Wednesday, October 20, 2010

library of alexandria (part two?)

hi-dee-ho booky folk

I hinted in comments to Amanda's previous post on the Library of Alexandria that my MFA reserach has taken me right past some juicy bits about the library this year - and right now I'm writing a chapter on biblioclasm as part of my MFA exegesis - I thought I'd share with you what I've written about the Library as the Winterson booky crew (and you others!) might find it interesting/useful...... by all means if you've stumbled over anything that is different to what I'm plonking - well I'm all ears (and typing fingers!)

anyhow - here's my exegesis snippet regards Alexandria.....

"The Library of Alexandria was established at Alexandria, Egypt under the reigns of Ptolemy I & II (C3rd BCE), and has subsequently entered legend as the greatest library of the ancient world. It reportedly held some 600 000 'books' – that is, papyrus scrolls. The exact figure and nature of the library's contents continues to be in dispute, but few doubt the existence or the actual and symbolic meaning of the Library of Alexandria. Tales of the destruction of the great Library date from only a few centuries after its demise.  Plutarch claims that the Library was destroyed by Casear in 48 B.C.E; Edward Gibbons claims the library was lost under the rule of christian patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus,  when he established a church on the site of the temple of Serapis in 390AD; while other sources blame the conquest of the Moslim, Caliph Omar in 640 AD. It is strangely telling that the three main stories of the library's destruction encompasses one secular, and two differing religious culprits.

Modern historians have concluded that there appears not to have been a single fire that destroyed a single building acting as the great Library, but rather the Library consisted of a series of separate buildings that individually met with a sad fate - and that all tales of destruction may hold a modicum of 'truth', but that it is more likely the Library disintegrated over the centuries through neglect, political turmoil (as noted), and changes in social, cultural and economic conditions. The destruction of the great Library of Alexandria however remains a totem of both the power and fragility of books/knowledge, and of how religious/cultural/political intolerance may bring about the intentional suppression of knowledge......"

etc etc etc....... ( sorry but footnotes don't travel into blogger  - if you want I'll let you know some of the sources...)


now what isn't told above (as it doesn't directly relate to what I need to write about) is - in Plutarchs account ('its all jules' fault') - Ceasar accidentally/deliberately sent flaming ships to the shore and before you could say 'holy book burning batman' the library was burnt to the ground...... then with Gibbons (and it is noted by other historians/ critics that Gibbons was somewhat prejudiced against the Catholic Church - and thus keen to lay the blame at the vatican's feet) there is a whole lot of MA rated tales (virgins burned, and more! phworrrr it's gory and graphic)... and as for Omar Caliph (aka - that long name you prattled off Amanda) - wellllll many historians now seem to think that the Library was already pretty buggered by the time he got there - but there was one rippa quote credited to the Omar that goes:
"As for the books you mentioned here is my reply. If their content is in accordance with the book of Allah, we may do without them, for in that case the book of Allah more than sufficies. If on the other hand, they contain matter not in accordance with the book of Allah, there can be no need to preserve them. Proceed then and destroy them."
and that's still used as the basis for believing Omar (Umar) Caliph was the ultimate destroyer of the Library of Alexandria.


Ahhhhhh don't you just love a good mystery.....


welllllll I've procrastinated nicely for a few minutes.... time to get back into more tales of burning (and otherwise destroyed) books - exegesis chapter is due in 14 days time (gulp!)





ps blogger has image upload disabled atm ... so you'll get no illustrations of burning books and what-not right now.....

5 comments:

Amanda said...

Oh this is great Ronnie! You've brought some clarity to the argument about the library's destruction. I did read the bit about the library actually being in numerous locations, but I didn't want to spoil the Winterson's image of books shelves disappearing skyward...
Good luck with the exegesis chapter!

Rhubarb said...

This is fascinating stuff Ronnie, thank you! At the moment I haven't done much actual work with regard to either text (financial crisis, necessity of binding and selling lots of sketchbooks, a whole load of "Board" stuff at school etc etc., it's all been taking up far too much head space), but I keep coming back to the visual image of tunnelling through the books. Hmmm, I wonder what will come out of that? Sara x

Abigail Thomas said...

wow, you are all such a talented lot! thanks for all that thrilling info Ronnie, its almost as if I need do no research at all . . . of course I will though ;)

Carol said...

I'm not doing Winterson but I have images of those little boys sleeping in the shelves. Can't wait to see what you all make of that.

ronnie said...

must add clarification (eg correction) I accidentally turned Omar Caliph into one of his generals ( Amr ibn al ‘Aas )in this post - ooops


naughty ronnie