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  • 2,300 years ago, the rulers of Alexandria set out

  • to fulfill one of humanity's most audacious goals:

  • to collect all the knowledge in the world under one roof.

  • In its prime,

  • the Library of Alexandria housed an unprecedented number of scrolls

  • and attracted some of the Greek world's greatest minds.

  • But by the end of the 5th century C.E., the great library had vanished.

  • Many believed it was destroyed in a catastrophic fire.

  • The truth of the library's rise and fall is much more complex.

  • The idea for the library came from Alexander the Great.

  • After establishing himself as a conqueror,

  • the former student of Aristotle turned his attention

  • to building an empire of knowledge headquartered in his namesake city.

  • He died before construction began,

  • but his successor, Ptolemy I, executed Alexander's plans for a museum and library.

  • Located in the royal district of the city,

  • the Library of Alexandria may have been built with grand Hellenistic columns,

  • native Egyptian influences or a unique blend of the two.

  • There are no surviving accounts of its architecture.

  • We do know it had lecture halls, classrooms, and, of course, shelves.

  • As soon as the building was complete,

  • Ptolemy I began to fill it with primarily Greek and Egyptian scrolls.

  • He invited scholars to live and study in Alexandria at his expense.

  • The library grew as they contributed their own manuscripts,

  • but the rulers of Alexandria still wanted a copy of every book in the world.

  • Luckily, Alexandria was a hub for ships traveling through the Mediterranean.

  • Ptolemy III instituted a policy requiring any ship that docked in Alexandria

  • to turn over its books for copying.

  • Once the Library's scribes had duplicated the texts,

  • they kept the originals and sent the copies back to the ships.

  • Hired book hunters also scoured the Mediterranean in search of new texts,

  • and the rulers of Alexandria attempted to quash rivals

  • by ending all exports of the Egyptian papyrus used to make scrolls.

  • These efforts brought hundreds of thousands of books to Alexandria.

  • As the library grew, it became possible to find information on more subjects than ever before,

  • but also much more difficult to find information on any specific subject.

  • Luckily, a scholar named Callimachus of Cyrene set to work on a solution,

  • creating the pinakes, a 120-volume catalog of the library's contents, the first of its kind.

  • Using the pinakes, others were able to navigate the Library's swelling collection.

  • They made some astounding discoveries.

  • 1,600 years before Columbus set sail,

  • Eratosthenes not only realized the earth was round,

  • but calculated its circumference and diameter

  • within a few miles of their actual size.

  • Heron of Alexandria created the world's first steam engine

  • over a thousand years before it was finally reinvented during the Industrial Revolution.

  • For about 300 years after its founding in 283 B.C.E., the library thrived.

  • But then, in 48 B.C.E., Julius Caesar laid siege to Alexandria

  • and set the ships in the harbor on fire.

  • For years, scholars believed the library burned as the blaze spread into the city.

  • It's possible the fire destroyed part of the sprawling collection,

  • but we know from ancient writings that

  • scholars continued to visit the library for centuries after the siege.

  • Ultimately, the library slowly disappeared as the city changed from

  • Greek to Roman, Christian, and eventually Muslim hands.

  • Each new set of rulers viewed its contents as a threat rather than a source of pride.

  • In 415 C.E., the Christian rulers even had a mathematician named Hypatia

  • murdered for studying the library's ancient Greek texts,

  • which they viewed as blasphemous.

  • Though the Library of Alexandria and its countless texts are long gone,

  • we're still grappling with the best ways to collect, access, and preserve our knowledge.

  • There's more information available today and more advanced technology to preserve it,

  • though we can't know for sure that our digital archives

  • will be more resistant to destruction than Alexandria's ink and paper scrolls.

  • And even if our reservoirs of knowledge are physically secure,

  • they will still have to resist the more insidious forces that tore the library apart:

  • fear of knowledge and the arrogant belief that the past is obsolete.

  • The difference is that, this time, we know what to prepare for.

2,300 years ago, the rulers of Alexandria set out

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B1 US TED-Ed alexandria library ptolemy greek knowledge

What really happened to the Library of Alexandria? - Elizabeth Cox

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    gotony5614.me97 posted on 2018/08/14
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