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Old August 15th, 2009, 12:22 PM   #1

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Unhappy The Great Library of Alexandria


I have often contemplated the effects of the great loss of this enormous
institution of worldwide knowledge. And so know i would like to post this
thread and hear what others may think about this loss and how it effected future events.
for a little rundown: The Library was built shortly after the Alexander's death.
the Ptolemaic Dynasty took possession of Egypt and came upon a great idea.
Since Alexandria was the major port between the East and West, and received many traders from just about every nation, why not make a collection of all the manuscripts that came thru the city. So they collected and copied every manuscript they could get there hands on and stored it in the Great Library. What brilliant incite these people had! For once scholars from thoughout the Greek world could come to a central location to acquire knowledge from elswhere. inventions and ideas not just from Greek thinkers but people from Mesopotamia, India, and as far away as China. What a marvel the Great library must have been. I can only dream of what it must have been like to have had the opprotunity to browse through such a collection of vast knowledge.
Unfortunatly the Library was burned to the ground. Many have speculated as to the actual date and event at which this accured. Most scholars agree
that it happened by accident during Julius Caesars Alexandrian war.
Almost all of the hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts were lost,save a few, in the terrible fire that insued. To me it marks one of the most catostaphic events in the history of civilisation.

So my question is: What might have happened had the library not been lost
in the terrible fire. To me I feel that technology took a giant leap backward.
The reason I have so much interest in History is that I know all of the events and circumstances sorrounding us today have a direct relationship to events and circumstances in the past. By understanding the past we can avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. (Unfortunatly I must say not many people who are in power seem to understand this very simple concept).Also technological advancements are also directly connected to past discoveries. History past to present are intertwined.
Perhaps we would have dicovered the new world at an earlier date. discovered electricity, gone to the moon not in the 20th century but perhaps as early as the 10th century. And how much further advanced would we be now. What do you think?
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Old August 16th, 2009, 03:42 AM   #2

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Many scholars will tell you that the Great Library burned down during Caesar's desperate stand in Alexandria against the forces of Achillas.

These scholars are quite wrong.

What perished during Caesar's war was not the Great Library, but was actually a humble warehouse on the docks that contained a large number of books that had been recently copied and were awaiting transport to the Library when all hell broke loose as the Egyptian Army attempted to strike at Caesar. Caesar however, with typical foresight, had long been ready for such a move, and he was able to deploy his small force of legionaries to secure the Royal Palace and a large strategically important section of the city that would enable him access to food and water supplies, as well as the harbour. Fighting at the harbour was particularly ferocious, as both sides knew that if Caesar lost control of the docks he was doomed, while if he could maintain control of them he had a chance to fight on, and possiblly win. In the event the Romans won the day after some vicious fighting, and Caesar was in control not only of the harbour, but also of the fleet of several hundred ships in it. Caesar knew that with the small force of men he had he would not be able to protect such a large fleet, and so seperating such vessels as he thought he could use, he ordered the rest to be set on fire. The fires started somehow managed to spread to the shore, and soon many of the buildings around the harbour were ablaze. Caesar wasn't particularly unhappy about this, as it created a perfect distraction for him while he and a force of elite legionaries rowed out the the famous Pharos Lighthouse and siezed control of it, thus guarenteeing not just control of the harbour, but that he could also send ships in and out of it.

Back to the topic at hand, although many buildings around the harbour were destroyed all evidence is that the fire never spread very far into the city, and the Great Library, located safely well away from the docks, survived the war and was still standing when Caesar returned to the city victorious from his great Battle of the Nile in which he annihilated the Egyptian Army to recieve the city's surrender.

Numerous written sources can be found which speak of the Library being very much intact and undamaged years after Caesar left Egypt. Of all the sources we have on Caesar only one of them accuses him of destroying the Great Library. Even Lucan, who would never have missed a chance to criticize Caesar for something, makes no mention at all of the Library being destroyed.

Some have speculated that the Library's actual date of destruction may have occurred during the conflicts between the Romans and Queen Zenobia, but personally I favour the theory that it was destroyed for good by fanatical Christians who objected to some of the knowledge the Library contained.

The period of the Late Roman Empire was a very sad one for libraries that saw centers of knowledge shut down and destroyed on a truly massive scale, largely instigated by the Christians. The Great Library in Alexandria was simply the most famous loss.

I do agree with you that it was indeed a tragedy, but lets be clear on just who the culprits were, hmmm?
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Old August 16th, 2009, 04:01 AM   #3

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Quite true!

I do not believe that all of that ancient knowledge was lost. There were rival libraries, such as the one in Byzantium (cant remember name of town) and in other places such as Malaga, was it?

In other words, some of the knowledge may have been kept, but suppressed. Other knowledge was lost, except for a powerful elite.

I just wish that I could find out more of this stuff.

I have long had the suspicion that DaVinci, Michealangelo, and Columbus, and Marco Polo, (all Italians) were getting some snippets of the ancient science from some of the libraries files and going off from there to do great things. I dont think they invented thier hunches and flashes of brilliance at all, but merely copied and used what they were allowed to learn from the old knowledge by thier masters.

What do you think?
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Old August 16th, 2009, 04:08 AM   #4

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Divus, what sources do you know of that mention the library after Caesar left Egypt? From what I've read most modern scholars believe that Plutarch's reference to Caesar destroying the great library does refer to the dockside warehouses you mention, but also that there are few explicit references to the library after this fire.
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Old August 16th, 2009, 04:10 AM   #5

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


I think it's interesting that the scrolls were arranged on the shelves in accordance with Aristotle's division of knowledge as it is found in his work, Categories.

As for what sorts of knowledge might have been lost, in this case we can't know what it is that we don't know, so there's no way to tell. Weren't most of the scrolls in the library copies of other works? There would have been another copy of any work destroyed at the library in one of the fires. Of course, the original copy might also have been lost in another fire or in a shipwreck, but then again, another copy of it might also have been made at another library before that.

Anyhow, here's a scholarly take on the whole question.
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Old August 16th, 2009, 05:19 AM   #6

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Thanks for posting the link Lucius, very informative. It never occurred to me that the books/scrolls simply deteriorated over time, and no single destructive event was necessary. It seems to make more sense that the demise of the library happened over many years and was due to several factors; I guess the various "blame" theories just strike our imaginations.
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Old August 16th, 2009, 05:21 AM   #7

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Quote:
Originally Posted by Pantagruel View Post
Divus, what sources do you know of that mention the library after Caesar left Egypt? From what I've read most modern scholars believe that Plutarch's reference to Caesar destroying the great library does refer to the dockside warehouses you mention, but also that there are few explicit references to the library after this fire.
I'd check out the writings of Florus. More in Caesar's time, Strabo gives an account of working in the library several years after Caesar's death. Suetonius is another useful source.
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Old August 16th, 2009, 07:14 AM   #8

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Re: The Great Library of Alexandria


Quote:
Originally Posted by DIVUS IVLIVS View Post
I'd check out the writings of Florus. More in Caesar's time, Strabo gives an account of working in the library several years after Caesar's death. Suetonius is another useful source.
Excellent, I will have to give these a look.
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