The Alexandrian Library is an unofficial wonder of the ancient world. It was one of the first libraries to aspire towards universality, to have a copy of every work ever written. Its huge collection, estimated at 400,000 volumes (or scrolls), enabled scholarship to flourish in many fields. Though the Library itself did not survive, it aided the preservation and dissemination of many important works, such as Homer's epics and the Jewish Old Testament. The Library was begun in the third century B.C. in the kingdom of the Ptolemies in Egypt. The first Ptolemy king, Soter, is generally credited with having instigated the Library, encouraged by a student of the Aristotlean school, Demetrius of Phaleron. Soter's successors, especially his son Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) and grandson Ptolemy III (Eugertes), were also enthusiastic patrons of the Library. The unique goal of these monarchs was to obtain a copy of every work written. They succeeded in collecting a huge number of manuscripts, collecting them in any way possible, even coercion. The Library eventually had to branch out to another building, the temple devoted to worshiping the national deity, Serapis. The demise of the Library is one of its greatest mysteries. Julius Caesar, Christians, and Arabs among others have been accused of its destruction. It did not survive past the fifth century A.D. The Library has, however, continued to thrive in the memory of man, as this pathfinder will demonstrate.
This pathfinder presents materials that will lay a foundation for a study of the ancient Alexandrian Library. The sources presented here will help to put the Library in its historical and geographical context. It must be kept in mind that our knowledge of the Library rests on fragments of hotly-debated texts. The material presented here will reflect this. Scholars often disagree over issues related to the institution. This pathfinder will not address the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern, recently-completed counterpart of the lost Library. The site is oriented towards history students at the undergraduate level, particularly students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The majority of the materials discussed in this site are located in the libraries of this campus. Graduate history students or others with an interest in history may also find this pathfinder of interest.
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