Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday in History: The Library of Alexandria

It’s always too soon to joke about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. One of the Wonders of the Ancient World, this place was amazing. It was built by Ptolemy I, the guy who took over ruling the Egyptian piece of Alexander the Great’s empire. The Library was full of innumerable scrolls which scholars from all over the place used to study when they came to research and learn at the Musaeum of Alexandria.
The Library may never have gained much fame had it not been destroyed, and all its works lost. There are differing accounts as to when the destruction happened: one romantic account has Marc Antony and Cleopatra perishing in one another’s arms as the Library burned around them; another says that Emperor Aurelian was putting down a revolt and accidentally damaged the area of the city where the library was located; and one blames the loss of the Library’s contents on Pope Theophilus. However it happened, all of those scrolls, all of that knowledge, that potential to learn, was lost. Wikipedia put it quite nicely: “though it is unknown how many scrolls were housed at any given time, their combined value was incalculable.”
That word: incalculable, is pretty descriptive. Whenever I think about the Library of Alexandria, I daydream about the kinds of things that were there, and what we might know today if it had not all been destroyed. It makes me sad. So yes, even though it’s kind of funny to say, I really do think that it’s always too soon to joke about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
The original Library didn't have a website. The new one does:
On this day in history in 2002, the gorgeously amazing piece of architecture which is blessed to be the modern installment of this ancient wonder of the world was officially inaugurated. It sits right on the Mediterranean, and has many interesting features: the largest reading room in the world, the Espresso Book Machine (which prints books for you right when you want them), and various specialized libraries and museum exhibits.
750,000 square feet of reading space on eleven levels. I wonder how far a "Shhh!" carries.
It may not be the wealth of information that its ancient counterpart once was, but maybe someday it will be. In the meantime, it is a breathtaking piece of architecture that symbolizes the hope that the world could build a library like the one in ancient Alexandria.

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