The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander, the great. Alexander, during his campaigns, not only conquered lands and countries but enquired about the study of earth its natural physical qualities and its inhabitants. The time was an enthusiastic time for the renaissance of culture. And during that time library of Alexandria was established. This library was the most famous library of classical antiquity. It was a research institute in Egypt and was known as the shrine of the Muses (Mouse ion) Earlier libraries were there in Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Syria, Asia Minor and other countries.
But they were of Local nature. But the library of Alexandria was a universal library as the Greeks were hungry for knowledge. Eminent individuals like Plato, Aristotle Herodotus, Theophrastus, and Eudexes visit Egypt for knowledge. In this background, Alexander launched his global enterprise of this library in 334 BC until his death in 323 BC. His companions, generals and Scholars were ordered to report to him on regions previously unmapped and uncharted. He increased his knowledge of Geography.
The founding of the library was due to the assistance of Demetrius of paler on, a former Athenian politician. After his fall from power in Athens, Demetrius sought refuge at the court of king Ptolemy I Soter (297 BC) and became the king’s adviser. Ptolemy took advantage of the wide knowledge of Demetrius and in 295 BC he founded the library of Alexandria. Demetrius wanted to collect all the books in the world to carry out the king’s objective. King desired to equip his library with the writings of all men as far as they were of worth attention. Of course, the bulk of books was from Greek literature. The books of Aristotle were the main collection.
The hunt for books was a main concern of Ptolemies. One method was to search every ship that came to the harbour of Alexandria. If a book was found, it was taken to the library: Books were also being purchased from different parts of the world.
There are different estimates of the total number of books in the library. The earliest surviving figure is in the 3rd century BC. Was 200000 (Two Lakhs). In mediaeval time 42000 were in the outer library, 400000 in the inner library, plus 90,000 unmixed books. A higher figure was 7, 05, 000 was reported between the 2nd and 4th century AD).
The information was recorded for each book. Work’s title author, editor, place of origin, length. (in lines), mixed or unmixed. Mixed means containing more than one work. Unmixed means a single text. The bibliography was also there.
The Library of Alexandria was a storehouse of knowledge. Vitruvius, expressed gratitude feet by the later generations for the works of the scholars in preserving the memory of mankind. Hence, we must give them a thousand thanks, because they did not let all go in jealous silence, but provided the record in writing of their ideas in every kind.
This Royal library was an unfortunate casualty of war. In 48 BC Julius Caesar became involved in a civil war in Egypt between Cleopatra and her brother. Julius sided with Cleopatra. They were besieged by the rival forces by the land-sea in the harbour. Caesar was forced to repel the danger by using fire which spread from the dockyards and destroyed the grant library. It is a matter of regret that a temple of knowledge was destroyed to its foundations.
Everything in this world has a beginning and an end. Library of Alexandria also met with this fate.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published in Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]