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[Nettime-bold] [Metaversity] The Ancient Library of Alexandria
Lachlan Brown on Wed, 3 Jul 2002 22:28:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] [Metaversity] The Ancient Library of Alexandria

The Ancient Library  
The most famous among all ancient and medieval libraries was the Library 
of Alexandria. Not only was it the largest in all antiquity, but also it was associated with scientific research and was frequented by scholars 
from all over the Mediterranean. Even after its disappearance since 
1600 years ago, it continues to survive in the memory of all scholars 
to this day.

The ancient Library of Alexandria was an amazing intellectual adventure 
that promoted knowledge and openness to the other, and for seven 
centuries was a beacon of learning and science.

Foundation of the Mouseion and the Library  
The first Ptolemaic kings were determined to establish Egypt as 
the preeminent kingdom of their time. Alexandria became the center 
for science, arts, literature and philosophy. It was the policy of 
the Ptolemies to bring writers, poets, artists, and scientists to Alexandria from all over the ancient world to enrich the two 
unprecedented institutions: the “Mouseion?and the “Library? The 
Mouseion, or shrine for the Muses (Museum in Latin) was the first scientific institute and the greatest university in ancient times. 
The Library was the first universal library.

There is hardly any doubt that it was Demetrius of Phalerum (an 
Athenian statesman, peripatetic philosopher and the counselor of 
Ptolemy I Soter since c. 297 BC) who suggested to King Ptolemy I 
Soter the idea of establishing a great research center in Alexandria 
to be known as the Mouseion with an important library attached to it. 
The precise date of the foundation of these two institutions is 
unspecified but it is probable that Soter took the very first 
measures towards their establishment in c. 290 BC, then the task 
was fulfilled by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, for it is well settled 
that both the Library and the Mouseion flourished and offered the 
ancient world their unique achievements during the reign of 
Ptolemy I Soter (c. 367/6-283/2 B.C.) 
Demetrius of Phalerum (b. c. 350 B.C.) 
Ptolemy II Philadelphus (308-246 B.C.) 

Foundation of the “Daughter Library?/font>  
At the beginning, there was the Library close to the Mouseion within 
the precincts of the royal palaces overlooking the great harbor. A 
little more than half a century later, when the amount of books 
acquired exceeded its capacity, it was decided to open an 
additional facility to accommodate the surplus books. This 
“Daughter Library?was incorporated into the Serapeum, or Temple of 
Serapis, which was situated at a distance from the royal quarter, 
in the Egyptian district south of the city. The Serapeum “Daughter 
Library?soon developed into a proper library and in the Roman 
period it became an active center of learning.

Chief Librarians  
The Librarian of Alexandria (the chief of the library) was one of 
the highest and most honorable official posts and was appointed by 
the king himself. The chief librarian was usually chosen from the 
most prominent persons in science or literature. They personally 
enriched scholarship in Alexandria.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement (beyond Demetrius of Phaleron 
as the founding leader of the ancient Library) on any one list of 
the Library’s chief librarians. The most probable list is the following:

o Zenodotus of Ephesus (c.285- c.270 BC)
o Apollonius of Rhodes (c.270-245 BC)
o Eratosthenes of Cyrene (245-204/1 BC)
o Aristophanes of Byzantium (204/1-189/6 BC)
o Apollonius (Eidographos) (189/6-175 BC)
o Aristarchus of Samothrace (175-145 BC)
o Kydas (one of the Spearmen)(145-116 BC)

Holdings and Collections  
The ancient Library was the only truly universal library. Although no 
exact count exists, probably at its peak it held some 700,000 scrolls,
 equivalent to about 100-125,000 printed books today). The Library 
also encouraged translations, and the Septuagint, the first translation 
of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, took place there). The 
Ptolemaic kings paid special attention to enrich the Library with 
the treasures of knowledge in all fields and branches of knowledge. 
They were anxious to acquire originals of works and the most valuable
 collections, beyond buying and copying books. They searched each ship 
that visited Alexandria and if a book was found, it would be taken to 
the Library to be copied and the copy would be returned to the owner.


The Library Vanishes  
Despite serious contradictions between different studies on the fate 
of the Library of Alexandria, we can piece together the history of 
its destruction over some 450 years. The first fire was in 48 BC 
during the Alexandrian war in which Caesar became involved to support 
Cleopatra VII against her brother Ptolemy XIII. According to some 
sources nearly 40,000 books were burned in the fire of 48 BC, other 
versions of the story place the number at 400,000. Marc Anthony 
compensated Cleopatra with the gift of the 200,000 scrolls from 
Pergamum. The Mouseion itself was destroyed along with the Royal 
Quarter sometime in the third century AD during the strife and 
accompanying power struggles that shook the Roman Empire.

The “Daughter Library?survived till the end of the fourth century. 
A decree by Emperor Theodosius in 391 AD forbade non-Christian 
(pagan) religions. Theophilus (the Bishop of Alexandria from 385 to 
412 AD) destroyed the Serapeum and its “Daughter Library?as being the 
house of pagan doctrine. Scholars survived for another generation till 
the murder of Hypatia in 415 AD and the end of the era of Alexandrian 
scholarship. In 415 A.D., the Christian historian Orosius visited 
Alexandria and reported: “There are temples nowadays, which we have 
seen, whose bookcases have been emptied by our men. And this is a 
matter that admits no doubt?/i> (Orosius 6.15.32). His statement 
confirms that the library never existed since the fifth century. 
This was over two centuries before the Arab conquest to Egypt in 642 

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