When I let my blog reader utility go unused for more than 24 hours, the number of posts from the many blogs I read — some political, some related to cooking, some of friends and family, some legal, some historical, and almost all of them hybrid or multi-subject — accumulates precipitously. This afternoon I had some free time at lunch and no lunch date, so I ate at my desk and caught up on 219 accumulated unread posts.
This was, by far, the most interesting. Dave Schuler, usually a writer on matters political, suggests that there may have been no such thing as the Great Library at Alexandria. Rather, he thinks the phrase may refer to the fact that Alexandria was a center of learning and education in a more generalized sense — the way a contemporary westerner might refer to, for example, “Cambridge.” But was there a physical building, a single collection of books? The idea is firmly embedded in our historical consciousness but contemporaneous writings do not mention such an institution, at least in the way one might expect them to.
Even if there was a “library” it does seems to have been spread out in multiple locations throughout the city, including in schools, private homes, semi-private “gardens”, pagan temples, and the Museum (which was, literally, the “house of the Muses,” or a place for the arts). This would go a long way towards explaining the multiple destructions of the library referred to retrospectively in various histories, beginning with Julius Caesar and ending with the Muslim conquest.
Schuler’s post was based on responses to the blogging equivalent of a parlor game: if you could change any single event in history, what would it be? All kinds of interesting things suggest themselves. Of course, it’s hardly a new game. I first came across it in a wonderful book about a time-traveler in a relatively obscure period of history, and I’ve not settled on an answer for myself