What could be considered the greatest intellectual achievement in the ancient world, the Alexandria Library was the first world research center. In this documentary film by In Search of History and produced by Kellie Flanagan Briley, we are introduced to the founding, historical life, and the mysterious end of the Alexandria Library.
The Alexandria Library would host dignitaries and scholars from all over the known world who would live within its halls and share new information gathered from their travels to add to the vast collection of books that had been amassed in its collection.
In the 4th century, Alexander the Great decided to build the city of Alexandria in 332 BC; he chose it due it its location in the vicinity of the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Pharos, and the river Nile. It was the perfect place for a new center of cultural activity due to its position as a main channel of which the existing empires gathered together for trade.
The question was proposed as to why a great conqueror the likes of Alexander the Great would be interested in creating a library? As it would turn out, Alexander the Great was schooled personally by Aristotle who learned his collected knowledge from Socrates and Plato. This made him appreciate the value of learning and thought, where it was said, he often took a copy of the Odyssey with him during battles and was a noted warrior-poet.
The origin of Alexander’s idea for the Alexandria Library is a story soaked in an ancient legend, where it is said that Alexander had a spiritual event when seeking the Oracle of Aman, being told that he was really the son of the god instead of King Phillip of Macedonia and that he should find a site to build a magnificent city in view of the island of Pharos, which in the end, was the eventual site of Alexandria.
Alexander would not live see his library built for he later died of wounds after conquering the known world. The building of the library would be left with his most trusted general, Ptolemy, who would create a Dynastic rule within Egypt that lasted over 300 years.
Ptolemy made Alexandria the center of ancient enlightenment and surrounded himself with the foremost scholars the world could offer. It was said the library held over 300,000 books just in its lower level, and the collection would grow from there.
The total amount of books is educated speculation from current historians because the counting of books wasn’t an exact science and there isn’t any evidence to tell just how many existed. The Alexandria library would be the freest location to study not only literature but also the early days of medicine.
It was Greek culture that prevented them from dissecting human cadavers so it prevented any further studies into the workings of the human body. In Egypt, embalming and dissection had been one of the main cultural elements to their worship of the afterlife.
The Alexandria Library was then hosting those who wanted to practice on human bodies, studying ways to possibly mend and heal wounds that were thought as being permanently damaged. Alexandrian research under Ptolemy also was interested in mathematics where Euclid codified basic theorems that others had made, and published the first text book for Geometry.
The actual destruction of the Alexandria Library remains a mystery, and continues to be a controversial subject in academic circles. In some ways both modern and ancient accounts contradict one another whether it was due to the Christian Revolution or the Muslim invasions.
It is said that the Roman Emperor Theodosius in 400AD ordered that all monuments and scholars reflecting non-Christian beliefs would be put to the sword, and perhaps in that cleansing, the Alexandria Library was destroyed. In another account, when the great Arabic armies had come to Alexandria, they proclaimed that if the books were against the Islamic faith, they would be destroyed and if the books supported the Islamic faith, they were unnecessary and thus would be destroyed.
The film mentions all plausible theories but in the end, there hasn’t been an agreement nor any evidence that gives the modern world a factual account of its fate. Viewers of In Search of History: The Alexandria Library, will certainly find themselves deeply interested in the ancient legacy of the library itself and the history changing conquerors, Pharaohs, Roman Emperors and conquering armies that shaped the course of its lifespan.