The Alexandrian Library: Dissipation Through Neglect And Apathy

Nearly every scholar of classical antiquity seems to have an opinion about the destruction of the Great Library of the Ptolemies at Alexandria in Egypt.  It has become something of a symbol of the triumph of ignorance and superstition over knowledge.  There is much merit to this view; but the picture is a complex one, and it deserves serious consideration.  The ruin of the library–and of others like it in the ancient and medieval worlds–was not a discrete, single event.  It was the gradual outcome of a process that took place over generations.  And when I say “process,” I am referring to neglect, apathy, and negligence.

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The Sirens Seduced Not With Song Or Pleasure, But With The Prospect Of Knowledge

Many readers, no doubt, have heard the Homeric fable about the Sirens.  These were the alluring mythical creatures who, by using their advanced powers of song, were able to divert mariners who happened to sail by the rocks they inhabited in the Mediterranean Sea.  Their voices were supposed to be so seductive that sailors could not resist them.  And when they approached the Sirens’ rocks to get a better look, they ran aground and were destroyed.  This, at least, is what the Greek mythologists have told us.

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