RE: virus: Alexandrian Virian Memorial

carlw (
Mon, 1 Mar 1999 16:55:19 -0600

One of the problems with performing research on the net is that you end up reading other peoples misconceptions. I remembered reading something else in Toynbee and did some digging. The "best" information I could find on the net ("best" as in matches mainstream historian's views) was at although it does repeat the allegation that the last remnants of the library were burnt by the Arabs in 686, the author of the site notes that the sources she used were not completely authoritive ("Warning: I wrote this as an undergraduate, before I realized that some of the books on Alexandria that I was relying upon were fairly interpretive of the primary sources themselves and often presented guesswork as facts (especially Canfora). Therefore, I cannot be sure all the information presented here is accurate. Use at your own risk!") and as is often the case reported myth as history. I would strongly suggest that if this is read to mean that books or writings were burnt that this is a myth as the Qur'an emphasises the value of Wisdom, knowledge and books and no Muslim would do such a thing. The Muslims even had a tradition of not harming Christian and Jewish places of worship as they recognised the common roots of the religions. This led to the interesting situation where many valuable early Christian and Jewish documents were preserved in the great Muslim universities until the fall of the Moorish empire in the 13th century and the destruction of this material at the hands of the "civilised" Christians. On the other hand, the word "library" is actually a misnomer, as the library actually acted as a cross between a library, a museum, a university and a temple. The Muslim was forbidden to make "images" and as such may well have burnt statues and possibly paintings. This could be the source of the confusion.

Quoting from the document at the above URL, "The Library of Alexandria, in reality two or more libraries in the ancient Egyptian capitol, has achieved an almost mythic stature in the study of classics from the time of the Renaissance. The apocryphal burning of the Library during Julius Caesar's occupation of the city has been described as the greatest calamity of the ancient world, wherein the most complete collection of all Greek and Near Eastern literature was lost in one great conflagration. In reality, the Library and its community of scholars not only flourished during the Hellenistic era of the Ptolemies, but continued to survive through the Roman Empire and the incessant turbulence of the Empire's most volatile and valuable city."

<Big Snip>

Christians Retaliate

It may well be imagined how Alexandria continued to be shaken by social strife during such a period. After a mere twenty years since the abdication of Diocletian, Canstantine became Emperor and declared Christianity Rome's official religion. By 391, the Emperor Theodosius had reversed Diocletian's edict and commanded all paganism to be stamped out, signalling the end of the Museum.[56] For, throughout the fourth century the power of the church grew; an army of Gnostic monks became the main tool of the Patriarch of Alexandria and enforced his will. After the edict of Theodosius, the mob was led by the Patriarch Theophilus to demolish the Serapeum.[57] Perhaps the library at the Caesarium survived; while references to Alexandrian scholars persist a little while longer, no sources actually mention its destruction. In 412 Theophilus' nephew Cyril succeeded him. The Patriarch exercised ever more control of the city, and the conflict between secular and religious authority was decided in 415, when the Roman prefect Orestes, officially still in charge of the province, objected to Cyril's order that all Jews be expelled from the city. Cyril's army of monks murdered the prefect and were cannonized by him for this deed; marauding through the city they came across Hypatia, daughter of the Museum's last great mathematician Theon. She was a Neoplatonist philosopher and astronomer whose teachings are partially recorded by one of her admirers and pupils, the Christian Synesius, and she was also supposedly an advisor to Orestes and one of the last members of the Museum. Driving home from her own lectures without attendant, this independent woman and scholar epitomized the suspect nature of Paganism and its heretical scientific teachings. She was dragged from her chariot by the mob, stripped, flayed, and finally burned alive in the library of the Caesareum as a witch. Cyril was made a saint.[58] After her death Alexandria became steadily less stable, overrun by the monks who evolved into the Copts, who incorporated the old Alexandrian prejudices towards foreigners with the new prejudice towards any scientific or classical knowledge. Too turbulent even to bow to the Emperor, Alexandria eventually revolted against Constantinople, wound up with two factions contending between two Patriarchs, and eventually fell to Arab conquerers, who had the last of the Library burned as fuel in the bath-houses of the city in 686.[59]

A Bibliography:

Canfora, Luciano. The Vanished Library. trans. Martin Ryle. University of California Press. Berkely: 1989.

Forster, E.M. Alexandria: a History and a Guide. Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City: 1961.

Fraser, P. M. Ptolemaic Alexandria. Volume I of III. Oxford University Press. Oxford: 1972.

Johnson, Emer D. History of Libraries in the Western World. Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen: 1970.

Kamil, Jill. Upper Egypt: Historical Outline and Descriptive Guide to the Ancient Sites. Longman. New York: 1983.

Milne, J. Grafton. a History of Egypt Under Roman Rule. Methuen & Co., Ltd. London: 1924.

Parsons, Edward Alexander. The Alexandrian Library: Glory of the Hellenic Hellenic World. Elsevier Press. New York: 1952.

Westermann, William Linn. The Library of Ancient Alexandria. lecture given at University of Alexandria's reception hall. University of Alexandria Press. Alexandria: 1954.

My addition > Kline, M., Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. I, Oxford University Press, NY, 1972, p.180-1.

It seems to me that when Kline wrote "In the year 392 C.E. when the emperor "Theodosius banned the pagan religions, the Christians destroyed the temple of Serapis, which still housed the only extensive collection of Greek works. It is estimated that 300,000 manuscripts were destroyed. Many other works written on parchment were expunged by the Christians so that they could use the parchment for their own writings. The final blow to Alexandria was the conquest of Egypt by the upsurging Moslems in A.D. 640. The remaining books were destroyed on the ground given by Omar, the Arab conqueror: 'Either the books contain what is in the Koran, in which case we do not have to read them, or they contain the opposite of what is in the Koran, in which case we must not read them.' And so for six months the baths of Alexandria were heated by burning rolls of parchment." that he based this on Canfora, as the quotation attributed to Omar is phrased in the same words, and that these two sources are largely responsible for the view that the Arabs were responsible for the final destruction of the library.


> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf
> Of Wade T.Smith
> Sent: Monday, March 01, 1999 10:29 AM
> To: Church of Virus
> Subject: virus: Alexandrian Virian Memorial
> '91 appears to have been an important anniversary year that we all
> missed....
> But, March is a month completely without interesting
> holidays.... So, how
> about the Ides of March?....
> ____________________________________________
> --
> The persistent question that is invariably asked when mention
> is made of
> the Alexandria Library, is how the greatest collection of
> books in the
> ancient world came to an end.
> To cut a long story short, we know that there were two
> principle centres
> wherein the books were kept: the Royal Library, located close to the
> harbour within the precincts of the royal palaces, and the Daughter
> Library, incorporated in the Sarapeum, south of the city.
> The Royal Library
> The Royal Library was an unfortunate casualty of war. In 48
> BC., Caesar
> found himself involved in a civil war between Cleopatra and
> her brother
> Ptolemy XIII. Caesar sided with Cleopatra and was soon
> besieged by land
> and sea by the Ptolomaic forces. He realised that his only
> chance lay in
> setting fire to the enemy fleet and it was by this drastic
> measure that
> he managed to gain the upper hand. But the fire, in the words of
> Plutarch, spread from the dockyards and destroyed the "Great Library"
> (megalé bibliotheke) [ Caes. 49].
> The Daughter Library
> As regards the Daughter Library, it continued to function
> throughout the
> Roman period under the protection of the Sarapeum.
> Nevertheless, with the
> end of paganism and the ascendancy of Christianity in the
> fourth century,
> the Sarapeum lost its sanctity. In 391, when the Emperor Theodisius
> ordained the destruction of all pagan temples, contemporary
> eyewitnesses
> assert that the Sarapeum, together with all its contents, suffered
> complete annihilation. [Rufinus, H.E. 2. 23-30; Eunapius,
> vit. Aedesii,
> 77-8; Socrates, H.E. 5.16.].
> The Arab Conquest
> Thus, when the Arabs conquered Egypt in 642, the Alexandria
> Library no
> longer existed. It is noteworthy that no historians of the conquest,
> whether Byzantine or Arab, ever mention any accident that could have
> occurred to the Library. It was not until six centuries
> later, during the
> time of the Crusades, when all of a sudden a story emerges,
> claiming that
> the Arab general Amr Ibn Al-As, had destroyed the books by
> using them as
> fuel for the baths! [Ibn Al-Quifti 354].
> Modern scholarship has proved beyond any doubt that this story was a
> twelfth century fabrication, resulting from war conditions during the
> Crusades. [For a full treatment of the subject, cf. A.J.
> Butler, The Arab
> Conquest of Egypt, 400 ff.; M. El-Abbadi, Life and Fate of
> the Ancient
> Library of Alexandria, 136-166].