The Royal Library of Alexandria or Ancient Library of Alexandria in
Alexandria, Egypt, was once the largest library in the ancient world.
The Library of Alexandria, generally thought to have been founded at the
beginning of the third century BC, was conceived and opened during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, or that of his son Ptolemy II of Egypt. It has been reasonably established that the Library or parts of the collection were destroyed on a number of occasions, but to this day the details of the destruction (or destructions)
remain a lively source of controversy based on inconclusive evidence. The
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, an institution intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, was inaugurated in 2003 near the site of the old Library.[1]
1 The Library as a research institution2 Collection3 Destruction of the Library3.1 Caesar's conquest in 48 BC3.2 Attack of Aurelian, third century3.3 Decree of Theophilus in 3913.4 Muslim conquest in 6423.5 Conclusion4 In fiction5 See also6 Notes7 References8 External linksThe Library as a research institutionThe Ancient Library of Alexandria.
According to the earliest source of information, the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas, the Library was initially organized by Demetrius of Phaleron,[2] a student of Aristotle under the reign of Ptolemy Soter.
Built in the Brucheion (Royal Quarter) in the style of Aristotle's Lyceum, adjacent to and in service of the Musaeum [3] (a Greek Temple or "House of Muses", where we get the term "museum"), the Library comprised a Peripatos walk, gardens, a room for shared dining, a reading room, lecture halls and meeting rooms. However, the exact layout is not known. This model's influence may still be seen today in the layout of university campuses. The library itself is known to have an acquisitions department (possibly built near the stacks, or for utility closer to the harbour), and a cataloguing department. The hall contained shelves for the collections of scrolls (as the books were at this time on papyrus scrolls), known as bibliothekai. Carved into the wall above the shelves, a famous inscription read: The place of the cure of the soul.[4]
The first known library of its kind to gather a serious collection of books from beyond its country's borders, the Library at Alexandria was charged with collecting all the world's knowledge. It did so through an aggressive and well-funded royal mandate involving trips to the book fairs of Rhodes and Athens [5] and a (potentially apocryphal or exaggerated) policy of pulling the books off every ship that came into port, keeping the originals and returning copies to their owners. This detail is informed by the fact that Alexandria, because of its man-made bidirectional port between the mainland and the Pharos island, welcomed trade from the East and West and soon found itself the international hub for trade, as well as the leading producer of papyrus and, soon enough, books.Besides collecting works from the past, the library was also home to a host of international scholars, well-patronized by the Ptolemaic dynasty with travel, lodging and stipends for their whole families. As a research institution, the Library filled its stacks with new works in mathematics, astronomy, physics,
natural sciences and other subjects. It was at the Library of Alexandria that the scientific method was first conceived and put into practice, and its empirical standards applied in one of the first and certainly strongest homes for serious textual criticism. As the same text often existed in several different versions, comparative textual criticism was crucial for ensuring their veracity. Once ascertained, canonical copies would then be made for scholars, royalty and wealthy bibliophiles the world over, this commerce bringing income to the library. The editors at the Library of Alexandria are especially well known for their work on Homeric texts, the more famous editors generally also holding the title of head librarian. These included, among others, [6]
Zenodotus (early third century BC)Apollonius of Rhodes (mid-third century BC)Eratosthenes (late third century BC)Aristophanes of Byzantium (early second century BC)Aristarchus of Samothrace (late second century BC)Collection
The Greek term "biblioteke", used by many historians of the time, refers in fact to the [royal] "Collection of Books", not to the building itself, which complicates the history and chronology of its destruction. The Royal Collection can be viewed as having begun in the Royal Quarter's building, commonly known as "The Great Library", before being transferred to the library at the Sarapeum, an acropolis in
the Egyptian quarter of town, home to the temple of Sarapis. The transfer
occurred between Caesar's Fire of The Alexandrian War in 48bce and 272ce when the Royal Quarter was razed in the war with Zenobia. The collection remained at the Sarapeum until at least 391bce, the date of the destruction of the temple and specifically of the Sarapeum. It may have been destroyed by Theophilus' Christian mob as part of their destruction of the Sarapeum, or perhaps been maintained in its Sarapeum home. There is also a possibility that the collection was preserved in private libraries for years after. One debated account by Abd al Latif (1160-1231), a Muhamadan of letters, recounts the death of the collection at the hands of
Omar: "The Academy erected by Alexander when he built this city, and in which he deposited the library consigned to the flames, with the permission of Omar, by 'Amr ibn el-As.(E.A. Parsons). Scholars, particularly 21st century Arab/Muslim
scholars, contest this claim, whose veracity can be challenged alone on the basis that Alexander, although picking the site and planning the general layout of the city, died before he could have a hand in the erection of the library or academy therein.
Already famous in the ancient world, The Library's collection became even more storied in later years. However, it is now impossible to determine the collection's size in any era. Papyrus scrolls comprised the collection, and although parchment codices were used predominantly as a more advanced writing material after 300 BC, the Alexandrian Library is never documented as having switched to parchment, perhaps because of its strong links to the papyrus trade. (The Library of Alexandria in fact had an indirect cause in the creation of writing parchment - due to the library's critical need for papyrus, little was exported and thus an alternate source of copy material became essential.)
A single piece of writing might occupy several scrolls, and this division into self-contained "books" was a major aspect of editorial work. King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309–246 BC) is said to have set 500,000 scrolls as an objective for the library.[7] Mark Antony supposedly gave Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls (taken from the great Library of Pergamum) for the Library as a wedding gift, but this is regarded by some historians as a propagandist claim meant to show Antony's
allegiance to Egypt rather than Rome. Carl Sagan, in his series Cosmos, states that the Library contained nearly one million scrolls, though other experts have
estimated a smaller number. No index of the Library survives, and it is not possible to know with certainty how large and how diverse the collection may have been. For example, it is likely that even if the Library had hundreds of thousands of scrolls (and thus perhaps tens of thousands of individual works), some of these would have been duplicate copies or alternate versions of the same texts.A possibly apocryphal or exaggerated story concerns how the library's collection grew so large. By decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to surrender all books and scrolls, as well as any form of written media in any language in their possession which, according to Galen, were listed under the heading "books of the ships". Official scribes then swiftly copied these writings, some copies proving so precise that the originals were put into the Library, and the copies delivered to the unsuspecting owners. [8] This process also helped to create a reservoir of books in the relatively new city.
According to Galen, Ptolemy III requested permission from the Athenians to borrow the original scripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, for which the Athenians demanded the enormous amount of fifteen talents as guarantee.
Ptolemy happily paid the fee but kept the original scripts for the library. This story may also be constructed erroneously to show the power of Alexandria over Athens
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