“Like the burning of the ancient library at Alexandria, the loss of knowledge we are experiencing as

the last of the traditional elders pass from this physical plane of existence is a tragedy, one that could well be beyond redemption.”

–Jonathon Miller

 

One of the great tragedies of ancient history, memorialized in myths and Hollywood films, is the burning of the great library at Alexandria. There is no singular date or reason known for when and why the Library was burned, or whether the destruction was complete or partial. Some sources say that Julius Ceaser destroyed it by accident in 48BC, while others say that it was destroyed when Aurelion captured the city in 270AD.

There was also a second, smaller library that may or may not have survived, the Serapeum, which some sources claim was destroyed at the same time as the larger Library, by Ceaser, though Socrates of Constantinople claimed that the Serapeum was destroyed by riots after paganism was declared illegal in 391AD. Caesar’s burning, however, may not have been as tragic as we think, since the Library had long since passed its heyday under the Ptolemies. In the early 2nd century BC scholars began to abandon Alexandria for safer cities with better patrons. In 145BC Ptolemy VIII expelled all of the foreign scholars as well. Furthermore, the Library made copies of all the books it could, and kept the originals, sending the copies back to their owners. The common belief that the tragedy of the Library of Alexandria burning down and “setting knowledge back centuries” is thus, most likely a myth since the library slowly declined over many years and by its end, most major cities had similar libraries with many of the same works.