The Ancient Library of Alexandria: A Pathfinder

Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Guides

This area presents aids to a foundational understanding of the Alexandrian Library. These works are useful as introductions to the field or as tools to supplement a more in-depth study. The Library itself is well-known, but many of the texts and people associated with it are not. These works should meet this need.

Dictionaries Encyclopedias Guides


The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
(Davis Ref. Desk DE 5.09 1996)

This source is the ideal companion for any research into the Alexandrian Library. The Library itself is listed under "libraries" and is not described in great detail. However, the entry describes the structure of Greek libraries and allows one to imagine the structure of the Alexandrian. Further, there are entries on almost any subject associated with the Library, from the Letter of Aristeas (the earliest source on the Library) to Callimachus and his Pinakes (the Library's catalog). Each entry has a short bibliography. A helpful feature is the list of common abbreviations and authors and books, towards the front. Ancient sources are frequently abbreviated.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Davis Electronic Access:

This is the electronic version of the 1996 Oxford Classical Dictionary. It can be accessed by selecting Oxford Classical Dictionary from the databases page. Then, the Dictionary must be selected again from the title list on the Past Masters site. This source provides the same information as its paper counterpart, but it has a powerful search tool which retrieves all articles that mention the search term. The entries have hyperlinked cross-references.


Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Ed. Allen Kent and Harold Lancour. Vol. 1. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1968.
(SILS Ref. Z 1006.E57)

This encyclopedia provides a concise, clear overview of the Alexandrian library. The library is discussed under the entry for "ancient and medieval libraries"; the section on Alexandria is found on pages 401-404. The entry addresses the textual evidence for the library's existence and operation, the library's administration, its catalog, and its role in preserving Greek literature for future generations. Because the encyclopedia places the library in the context of similar institutions of the time, the characteristics that make the Alexandria library legendary are made prominent.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. 32 vols. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
(Davis Ref. AE 5.E363 2002)

The index of this encyclopedia (vol. 31) reveals just how many areas the Alexandrian Library has influenced. Under "Alexandria, Library of" there are references to entries from library development to the origin of textual criticism. The index gives clear directions to which volume, page, and even column an entry is located in. This set of encyclopedias has a wide scope of information on the library.

The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing.
Davis Electronic Access:

To access this source, select Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia from the UNC library's database page. A full text search for "Alexandrian library" brings up seven articles: "Alexandrian Library", "science, history of", "Callimachus (poet)", "index (search mechanism)", "Alexandria (Egypt)", "Eratosthenes of Cyrene", and "Alexandrian Museum". The entry on the "Alexandrian Library" is short, but includes many hyperlinks to other entries. These links, as well as the other six entries mentioned above, flesh out the information given in the "Alexandrian library" entry to create an altogether basic foundation to a study of the institution. Most of the entries give their author as well as a bibliography of works for further study.


Ancient Writers: Greece and Rome. Ed. T. James Luce. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1982.
(Davis Ref. Row 27 - PA 3002.A5 1982)

Much of what we know of the Alexandrian Library survives in the works of its staff and in those of ancient historians. A study of the library, therefore, is greatly enhanced by a guide to their works. The writers are presented chronologically, but there is a good index in the back. The print is large and the entries are very clear. There is an excellent discussion of the Alexandrian library, especially of the catalog, on pages 451-453.

The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. Ed. P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
(Davis Ref. Row 27 - PA 3052.G73 1985- vol 1; PA 3002.A5 1982 - vol 2)

These histories present an in-depth coverage of the ancient writings. Volume one is devoted to Greek literature and volume two covers Roman literature. Especially useful is the appendix of authors and works at the end of each volume. These give a brief history, a list of works, and a bibliography for further study on each author mentioned. The Alexandrian library is discussed on pages 541-2 of volume one. The material in these volumes is presented chronologically and thematically. However, there is a good index at the end of each volume.

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