The Great Library of Alexandria has Gone Missing!!

Pompey's Pillar and the ruins of the Serapeum
Pompey's Pillar and the ruins of the Serapeum
Just as I was about to indulge myself in a self-congratulatory smirk for pointing out certain anomalies in the gaudy tales of the Great Iranian Coup now current on the web, I find that, while I was landing a sunfish, other bloggers have been reeling in muskies. To wit, Dave Schuler over at The Glittering Eye has just pulled off a controlled demolition of no less an edifice than the Great Library of Alexandria itself! Quoting the Eye:

“My take: Alexandria was undoubtedly a center of learning and scholarship and, consequently, had a lot of books. Over time Alexandria’s influence, learning, and scholarship all declined. Was there a Great Library? I don’t believe that the evidence supports the idea.”

Now, it happens that the worthy proprietor of “The Glittering Eye” is rather a more credible source than, say, the current author of the Wikipedia article on Mossadegh. When such a one claims that the Great Library is a mere mirage, it is most unlikely that clicking up a few links on Google will prove the opposite. I realize this will come as no small disappointment to those for whom the destruction of the Library has long served as a spendid historical club, for there are accounts to suit every taste. Depending on the particular object of ones disapprobation, one can bludgeon the Christians, Moslems, pagans, or even great Caesar himself, for there are versions of the story to suit all these occasions, and more.

I can find nothing that directly contradicts the Eye’s conjecture. However, by way of throwing in my two cents worth, I will draw attention to a very interesting chapter on the subject in “The Arab Conquest of Egypt,” by Alfred Butler, which includes a great number of links to source material on the subject. From the account therein, it appears that the claim of Moslem culpability in the destruction of the Library can be dismissed with little ado. However, Butler does not let the Christians off so easily. He agrees that the existence of a Great Library cannot be proved, or at least not after the time of Julius Caesar. However, basing his conclusions on passages from Aphthonius, Eunapius and Rufinus, among others, he claims that the Serapeum, which was destroyed by the Christians in 391, apparently in accord with an edict of the emperor Theodosius, housed a very extensive library. If this was the Great Library (a very big “if”, and one that Butler by no means proves), he concludes,

“The argument now stands as follows: the Library is proved to have been stored in rooms which, like the shrines of the old Egyptian gods, formed part and parcel of the temple building. The temple building is proved to have been utterly demolished and destroyed (by the Christians in 391). Therefore the Libary suffered the same destruction.”

So much for the one pebble I could find to further muddy the historical waters. As Obama said to President Zelaya, “I hope that helps.”

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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