The Shores of Wisdom
The ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, served for centuries as a major institution for accumulating and disseminating the works of great scholars. A magnificent new library and cultural center, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is scheduled to officially open within a stone’s throw of the historic structure. In anticipation of that event, The Shores of Wisdom: The Story of the Ancient Library of Alexandria has also been published in an Xlibris version. This book recounts the history of the original library and its influence on Western thought and how it was built under the direction of Egyptian ruler Ptolemy I Soter and overseen by his successors in the Ptolemy dynasty.
Included are the stories of men and women whose fame was connected to the library. Demetrius of Phalerum, the orator and one-time ruler of Athens, was banished from court by Ptolemy II and probably poisoned on his orders. Euclid established his school of mathematics. Herophilus was the first surgeon to carry out post-mortems. Callimachus catalogued the library’s half-million scrolls and codices. Aristarchus came up with the heliocentric theory 1800 years before Copernicus. Archimedes invented the Archimedes screw.
The library’s scrolls included major works of scholars such as Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Theocritus. According to some histories, it was intentionally burned by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C. when he sacked the city, which was then in the hands of Cleopatra’s brother. The author disputes this, noting that Caesar had set fire to the Egyptian fleet, and most probably the flames tragically spread to portions of the library.
The Shores of Wisdom goes on to recount how for 700 years Alexandrian culture was enriched by contributions not only from scientists, mathematicians, poets, grammarians, and men of medicine, but also by Jewish and Pagan philosophers, including Philo Judeas, and early Christian theologians such as Clement and Origen. Described are the loss of scrolls and codices during repeated sackings of the city during the third century AD and subsequent destruction as a result of Christian crackdowns on heresy and paganism.
Nine hundred years of Greco-Roman domination of Alexandrian culture ended in 642 A.D., when the Arab general Amr Ibn Al As conquered Egypt for the Caliph Omar. According to some accounts, General Amr used the remaining books from the great library as fuel to heat Alexandria’s four thousand baths. However, the author maintains that it is unlikely that many great works were burned, as the volumes that had truly influenced Western culture had already been either destroyed or transferred to collections elsewhere in the world.
Derek Flower launched "The Shores of Wisdom" at the cultural department of the Egyptian Embassy in London.
Derek Flower was invited to speak at a book signing in the Borders book shop, Oxford Street, London W1.
Author interviewed by BBC International - Persian Service in view of the considerable interest by Iranian culture circles for the story of the Ancient Library of Alexandria.
Presentation of "The Shores of Wisdom" at the European Academy for the Arts, London, where Derek Flower talked about life and culture in ancient and modern Alexandria.
John Cabot University
The author was invited to give a talk about the world's first great culture centre, the Ancient Library of Alexandria and its modern revival in the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, H.E. the Egyptian Ambassador to Italy Nehad Ibrahim Abdel Latif attended.