Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alexandria Library

Ancient Library of Alexandria

The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, seems to have been the largest and most significant great library of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 48 BC. After its destruction, scholars used a related library in the temple known as the Serapeum, located in another part of the city, founded on the collection of Pergamum, which was given by Mark Antony to Cleopatra. This library was described as the "daughter library" and was also a temple to the god Serapis.

The library was conceived and opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC)[2]. Plutarch (AD 46–120) wrote that during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BC Julius Caesar accidentally burned the library down when he set fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas' attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea.[3] Edward Gibbon describes how the daughter library was also destroyed by Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, who ordered the destruction of the Serapeum in 391.[1]

Intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2002 near the site of the old library

Alexandria, ancient capital of Egypt

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in April 331 BC as Ἀλεξάνδρεια (Alexándreia). Alexander's chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Alexandria was intended to supersede Naucratis as a Hellenistic center in Egypt, and to be the link between Greece and the rich Nile Valley. An Egyptian city, Rhakotis, already existed on the shore, and later gave its name to Alexandria in the Egyptian language (Egyptian *Raˁ-Ḳāṭit, written rˁ-ḳṭy.t, 'That which is built up'). It continued to exist as the Egyptian quarter of the city. A few months after the foundation, Alexander left Egypt and never returned to his city. After Alexander's departure, his viceroy, Cleomenes, continued the expansion. Following a struggle with the other successors of Alexander, his general Ptolemy succeeded in bringing Alexander's body to Alexandria. Alexander developed into the main Greek city of Egypt, with an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds;it was also home to the largest Jewish community in the world.

The early Ptolemies kept it in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic center of learning (Library of Alexandria), but were careful to maintain the distinction of its population's three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. From this division arose much of the later turbulence, which began to manifest itself under Ptolemy Philopater who reigned from 221–204 BC.

In ancient times, Alexandria was one of the most famous cities in the world. It was founded around a small pharaonic town c. 331 BC by Alexander the Great. It remained Egypt's capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641, when a new capital was founded at Fustat (Fustat was later absorbed into Cairo). Alexandria was known because of its Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; its library (the largest library in the ancient world); and the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. Ongoing maritime archaeology in the harbor of Alexandria, which began in 1994, is revealing details of Alexandria both before the arrival of Alexander, when a city named Rhacotis existed there, and during the Ptolemaic dynasty.

According to the earliest source of information, the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas, the library was initially organized by Demetrius of Phaleron,[5] a student of Aristotle, under the reign of Ptolemy Soter (ca.367 BC—ca.283 BC).

Built in the Brucheion (Royal Quarter) in the style of Aristotle's Lyceum, adjacent to and in service of the Musaeum[6] (a Greek Temple or "House of Muses", hence 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 had an acquisitions department (possibly built near the stacks, or for utility closer to the harbour), and a cataloguing department. A hall contained shelves for the collections of scrolls (as the books were at this time on papyrus scrolls), known as bibliothekai (βιβλιοθῆκαι). It was rumored that carved into the wall above the shelves, a famous inscription read: The place of the cure of the soul.[7]

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[8] and a policy of pulling the books off every ship that came into port. They kept the original texts and made copies to send back to their owners. [9] 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.

Other than 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. Its empirical standards applied in one of the first and certainly strongest homes for serious textual criticism.[citation needed] 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.

Ancient and modern sources identify four possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria:

1. Julius Caesar's Fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BC
2. The attack of Aurelian in the 3rd century AD;
3. The decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in AD 391;
4. The Muslim conquest in 642 AD or thereafter.

(source: wikipedia)

The daughter library - The Temple of Serapis

Many writers seem to equate the Library of Alexandria with the Library of Serapis although technically they were in two different parts of the city. Library of Serapis was the daughter library or sub-library of Library of Alexandria. This library, found in the Rhakotis or Egyptian sector, was open to all, not just to royally pensioned scholars, and had copies of many of the Museum's scrolls((Ellen Brundige, 1991).

The Temple of Serapis was built around 300 BC by Ptolemy 1. The Serapeum (or Sarapeion) was a great temple dedicated to the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis in ancient Alexandria.

Ptolemy I Soter was a childhood friend and trusted general of Alexander the Great, and eventually took over rule of Egypt after the Macedonian's death. In an effort to unite the religions and cultures of the Egyptians and Greeks, Ptolemy I invented a new god, Serapis. He took a cult statue from Sinope and brought it to Alexandria, saying that he had been bidden to do so in a dream.

Serapis was the patron deity of the Library of Alexandria.

A second "daughter" library, the Serapeion, was soon established in the temple of Serapis, a popular god invented by the Ptolemies as a synthesis of Zeus, Pluto, Osiris, and the Apis bull. This library, found in the Rhakotis or Egyptian sector, was open to all, not just to royally pensioned scholars, and had copies of many of the Museum's scrolls(Ellen Brundige, 1991)

The temple was infamously destroyed by Bishop Theophilus and his Christian mob in 391 AD.

Very little of the temple remains today, but visitors can enter the underground chamber that contained a cult image and the library and see some artifacts from the temple in the city's Greco-Roman Museum.

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The New Library - Bibliotheca Alexandrina
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina or Maktabat al-Iskandarīyah (English: Library of Alexandria; Arabic: مكتبة الإسكندرية‎) is a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity, and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented.

The idea of reviving the old library dates back to 1974, when a committee set up by Alexandria University selected a plot of land for its new library, between the campus and the seafront, close to where the ancient library once stood. The notion of recreating the ancient library was soon enthusiastically adopted by other individuals and agencies. One leading supporter of the project was current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; UNESCO was also quick to embrace the concept of endowing the Mediterranean region with a center of cultural and scientific excellence. An architectural design competition, organized by UNESCO in 1988 to choose a design worthy of the site and its heritage, was won by Snøhetta, a Norwegian architectural office, from among more than 1,400 entries. At a conference held in 1990 in Aswan, the first pledges of funding for the project were made: USD $65 million, mostly from the Arab states. Construction work began in 1995 and, after some USD $220 million had been spent, the complex was officially inaugurated on October 16, 2002.

Related articles

1. Library of Alexandria,
2. Bibliotheca Alexandrina,
3. Bibliotheca Alexandrina Official website,
4. The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, by Preston Chesser ,dated Jun 1, 2002,
5. The Temple of Serapis,
6. Alexandria's Famous Library,
7. Serapeum, Alexandria,
8. The Decline of the Library and Museum of Alexandria,by Ellen Brundige, dated December 10, 1991,
9. Alexandria,

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