Such scientific and philosophical enterprises were not new or surprising in Hypatia’s Alexandria, which already boasted a 700-year-old, international reputation for sophisticated scholarship. Founded in 331 B.C.E.9 by command of Alexander the Great, the city contained almost from its beginnings an institution that would remain of immense importance to the world for the next 2,300 years. Originally called the Mouseion, or Shrine of the Muses, this research center and library grew into “an institution that may be conceived of as a library in the modern sense—an organization with a staff headed by a librarian that acquires and arranges bibliographic material for the use of qualified readers.”10This long essay is the most fulsome account I have seen, short of a monograph, of the ancient Library of Alexandria and its influence.
Indeed, the Alexandria Library was much more. It “stimulated an intensive editorial program that spawned the development of critical editions, textual exegesis and such basic research tools as dictionaries, concordances and encyclopedias.”11 The library in fact developed into a huge research institution comparable to a modern university—containing a center for the collection of books, a museum for the preservation of scientific artifacts, residences and workrooms for scholars, lecture halls and a refectory. In building this magnificent institution, one modern writer has noted, the Alexandrian scholars “started from scratch”; their gift to civilization is that we never had to start from scratch again.
Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the Library of Alexandria (and other ancient libraries) are here and here and links. Past posts on Hypatia, about whom the movie Agora was made in 2011, are here and here. And more on the Neoplatonists and their libraries is here.
Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.