Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great Libraries of the Past and Present, Egypt, Bibliotheca Alexandria,

The current events in Egypt are covered in great detail by both traditional and Web 2.0 news outlets.  I certainly support a more free, democratic, and modern Egypt and believe that reform is possible without the need for violence. 

The news coverage of the demonstrations often include reference to The National Museum of Egyptian Culture in Cairo (Egyptian Museum) and sometimes coverage of the Biblotheca Alexandria: The New Library of AlexandriaDr. Zahi Hawass, a larger than life archaeologist and media star, as well as, the newly appointed Minister of Antiquities in Egypt,  has been very active in protecting Egypt's cultural treasures, especially the Museum in Cairo. The Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, Ismail Serageldin, is not a media star but should be honored for his efforts to protect the library and to continue championing the library as a key cultural institution, important as a symbol of the power of education and learning for the future of Egypt.  A wonderful overview of the successful efforts to protect the library during this time, a collective community effort, is detailed in this article from the Wall Street Journal, A Symbol for the New Egypt.

The Library of Alexandria has a storied history and the institution has been victim of war and revolution since Roman times.  The first Universal Library of Alexandria was founded after the death of Alexander The Great (320 B.C.) and continued his tireless efforts to expose his great empire to the refined, rational thought of the Greek world. 

Ptolemy I Sotor who brought Alexander's body to Alexandria and laid it to rest in the now lost mausoleum eventually became ruler over Egypt and is credited with founding the Library as a continuation of Alexander's quest to create a Universal Library.  It is thought that the Library of Alexandria, under Ptolemaic rule, eventually housed over 400,00 scrolls collecting all the known books in the world. 

In 48 B.C. Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria at the request of King Ptolemy XIII to settle a dispute between the King and his co-ruler sister, the legendary, Cleopatra.  Caesar's arrival in Alexandria caused a revolt, the Alexandrian War, led by King Ptolemy's General, Achillas. He laid siege to Alexandria from the sea causing Caesar to burn the fleet and also setting fire to the city, including buildings holding books for the Library and, legend has it, all the papyrus manuscripts were lost.   Unfortunately the history of the Library at Alexandria is muddled and the Library, after the Alexandrian War, continued to exist with significant holdings.  During the Roman era, the Library evolved into a bilingual, Greek and Latin institution and continued to expand.  Another legend states that after Caesar's assasination in 44 B.C.,  Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) gave Cleopatra more than 200,000 manuscripts from the Library of Pergamon (Turkey) to add to the library holdings in Alexandria. 

It it clear that the great Library of Alexandria, partially destroyed during the Alexandria War, survived long after Caesar's fire and continued to be an important repository of books and a famous center for  scholarship.  Even after Constantine established Constantinople (today, Istanbul) as the capital of the Roman Empire and embarked on his own quest to establish a universal library in his capital city, a primary source for manuscripts was Alexandria.  In 642 A.D. Alexandria again was conquered, this time by Arabs.  It is again suggested in historical writings that the library, perhaps not the original or as grand as the original, still existed in some form and that the holdings were yet again destroyed after the Arab conquest.  We simply do not know, for certain, what happened to the holdings of the original Library of Alexandria

The Bibliotheca Alexandria

Rare Books and Special Collections

The current Biblotheca Alexandria is the heir to the famous collections of history and mythology.  The Bibliotheca Alexandria opened in  2002 and is a center for learning, scholarship and study.  Even with the Internet blackout that has hit the population of Egypt the Library continues to have web access and will continue to be a center where the future of Egypt can be studied, discussed, debated and defined. 

The spirit of Alexander The Great's original dream of establishing a Unverisal Library is alive and well today and the Bibliotheca Alexandria is a shining symbol of the importance of institutions dedicated to books, education and learning, all essential ingredients for personal and political advancement.  I expect that all the people of Egypt will continue to protect this institution from whatever follows of politics and reform.

Supporters and Opponents protect the Library 2011

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