest the thought of adding a "leap day" every four years. The very last recorded librarian was Aristarchus of Samothrace, the astronomer, who took up the position in 180 B. C. E. during dynastic struggles between two Ptolemies. From that point onward no librarians are mentioned by name in virtually any historical record.

Marlowe maintains that the Museum excelled at producing great geometers by assembling the geometric principles of earlier Greek mathematicians, and had usage of Babylonian and Egyptian understanding of geometry. Archimedes was one of the first Alexandria scholars to apply theories of motion to mechanical devices. Among his discoveries were the lever and-- as an extension of the same principle-- the "Archimedes screw, " a hand-cranked device for lifting water.

In the second century C. E. , Galen drew upon Alexandria's vast researches and his own investigations to compile fifteen books on anatomy and the art of medicine. Herophilus, both collected and compiled the Hippocratic corpus at Alexandria. There has been some conflict about the fate of Aristotle's books, once thought to be at the core of the collection, may have been carried off to Rome by Sulla.

Size and Scale of the Library at Alexandria

Alexandrian scholars were provided with a library containing an enormous collection of papyrus scrolls and entrusted these to explore every field of human knowledge. The Library might have been reserved for scholars of the Museum - just as many modern research libraries are closed to the people not affiliated to a scientific or academic institution.

In addition to the great Library, positioned in the Bruchion district of Alexandria, there is a smaller library, called a "sister" or "daughter" library that still existed at the time of Caesar and was situated inside the temple of Serapis.

The manuscripts gathered by Demetrius and his successors were bundles of writings forming high piles in the Museum warehouse. Mixed rolls will need to have contained many duplicates. Parsons reports that there were 532, 800 rolls, of which 132, 800 single rolls were considered premier finds. The sister library may have contained 42, 800 rolls, probably copies of the writings shelved in the bigger library. The brittle and frail paper of Egypt was " fragile media indeed on which to confide the important knowledge and wisdom of the ages. " They were subject to damage by fire, water, rodents, and worms.

Johnson describes the physical stacks which consisted of pigeonholes or racks for the scrolls, a few of that have been wrapped in linen or leather jackets. From Roman times manuscripts were written in codex (book) form, and were often stored in wooden chests called armaria. According to Bevan, Callimachus cataloged 400, 000 mixed scrolls of multiple chapters and 90, 000 "unmixed" scrolls.

Bagnall has studied how big is the Alexandrian library, and he concludes that either more than ninety percent of classical authors are not even quoted in the surviving Greek literature, or that the Ptolemies acquired a dozen copies of everything, or some combination of the unlikely hypotheses. Seneca quotes Livy that over the 40, 000 volumes were housed in grain depots nearby the Alexandria harbor, which were supposedly incinerated when Julius Caesar torched the fleet of Cleopatra's brother and rival monarch.

However, Hannam argues this might likely be the number of papyrus scrolls and many of these were needed to make up an entire book. He believes that Seneca's figure of 40, 000 is more sensible and still makes the Royal Library much larger than the later classical or medieval libraries. Using Gellius as a source, the figure reaches 700, 000 books. It is clear that ancient figures vary by wide margins. The higher numbers have been accepted by many modern scholars, regardless of the actual fact that "lacking modern inventory systems, ancient librarians, even if they cared to, scarcely had enough time or means to count their collections".

How the Royal Library was destroyed

In 48 BCE, Caesar was pursuing Pompey into Egypt when he was take off by an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria. Outnumbered and in enemy territory, Caesar ordered the ships in the harbor to be set on fire. The fire spread and burned down part of the city where in fact the great Library stood. The initial account of the destruction of the Library in The Civil Wars by Julius Caesar who states he previously to create the fleet in the harbor burning "for his own safety" which some ports arsenals also went up in flames. Plutarch, writing his Life of Caesar at the end of the first century CE, refers that the renowned library was burnt down by the fire Caesar. Aulus Gellius, another century author, contained in his Attic Nights a brief passage about libraries where in fact the destruction of the Royal Library is mentioned as occurring by accident during the Romans' first war against Alexandria when auxiliary soldiers started a fire.

In a later book The Alexandrine War 1, Caesar does not mention setting fire to Alexandria but does declare that the location was made of stone and would not burn. Some scholars argue that Alexandria burns as well as any city as well as perhaps Caesar was attempting to hide his actions. Cicero is silent over a fire in Alexandria in his Philippics. .

The second story of the Library's destruction is more popular, thanks generally to Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Theophilus was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385 to 412 CE. During his reign the Temple of Serapis was changed into a Christian Church, which is likely that lots of documents were destroyed then. Legend has it that Hypatia, a fifth-century scholar and mathematician of Alexandria, was dragged from her chariot with a mob of monks who burned her upon the remnants of the old Library.

One of the most famous legends about the Great Library is that of it being burnt down on the instructions of the Caliph Omar after Alexandria have been captured by the Arabs. However, Edward Gibbon reports this isn't true. In 640 CE the Moslems took the city of Alexandria although this story is related to a Christian who spent a great deal of time authoring Moslem atrocities without much historical documentation.

Unfortunately the majority of the writers from Plutarch (who apparently blamed Caesar) to Edward Gibbons (blamed Christians) to Bishop Gregory (who was simply particularly anti-Moslem, blamed Omar) may be biased. It is possible that the collection ebbed and flowed as some documents were destroyed among 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 probable 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 these were in two different parts of the town. Historian Canfora is skeptical and her interpretation is the fact that Plutarch's passage is an interpolation. Hannam interprets Plutarch as merely reporting a list of slanders against Antony made others.

Hannam maintains that the Royal Library of Alexandria was not standing during the Christian era. It is his theory a major library was founded at the Serapeum during its rebuilding in the next century CE and that library became confused in the minds of varied writers with the Royal Library of the Ptolemies that had disappeared over two centuries before. The Serapeum ceased to be when a Christian mob tore it right down to the foundations under the leadership of the orthodox patriarch Theophilus after he had received word from the Emperor Theodosius. The entire year this happened is generally fixed to AD391 which is one of the best attested events in late antiquity. The Serapeum library was probably founded as an adornment to the new Roman temple. Although there are no details as to its size, it could have been quite large enough to be confused with the sooner Royal Library.

The Library is often portrayed as the repository of most ancient wisdom and this its loss meant that science would progress at a much slower pace. Hannam believes the reality of the problem would be that the Library was an important institution in the annals but that its destruction in the first century BCE did not spell the finish of ancient scholarship. Actually, Alexandria remained the Mediterranean's intellectual capital for seven centuries afterwards because of the library in the Serapeum and patronage of Roman Emperors. Hannam goes on to make clear that in the final analysis, the Arab invasion ended the story of the Alexandria library. A that point, the cultural inheritance from the ancient world would be preserved in Constantinople and Baghdad.

Historian Luciano Canfora explains that placing the Library's disappearance in the first century B. C. E. , as opposed to four centuries later or even later at the end of the seventh century, "necessarily alters our perception of the quality of the Greek literature that has come down to us". Canfora recounts the major theories: the catastrophe is blamed either on Julius Caesar (48/47 B. C. E. ) or on the fanaticism of the Arabs who conquered Alexandria in 642 A. D. Canfora supports the latter theory because the flow translations from Greek flowing through Egypt came to a halt by the end of the seventh century.

Roger Bagnall's theory is usually that the disappearance of the Library is the result of the finish of the impetus and interest that brought it into being and of the lack of the type of sustained management and maintenance that would have seen it through successive transitions in the physical media through that your texts could have been transmitted. The library of Alexandria started out to disappear when the city of scholars that it turned out created was broken up; or when, as Bagnall says, the generative impetus of the first centuries ended.


Repeatedly rebuilt, modified, and burned, the few facts that can be determined about the Library's long history convey its semi-legendary status. Delia has underlined the literary and romantic character of these traditions, that are not more reliable, from a historical point of view, than the novel.

The central host to the Alexandrian library in Western cultural memory derives from a blend of several factors: the building blocks project; the bond between your library and the Museum; the capability of the Alexandrian library to generate knowledge, and not just to accumulate it; its destruction, symbolic of countless similar tragedies. Each of these elements concerns today's and future of our civilization, no less than its ancient roots.

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