Saturday, January 10, 2015

Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was one of the wonders of the ancient world and it has haunted Western culture for over 2000 years.

Under Alexander of the Great, General Ptolemy became the king of Egypt. He made himself the absolute ruler of the country in 305 BC. He moved the capital from the old city of Memphis to the new city of Alexandria.

Ptolemy was a man who respected learning, especially in science.  Ptolemy had a staggering ambition: to house all of the books ever written under one roof.

It was Ptolemy’s adviser Demetrius of Phaleron who suggested that a great research center be built.

Demetrius worked closely with Ptolemy to create the Mouseion, ‘the shrine of the Muses.’ The Mouseion was a great research center, similar to today’s university.

Scholars believed they need the Muses for inspiration, but for their research they also need a great library. So Ptolemy and Demetrius built the Library of Alexandria, near the Mouseion in 285 BC.

Writing was done on papyrus and waxed tables for the collection. Scholars believed the library may have been housed with the precincts of the Mouseion, with it papyrus scrolls stacked on shelves in a series of rooms off covered walkways.

These scrolls consisted of sheets made from papyrus stalks, pasted together to form rolls usually three or four meters long.

A major expansion of the library in Alexandria took place under Ptolemy II. This famed collection hired seventy-two translators to collect all known books of the world, resulting in about 500,000 papyrus.

With an enthusiasm reminiscent of latter-day saints bringing Bibles to Babylon, the agents of Ptolemy III (246-221 BC) scoured the Mediterranean for books, which swelled the growing collection.

It is said that Ptolemy III wrote to all the world’s sovereigns, asking to borrow their books for copying.
Library of Alexandria

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