Alexandria has always fired my imagination. It’s the setting for my novel Selene of Alexandria. I’ve written about its Great Library and Cleopatra’s Needle, an obelisk from the Caesarian that sits in New York’s Central Park. Alexandria is fascinating and complicated, with a reputation for learning and a history of violence. Recently, it was in the news as Muslims attacked Christians, harking back to the bad old days of the fourth and fifth centuries. The next month, I wrote about young people of all faiths forming a human chain around its museums and library, protecting those vulnerable institutions during the Egyptian uprising. In ancient times, as today, it was a major port and the gateway to the rest of Egypt. A diverse city of many religions, where people from all over the world come to work, trade, study and enjoy the culture. You could think of it as the Manhattan of the East, but maybe Manhattan should be known as the Alexandria of the West. After all, Alexandria did come first. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘great library’
Posted in Essays/Research, History, Hypatia, tagged alexander the great, alexandria, aristarchus, cleopatra, erasistratus, eratosthenes, galen, great library, hero, herophilus, history, hypatia, pharos lighthouse on May 11, 2011| 5 Comments »
In Part I of this series, I talked about some of the controversy surrounding this film and dealt with a few of the historical events depicted: the fire-walking Christian, Hypatia’s science and students, and (one of my favorite stories) the bloody handkerchief. In Part II, I continue with the events depicted in the movie including the destruction of the Temple of Serapis and the Great Library, the expulsion of the Jews from Alexandria, and Hypatia’s murder. In Part III, I’ll deal with the characters. Again, for those who haven’t seen the movie – spoilers! (more…)
The Great Library of Alexandria conjures images of bearded scholars strolling marble halls, studying rolls of papyri at large wooden tables, or arguing with colleagues under covered walkways. The loss of “the world’s knowledge” through wanton destruction is a metaphor for the coming of the Dark Ages in Europe. But what was the Great Library really and how was it destroyed?
After Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, his general Ptolemy Soter I took over the province of Egypt and his descendants ruled until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. Ptolemy was advised by a former Athenian named Demetrius to “collect together books on kingship and the exercise of power, and to read them” so as to become more like Plato’s ideal philosopher-king. Ptolemy then sent a letter to his fellow rulers throughout the classical world asking that they send him works of authors of all kinds because he wished to collect “the books of all the peoples of the world.” This was the beginning of the Royal Library which eventually became the Great Library.
Ptolemy and his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus constructed a walled palace district taking up almost a third of Alexandria which not only housed the royal residences, but also a sprawling temple to the muses—the Museum which included the Royal Library, scholars’ living quarters, classrooms, a zoo and gardens with exotic plants. Strabo the geographer describes it:
“The Museum, too is part of the royal palace. It comprises the covered walk, the exedra or portico, and a great hall in which the learned members of the Museum take their meals in common. Money, too, is held in common in this community; they also have a priest who is head of the Museum, formerly appointed by the sovereigns and now appointed by Augustus.”