Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Great Library of Alexandria

Being the philistine that I am, with an almost purely science-based education until about 15 years ago, I hadn’t heard of this Lost Wonder of the Ancient World.

So now we have the go-ahead from Jeanette Winterson and her publishers, I thought it was time to do a little research.

After quickly scanning Wikipedia for a brief overview, my first question was whether this library had been depicted in any famous paintings. But the answer appears to be no, at least according to google.

However, I did discover an Oliver Stone movie entitled Alexander the Great, in which it was recreated. Below is a shot of the atrium from the movie. I’m sure it’s absolutely historically accurate!!


Google images did reveal a few more representations of the library, and the one below seems somewhat in keeping with Winterson’s vision, at least in terms of the ladders, if not the small boys like chimney sweeps.


great library 

I found it pretty interesting that the controversy of how the library was destroyed (was it down to Julius Caesar, Emperor Aurelian, Pope Theophilus or the Muslim army of Amr ibn al ‘Aas?) still provokes heated debate, especially amongst a certain style of blogger. If you’re interested, there’s one here and here, but be warned: conservative political views are rife.

To finish off I couldn’t resist posting these pictures of the current library. I love this wall with 120 different scripts and the book sculptures (below).

Both these pictures by Danos


Anonymous said...

However the group approaches the Winterson text, anything to do with the ancient library is worth knowing.
I think the first image leans toward Hollywood...;-), but certainly, thousands of scrolls were stored on shelves.
Great post! Thanks.

ronnie said...

ahhhhhh I've been doing lots of reading about the library of alexandria this year - starting before the winterson text emerged from the discussion - so I'm sure you can just imagine my delight that we've got the green light! amongst my reading list I've squizzed some source documents (plutarch gives one of the earliest surviving accounts of the library...) and one of the more interesting aspects I discovered is that 'the library' was most likely a collection of buildings scattered throughout the city - and these together were 'the library'..... and just as no single event saw its demise like you've mentioned amanda (and aren't there some really juicy and gory stories associated with the loss of the library?!!), likewise its establishment (credited to alexander the great) was probably slow and organic - not a single glorious event (so there was no photo opp at the opening for alexander I suspect)

ahhhh it will be fun to sink my teeth into this project! (but I've an exegesis chapter to complete first - and yep you guessed it - the chapter is all about the loss and destruction of books)

Abigail Thomas said...

thanks for the research; great stuff. i work in a museum library so i will try to find out if i can get any more info or depictions of the library

Carol said...

Great post, Amanda! I've always loved the concept of this library so I'm delighted to see whatever we can find out about it.

Anonymous said...

Back again...Mary Renault's final novel in her trilogy about Alexander mentions(towards the end) Ptolemy in Alexandria. I'm pretty sure she lists her sources.Might be worth something.

Angela said...

Thanks Amanda. I was thinking about the text in a totally different way and your research has pointed in another direction which could be really fascinating. The whole idea of the ancient library, the mystery, the controversy....