Library Of Alexandria Founded.
Author: Rollin, Charles
Date: 1731 


Ptolemy Soter Resigns His Kingdom To His Son Ptolemy Philadelphus.


Ptolemy Soter, the son of Lagus, after a reign of twenty years in Egypt,
with the title of king, and of nearly thirty-nine from the death of Alexander,
was desirous of transmitting the throne to Ptolemy Philadelphus, ^705 one of
his sons by Berenice. He had likewise several children by his other wives,
and among those, Ptolemy, surnamed Ceraunus, or the Thunderer, who, being the
son of Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater, and the eldest of the male issue,
considered the crown as his right, after the death of his father. ^706

[Footnote 705: The word signifies a lover of his brethren; but Ptolemy
received this surname agreeably to a figure of speech called antiphrasis,
because he charged two of his brothers with forming designs against his life,
and then caused them to be destroyed. - Pausan. l. i. p. 12.]

[Footnote 706: A. M. 3719. Ant. J. C. 285. Justin. l. xvi.]

But Berenice, who came into Egypt, merely to accompany Eurydice, at the
time of her espousals with Ptolemy, so exceedingly charmed that prince with
her beauty, that he married her; and so great was her influence over him, that
she caused him to prefer her son to all his issue by the other queens. In
order, therefore, to prevent all disputes and wars that might ensue after his
death, which he was sensible could not be very remote, as he was then eighty
years of age, he resolved to have him crowned in his own lifetime, intending,
at the same time, to resign all his dominions to him, declaring that to create
a king was more glorious than to be so one's self. The coronation of
Philadelphus was celebrated with the most splendid festival that had ever been
seen; but I reserve the description of it to the next section.

Ptolemy Ceraunus quitted the court and retired to Lysimachus, whose son
Agathocles, had espoused Lysandra, the sister of Ceraunus, both by father and
mother; and after the death of Agathocles, he removed to the court of
Seleucus, who received him with a goodness entirely uncommon, for which he was
afterwards paid with the blackest ingratitude, as will appear in the sequel of
this history.

In the first year of the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, which was also
the first year of the 124th Olympiad, the famous watchtower in the isle of
Pharos was completed. It was commonly called the Tower of Pharos, and has
been reputed one of the seven wonders of antiquity. It was a large square
structure, built of white marble, on the top of which a fire was constantly
kept burning, in order to guide vessels in their course, and cost eight
hundred talents. ^707 The architect of the edifice was Sostratus of Cnidus,
who, to perpetuate the whole honor of it to himself, had recourse to the
artifice I have mentioned before. ^708 Pharos was originally a real island, at
the distance of seven furlongs from the continent; but was afterwards joined
to it by a causeway like that of Tyre. ^709

[Footnote 707: The talent of Alexandria was nearly twice the value of the
Athenian talent.]

[Footnote 708: Vol. I. In the history of Egypt.]

[Footnote 709: Plin. l. xxxvi. c. 12. Strab. l. xvii. p. 790. Pult. Moral.
p. 1095.]

About this time the image of the god Serapis was brought from Pontus to
Alexandria. ^710 Ptolemy was induced by a dream to demand it, by an embassy,
of the king of Sinope, a city of Pontus, where it had been kept. It was,
however, refused him for the space of two years, till at last, the inhabitants
of Sinope suffered such extremities from a famine, that they consented to
resign this idol to Ptolemy for a supply of corn, which he transmitted to
them; and the statue was then conveyed to Alexandria, and placed in one of the
suburbs, called Rhacotis, where it was adored by the name of Serapis, and a
famous temple, called the Serapion, was afterwards erected for it in that
place. This structure, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, surpassed, in
beauty and magnificence, all the temples in the world, except the Capitol at
Rome. ^711 This temple had also a library, which became famous in all
succeeding ages, for the number and value of the books it contained.

[Footnote 710: A. M. 3720. Ant. J. C. 284. Tacit. Hist. l. iv. c. 83 et 84.
Plut. de Isid. et Osir. p. 361. Clem. Alex. in Protrept. p. 31.]

[Footnote 711: Amm. Marcell. l. xxii. c. 16.]

Ptolemy Soter had been careful to improve himself in polite literature,
as was evident by his compiling the life of Alexander, which was greatly
esteemed by the ancients, but is now entirely lost. In order to cultivate the
sciences, which he much admired, he founded an academy at Alexandria, called
the Musaeum, where a society of learned men devoted themselves to
philosophical studies, and the improvement of all other sciences, almost in
the same manner as those of London and Paris. To effect this, he began by
giving them a library, which was greatly increased by his successors. ^712 His
son Philadelphus left one hundred thousand volumes in it at the time of his
death; and the succeeding princes of that race enlarged it still more, till at
last it consisted of seven hundred thousand volumes. ^713

[Footnote 712: Arrian. in praef. Plut. in Alex. p. 691. Q. Curt. l. ix. c.
8. Strab. l. xvii. p. 793. Plut. in Moral. p. 1095.]

[Footnote 713: Euseb. in Chron.]

This library was formed by the following method. All the Greek and other
books that were brought into Egypt were seized, and sent to the Museum, where
they were transcribed by persons employed for that purpose. The copies were
then delivered to the proprietors, and the originals were deposited in the
library. Ptolemy Evergetes, for instance, borrowed the works of Sophocles,
Euripides, and Aeschylus, of the Athenians, and only returned them the copies,
which he caused to be transcribed in as beautiful a manner as possible, and he
likewise presented them with fifteen talents for the originals which he kept.
^714

[Footnote 714: Galen.]

As the Musaeum was at first in that quarter of the city which was called
Bruchion, and near the royal palace, the library was founded in the same
place, and it soon drew vast numbers thither; but when it was so much
augmented, as to contain four hundred thousand volumes, they began to deposit
the additional books in the Serapion. This last library was a supplement to
the former, for which reason it received the appellation of its Daughter, and
in process of time contained three hundred thousand volumes.

In Caesar's war with the inhabitants of Alexandria, a fire, occasioned by
those hostilities, consumed the library of Bruchion, with its four hundred
thousand volumes. ^715 Seneca seems to me to have been much displeased, when
speaking of the conflagration; he bestows his censures, both on the library
itself, and the eulogium made on it by Livy, who styles it an illustrious
monument of the opulence of the Egyptian kings, and of their wise attention to
the improvement of the sciences. Seneca, instead of allowing it to be such,
would only have it considered as a work resulting from the pride and vanity of
those monarchs, who had amassed such a number of books, not for their own use,
but merely for pomp and ostentation. ^716 This reflection, however, seems to
discover very little sagacity; for is it not evident beyond contradiction,
that none but kings are capable of founding those magnificent libraries, which
become a necessary treasure to the learned, and do infinite honor to those
states in which they are established?

[Footnote 715: Plut. in Caesar. p. 732. In Anton. p. 943. Amm. Marcell. l.
xxii. c. 16. Dion. Cass. l. xlii. p. 202.]

[Footnote 716: Quadringenta millia librorum Alexandriae arserunt, pulcherrimum
regiae opulentiae monumentum. Alius laudaverit, sicut Livius, qui elegantiae
regum curaeque egregium id opus ait fuisse. Non fuit elegantia illud, aut
cura, sed studiosa luxuria; imo ne studiosa quidem, quoniam non in studium,
sed in spectaculum comparaverunt. - Paretur itaque librorum quantam sit nihil
in apparatum. - Senec. de Tranquill. Anim. c. ix.]

The library of Serapion did not sustain any damage, and it was
undoubtedly there that Cleopatra deposited those two hundred thousand volumes
of that of Pergamus, which were presented to her by Antony. This addition,
with other enlargements that were made from time to time, rendered the new
library of Alexandria more numerous and considerable than the first: and
though it was ransacked more than once, during the troubles and revolutions
which happened in the Roman empire, it always retrieved its losses, and
recovered its number of volumes. In this condition it subsisted for many
ages, affording its treasures to the learned and curious, till the seventh
century, when it suffered the same fate with its parent, and was burned by the
Saracens, when they took that city, in the year of our Lord 642. The manner
by which this misfortune happened is too singular to be passed over in
silence.

John, surnamed the Grammarian, and a famous follower of Aristotle,
happened to be at Alexandria when it was taken: and as he was much esteemed by
Amri-Ebnol-As, the general of the Saracen troops, he entreated that commander
to bestow upon him the Alexandrian library. Amri replied, that it was not in
his power to grant such a request; but that he would write to the khalif, or
emperor of the Saracens, for his orders on that head, without which he would
not presume to dispose of the library. He accordingly wrote to Omar, the then
khalif, whose answer was, "That if these books contained the same doctrine
with the Koran, they could not be of any use, because the Koran was sufficient
in itself, and comprehended all necessary truths; but if they contained any
particulars contrary to that book, they ought to be destroyed." In consequence
of this answer, they were all condemned to the flames, without any farther
examination: and to that effect, were distributed into the public bagnios,
where, for the space of six months, they were used for fuel instead of wood.
We may from hence form a just idea of the prodigious number of books contained
in that library; and thus was this inestimable treasure of learning destroyed.
^717

[Footnote 717: Abul-Pharagius, in Hist. Dynast. IX.]

The Musaeum of Bruchion was not burned with its library. Strabo informs
us, in his description of it, that it was a very large structure near the
palace, and fronting the port; and that it was surrounded with a portico, in
which the philosophers walked. He adds, that the members of this society were
governed by a president, whose station was so honorable and important, that in
the time of the Ptolemies, he was always chosen by the king himself, and
afterwards by the Roman emperor: and that they had a hall where the whole
society ate together at the expense of the public, by whom they were supported
in a very plentiful manner. ^718

[Footnote 718: Strab. l. xvii. p. 793.]

Alexandria was undoubtedly indebted to this Musaeum, for the advantage
she long enjoyed of being the greatest school in all that part of the world,
and of having trained up a vast number of men famous in literature. It is from
thence in particular, that the church has received some of its most
illustrious doctors; Clemens Alexandrinus, Ammonius, Origen, Anatolius,
Athanasius, and many others; for all these studied in that seminary.

Demetrius Phalereus was probably the first president of this seat of
learning, but it is certain that he had the superintendency of the library.
Plutarch informs us, that his first proposal to Ptolemy was the establishment
of a library of such authors as treated of civil polity and government,
assuring him, that he would always supply him with such counsels as none of
his friends would presume to offer him. This was almost the only expedient
for introducing truth to princes, and showing them, under borrowed names,
their duties, as well as their defects. When the king had relished this
excellent advice, and measures were taken to procure all such books as were
requisite in this first view, it may easily be imagined that Demetrius carried
the affair to a much greater length, and prevailed upon the king to collect
all sorts of other books for the library we have mentioned. Who could better
assist that prince in the accomplishment of so noble and magnificent a plan,
than Demetrius Phalereus, who was himself a man of the first rank in letters,
as well as a very able politician?

We have formerly seen what inducements brought Demetrius to the court of
this prince. ^719 He was received with open arms by Ptolemy Soter, who heaped
a profusion of honors upon him, and made him his confidant. He consulted him,
in preference to all his other counsellors in the most important affairs, and
particularly those which related to the succession to the crown. This prince,
two years before his death, had formed a resolution to abdicate his crown in
favor of one of his children. ^720 Demetrius endeavored to dissuade him from
that design, by representing to him, that he must no longer expect to enjoy
any authority, if he divested himself of his dignity in such a manner, and
that it would be dangerous to create him a master. But when he found him
absolutely determined on his abdication, he advised him to regulate his choice
by the order prescribed by nature, and which was generally followed by all
nations; in consequence of which, it would be incumbent on him to prefer his
elder son by Eurydice his first wife. But the influence of Berenice prevailed
over this equitable and prudent advice, which in a short time proved fatal to
its author.

[Footnote 719: Plut. in Demet. p. 892. Diog. Laert. in Demet. Phal.]

[Footnote 720: A. M. 3719. Ant. J. C. 285.]

Toward the close of this year, died Ptolemy Soter, king of Egypt, in the
eighty-fourth year of his age, and two years after his resignation of the
empire to his son. ^721 He was the most able and worthy man of all his race,
and left behind him such examples of prudence, justice, and clemency, as very
few of his successors were desirous of imitating. During the space of nearly
forty years, in which he governed Egypt, after the death of Alexander, he
raised it to such a height of grandeur and power, as rendered it superior to
the other kingdoms. He retained upon the throne the same fondness of
simplicity of manners, and the same aversion for ostentatious pomp, as he
discovered when he first ascended it. He was accessible to his subjects, even
to a degree of familiarity. He frequently ate with them at their own houses,
and, when he gave any entertainment himself, he thought it no disgrace to
borrow their richest plate, because he had but very little of his own, and no
more than was necessary for his common use. When some persons represented to
him, that the regal dignity seemed to require an air of greater opulence, his
answer was, "That the true grandeur of a king consisted in enriching others,
not himself." ^722

[Footnote 721: A. M. 3721. Ant. J. C. 288.]

[Footnote 722: Plut. in Apoph. p. 181.]

 

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