The Library That Was

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

28 Comments

  1. Gallivanta says:

    One of my greatest regrets is that I left Egypt before the completion of the new library of Alexandria. I believe it is a beautiful complex http://www.bibalex.org/Museums/ScienceMuseum_en.aspx. And this is one of my favourite books http://www.amazon.com/The-Librarian-Who-Measured-Earth/dp/0316515264/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y I am glad my house has a soul 🙂

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you so much for the links!!! I just found the book – “The Librarian Who Measured the World” at (are you ready for this!) the Vancouver Public Library. You are a treasure!!!

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      1. Gallivanta says:

        Marvellous. Do enjoy it!

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      2. Clanmother says:

        I will!!! 🙂

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  2. Dina says:

    Great post, Rebecca. Libraries are the windows to the world and so are you. Thanks for opening so many!
    Have a great start in a wonderful new week!
    Dina

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    1. Clanmother says:

      There is one axiom of life that gives me the greatest hope – that we learn the best when we share knowledge. It is the collective genius that has moved us forward. Blogging is a remarkable way to build community and open ourselves to new ideas. I am so glad that we connected!!!!

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  3. supernova says:

    I enjoyed this Rebecca! Superb post! I felt transported back to this important time in history and felt the wonder of such great people who forged such brilliant mathematics, science and philosophies which are the foundations of our knowledge. Beautiful!
    Cheers Rebecca, my best wishes, James 🙂

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you so much, James! Your heartwarming comments are very much appreciated. This week, in the middle of my research, I became aware of how much history has shaped who we are. We are active participants – this is our time. While I may not have the brilliance of those remarkable people, I must chose to have an open mind which is receptive to new thought and ideas. The library was destroyed because there were those who wanted to control knowledge – as if we could control humanity’s curiosity to know what is over the next mountain.

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  4. It’s hard to imagine any society having libraries all those years ago. It feels like a modern day invention, but not at all – it really was an ancient reality!? 100,000 scrolls must have taken up a lot space! Thanks for the thought food!! 😀

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    1. Clanmother says:

      The logistics of storing 100,000 scrolls boggles the mind. I read that Cleopatra and Julius Caesar used to walk through the library on a regular basis. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by…

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  5. ane says:

    Egypt cradle of ancient civilization. I visited Egypt.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      What an adventure to visit Egypt. Thank you so much for stopping by – very much appreciated.

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  6. Great post Rebecca, I really like the direction your going in during these last few posts.

    They have made me think a lot about the history of knowledge and science. You are spot on about protecting this and allowing it to be available to everyone.

    It makes you wonder though just how much we have lost?

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. We have had these amazing individuals, and yet, we have not been open to their ideas because we look for certainties and proofs. I have learned a lot over the past week; I have been humbled by the courage and resourcefulness of men and women who faced enormous odds to satisfy their need to know. I was reading that Madam Curie’s books (even her recipe books) were so radioactive that they must be kept in a special container.

      “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
      ― Marie Curie

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  7. “To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
    Love it! I have a cookbook library, does that count? 😉

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Cookbooks are the best of all libraries. It seems the eariliest cookbook known to have survived in Europe was written in Latin – De re coquinaria. Now this would be an interesting series of posts!! Hmmmm

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      1. Oh, now you have to do it and I can hardly wait!

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  8. Ms Frances says:

    Yes, let it not happen again. What a tragic loss!! The record of all that knowledge destroyed, how very sad for all of us and to all the generations that followed.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree wholeheartedly! I think that when we close our minds off to certain ideas and thoughts, we are in many ways “destroying the library.” I know that you would appreciate this quote:

      “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle

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  9. Ed Spadoni says:

    Rebecca, this photo is fantastic, great depth, color and composition. Congratulations.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Ed – you just made my day full of sunshine, even on a Vancouver cloudy day!!! Have you ever noticed that some landscapes seem to pose for you?

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  10. cindy knoke says:

    Most interesting post. I love libraries as I am sure you do! Can’t wait to visit the Prague Liibrary in May!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      How wonderful!! Looking forward to your photos of the Prague Library. Can hardly wait!!!

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  11. iridonousa says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I really enjoy your posts!! I am glad I found you!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I am so glad that we have connected, too! Looking forward to our ongoing adventure.

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  12. This was a time when knowledge was so revered. If only the youth of today recognized the true value of learning. Fabulous capture Rebecca! You’ve been to the pyramids? I’m so jealous.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      One day we will go to Paris…

      I have a feeling…

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