The New International Encyclopædia/Alexandrian Library

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The New International Encyclopædia
Alexandrian Library
Edition of 1905. See also Library of Alexandria on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ALEXANDRIAN LI'BRARY. The plan for this, the most famous collection of the ancient world, seems to have been formed by Ptolemy I., Soter (died 283 B.C.), perhaps at the suggestion of the Athenian, Demetrius of Phalerum. The development of this plan and the connection of the library with the museum was the work of Ptolemy II., Philadelphus, about 275 B.C., who collected books on a hitherto unknown scale and placed them at the disposal of the learned men gathered in the museum. The management was intrusted to a series of scholars, whose labors led them to a careful study of Greek literary history and the classification of writers, with results of great importance for the transmission of classical texts to our own time. The first librarian was Zenodotus of Ephesus, under whom the poets were arranged. The first catalogue seems to have been the work of Callimachus, and included a classification of the authors, according to their principal themes, as historians, orators, etc. Under each author's name was given a brief biographical sketch, a list of his genuine and spurious works, the opening words of each work, a brief table of contents, and the number of lines occupied in the standard MS. Variations in names or titles were carefully noted. In the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the number of rolls in the main library was 490,000, and in the annex, in the temple of Scrapis, 42,800. At the time of Cæsar's visit, in 47 B.C., the number had risen to 700,000, of which a large part was consumed in a great fire, which spread from the burning fleet. This loss was in part replaced by the library of Pergamus, which Antony gave to Cleopatra. In Roman times, however, the chief literary centre seems to have been the library in the Serapeum which was destroved when the Christians sacked the temple (390 A.D.). The fate of the rest of the library after the loss of its most valuable part is unknown, but it seems likely that much of it had been lost before the surrender of the city to the Arabs. The story of the destruction of the books by order of the Caliph Omar is now universally discredited, as resting on very unreliable sources. Consult: Ritschl, Die alexandrinischen Bibliotheken, in his Opuscula Philologica I. (Leipzig, 1867-79), and Susemihl, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur in der Alexandrinerzeit (Leipzig, 1891-92).