The Library That Was

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The Land of Pharoahs

“To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.” 
Marcus Tullius Cicero

The ancients knew that to receive a proper education, they must travel to Alexandria, the celebrated city newly founded by none other than Alexander the Great in 331 BCE.  Alexander’s military genius was felt in every part of his empire that stretched from Egypt to Asia. His untimely death at 32 curtailed the conquests, and led to the division of his territory.

Ptolemy Soter (367-283BC), a Macedonian general of Alexander the Great proclaimed himself pharaoh of Egypt. Ptolemy was Egypt’s first Greek ruler and the founder of the Ptolemaic Kingdom that produced many other Ptolemys as well as Cleopatras, including the illustrious Cleopatra VII.  Modesty was not Ptolemy’s forte; instead, he flaunted the wealth of Egypt by commissioning what was to become the famed, almost mythological, Ancient Library of Alexandria.

The Ancient Library of Alexandria inspired remarkable intellectual and educational exploits.  It was likely that Euclid was the leading mathematics teacher. Archimedes came as a young man, when the library was scarcely 20 years old, shortly after Euclid’s passing.   Even then, the library boasted at least 100,000 scrolls, including all of Aristotle’s priceless personal collection. Archimedes probably met Eratosthenes, the brilliant thinker who measured the circumference of the world to within 4 percent of modern figures, and made a remarkably accurate measurement of the year’s length, even by today’s standards.

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was the hub of mathematics, engineering, physiology, geography and medicine. The breadth and depth of knowledge was unparalleled. Its destruction was catastrophic, the efforts of the early scholars and scientists forever lost.  Indeed, it was one of the greatest libraries that graced our world.

“History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again.”

Carl Sagan (referring to the loss of the Library at Alexandria). 1988, Cosmos