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Library, most magnificient

SISIR K MAJUMDAR

Considered the greatest library of the Ancient World, it was reputed to have contained 700,000 manuscripts.


The library also acted as a publishing house, copying manuscripts for distribution throughout the ancient world.

PHOTO: AP

BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRIA: Hoping to live up to the tradition of its predecessor.

Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria (Egypt) on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (356-323 B.C.) in 332 B.C. The library was initially built by his general — Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour": c.366 - c.283 B.C.), King of Egypt and later greatly extended by his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus. Alexandria was the capital of the Ptolemies (304 -30 B.C.) and was the centre of Hellenic and Jewish culture. Alexandria was one of the greatest cities of the classical world and remained the capital of Egypt until 969 A.D.

The library also acted as a publishing house, copying manuscripts for distribution throughout the ancient world.

The library

It was the greatest library in the ancient world. At one time (third Century B.C.) it was reputed to have contained 7,00,000 papyrus manuscripts. A showcase of classical learning, the Alexandrian library was originally housed in the Mouseion, an arts and science complex that included laboratories and conservatories, as well as a zoo and the library itself.

Its librarians, among them Archimedes (c.287 - 212 B.C.), the Greek scientist and the most celebrated of ancient mathematicians, Aristarchus of Samothrace (c.215 - 145 B.C.), Greek grammarian and critic and librarian for over 30 years, had collected works of, among many others, Greek philosophers, Plato (c.427-347 B.C.), Macedonian philosopher Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.), Athenian historian Thusydides (c.460 - 400 B.C.) Greek tragic dramatist Euripides (c.480 - 406 B.C.), Hippocrates (c. 460 - 377 B.C.), Father of Modern Medicine and the great geometrician Euclid (c.330 - 260 B.C.).


The library with its fabulous collection was burned several times: accidentally during Julius Caesar's (100 - 44 B.C.) siege of the city in 48 B.C. It was rebuilt by Mark Antony, who made a gift of 2,00,000 manuscripts to Cleopatra in 272 A.D. by order of Emperor Aurelian — Lucius Aurelius Aurelianus (215 — 275). Again in 391 A.D. by Christian fanatics enraged by the cult of "seraphis" and the pagan books held in the library, and finally, by the Islamic Arabs in 638 A.D. during the reign of the second Caliph (634 - 644 A.D.) Hazrat Omar (581 - 644). The books were used as fuel to heat the city's 4,000 baths for six months. Thus many priceless treasures of learning were destroyed.

Such, then, were the blows levelled at science and medicine.

It needs to be mentioned that Seraphis is a compound deity, combining the names and aspects of two Egyptian gods — Osiris and Apis, to which were further added features of major Greek gods such as Zeus and Dionysus.

Ptolemy I in an attempt to unite Greeks and Egyptians in common worship introduced the god to Alexandria.

A magnificent new library has recently been built.

The collection

One story holds that the Library was seeded with Aristotle's own private collection, through one of his students, Demetrius Phalereus.


Another concerns how its collection grew so large. By decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to surrender all books and scrolls in their possession; these writings were then swiftly copied by official scribes. The originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners. While encroaching on the rights of the traveler or merchant, it also helped to create a reservoir of books in the relatively new city. In 2004, a Polish-Egyptian team claimed to have discovered part of the library while excavating in the Bruchion region. The archaeologists claimed to have found 13 "lecture halls", each with a central podium.

To commemorate the ancient library, the government of Egypt has built a major library and museum complex at Alexandria, called the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

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