Mythology

Get to Know the Ancient Library of Alexandria

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The Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most important libraries in antiquity. It is believed to have housed anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls — with the latter being roughly equivalent to 100,000 books. It was part of a larger institution called the Musaeum or Mouseion at Alexandria. At the time when the library was built, Alexandria was part of Ancient Greece. Today, the city is a part of modern-day Egypt. Here’s more information:

When was the Library of Alexandria established?

The Musaeum was established either during the reign of the pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter or that of his son and successor Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The Musaeum, which was dedicated to the Muses, included the Library and a school. It drew scholars from all over the world, and they lectured, published, collected literature, and conducted scientific research.

Archaeologists currently believe that Ptolemy I may have planned or organized the Library, but his son oversaw the actual construction. The exact layout of the Library is no longer known, but ancient sources describe it as containing Greek columns, scroll collections, a reading room, a dining room, lecture halls, gardens, and conference rooms. It was likely one of the inspirations for the modern university campus.

What was inside the Library of Alexandria?

The Library’s founders wanted it to be a repository of knowledge, so they sent agents with large sums of money to buy as many scrolls as possible about any subject and by any author.

The Library contained many copies of Homer’s works, for they were revered as the foundation of Greek culture. The scholar Callimachus compiled a 120-book catalog of the works held in the Library. The catalog included prolific writers like Theophrastus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. The Library also contained a map of the known world and works in such disciplines as geography, history, literature, medicine, and science.

What happened to the Library of Alexandria?

The Library throve for decades and became especially famous for its many works on literary criticism. Its fortunes, however, began to decline around 200 B.C. as the Ptolemaic pharaohs’ power also declined, and they began emphasizing Egyptian culture over Greek. As the pharaohs grew weaker, Egypt became less and less stable, and many scholars sought work in safer countries with more generous patrons.

Egypt became a province of Rome after the death of Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic ruler, in 30 B.C. Although the emperor Claudius added to the library, the status of both Alexandria and its Library continued to decline. The Library of Alexandria was destroyed in a war during the late 3rd century A.D.

Ptolemy III had established a “daughter library” called the Serapeum of Alexandria. After the destruction of the main Library, it became the largest library in Alexandria. The Serapeum was destroyed in 391 AD either by Roman soldiers or a Christian mob.

There have been other attempts over the centuries to revive the Library of Alexandria in some form. In 1974, Alexandria University bought land near the location of the original Library to build a new library. The result, which is called the Bibliotheca Alexandria, was completed in 2002. Although it isn’t an exact replica of the original, it serves a similar purpose.

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This post was written by GreekBoston.com