There is an ancient legend of a wisdom teacher, who had saved many of the oldest and most important scrolls of the Library at Alexandria, as it was burning down. These particular scrolls had been recorded by the eldest scribes and safeguarded against those who might wish to destroy them. It was because they were from a previous oral tradition. thousands of years before and a time when the elder leaders were women. Tired on her long road’s journey, with a heavy burden, a broken heart and a bag of scrolls, she saw a Roman soldier riding his horse heading away from the burning buildings towards her.
Grandmother stopped him on the road and said young man: “I have important things in my bag, but they are too heavy for me to carry. Would you take them to my friend who is a few villages away, so my things remain safe?” He nodded out of respect, and she gave him directions of where to take them. He loaded the bag into his pack and was quickly continued on his way.
About two hours later, the soldier had tossed her bag of scrolls into the river and continued on his long journey. The bag was filled with the most important ancient scrolls of Alexandria, but now… they were gone forever.
She whose voice was burned…
Once home to the massive Pharos lighthouse, one of the seven wonder of the Ancient World, the Mediteranian seaport of Alexandria was ransacked and taken over by rape and killing by Alexander the not so Great around 330 BCE. After his death in 323 BCE, the Empire was left in the hands of his military generals, with Ptolemy I Soter taking Egypt and making Alexandria his own personal capital in 320 BCE. Formerly a small fishing village on the Nile Delta, Alexandria became the seat of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt and developed into a great intellectual and cultural center of men’s control.
Origins of the Ancient Library
Demetrius organized the contruction of the Temple of the Muses or the Musaeum (museum). There were three Libraries of Alexandria and around 295 BCE, the scholar and orator Demetrius of Phalerum, an exiled governor of Athens, convinced Ptolemy I Soter to establish the Library. Demetrius envisioned a library that would house a copy of every book in the world. The Museum was a cultural center with shrines for each of the nine muses and their mother Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne is where we get the word mnemonic from, which was the Greek word for “memory.” The Temple of the Muses was to be the first part of the library complex at Alexandria in an area known as the Bruchion or palace quarter, in the Greek district of the city. An often quoted figure for the ancient Library holdings at its peak is half a million documents, though whether this refers to the amount of books or the number of papyrus scrolls is unclear.
The infamous destruction by fire of the Library of Alexandria, with the consequent loss of the most complete collection of ancient knowledge ever assembled, has been a point of heated debate for centuries. What exactly happened to this amazing storehouse of ancient grandmother’s wisdom and knowledge, and who was responsible for its burning? The greatest catastrophe of the ancient world and especially for women.
The prime suspect in destruction of the Library is Julius Caesar. Caesar’s occupation of the city of Alexandria in 48 BCE, found himself in the Royal Palace, hemmed in by the Egyptian fleet in the harbor. As one of madness, he had his men set fire to the Egyptian ships and the fire got out of control and spread to the parts of the city nearest the shore, which included warehouses, depots and some arsenals. But that is just a fictional truth, Caesar wanted total domination much like Alexander and its generally believed that after his death, it was in fact Julius Caesars who destroyed the Library.
Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca, quoting from Livy’s History of Rome, written between 63 BCE and 14 CE, says that 40,000 scrolls were destroyed in that fire started by Caesar. Greek historian Plutarch (who died 120 CE) mentions that the fire destroyed ‘the great Library’ and Roman historian Dio Cassius (c. 165 – 235 CE) mentions a warehouse of manuscripts being destroyed during the conflagration.
In his book The Vanished Library, Luciano Canfora interprets the evidence from ancient writers to indicate the destruction of manuscripts stored in warehouses near the port waiting for export, rather than the great Library itself. The great scholar and stoic philosopher Strabo, was working in Alexandria in 20 BC and from his writings it is obvious that the Library was not at that time the world-renowned centre for learning it had been in previous centuries.
In 391 CE, as part of his attempt to wipe out women’s wisdom which had evolved into the later paganism, Emperor Theodosius I officially sanctioned the destruction of the Serapeum, or Temple of Serapis at Alexandria. The destruction of the Temple was carried out under Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, and afterwards a Christian church was built on the site.
The last suggested perpetrator of the crime is the Caliph Omar. In 640 CE the Arabs under General Amrou ibn el-Ass, captured Alexandria after a long siege. According to the story, the conquering Arabs heard about a magnificent library containing all the knowledge of the world and were anxious to see it. But the Caliph, unmoved by this vast collection of learning, apparently stated ‘they will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous.’
The manuscripts were then gathered together and used as fuel for the 4,000 bathhouses in the city. In fact there were so many scrolls that they kept the bathhouses of Alexandria heated for six months. These incredible facts were written down 300 years after the supposed event by Christian polymath Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286 CE). However, while the Arabs may have destroyed a Christian library at Alexandria, it is almost certain that by the mid 7th century CE the Royal Library no longer existed. This is made clear by the fact that no mention is made of such a catastrophic event by contemporary writers such as Christian chronicler John of Nikiou, Byzantine monk and writer John Moschus and Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Alexandria was often a volatile city during the Roman period of Caesar and also in the violent struggle between the occupying forces of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra and the Roman Emperor Aurelian in 270-71 CE. Aurelian eventually recovered the city for Rome from Queen Zenobia’s armies, but not before many parts of Alexandria had been devastated again, and the Bruchion district, which contained the palace and the Library, were apparently ‘made into a desert’.
The city was again had great destruction a few years later by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Such repeated destruction spread over several centuries, along with neglect of the Library’s contents as people’s opinions and affiliations changed, means that the ‘catastrophe’ that ended the ancient Library at Alexandria was gradual, taking place over a period of four or five hundred years until eventually everything was forgotten from men’s abuse of her great city.
The last recorded Director of the great Library was scholar and mathematician Theon (c. 335 – c. 405 CE), father of the female philosopher Hypatia, brutally murdered by a Christian mob in Alexandria in 415 CE.
In the patriarchal religious teachings, the world was created in 7 days and night and in the Greek version, the Goddess Mother Mnemosyne, mother of the nine muses, consort to Zues, birthed all 9 muses in 9 nights and days. Creation stories such as these are from the greatest victories to destroy her-story in short impacting and violent conquering – over and over until completely destroyed.
People wonder why the word “feminism / female leadership” is so rejected and attacked so deeply over the last few centuries, sometimes even resulting in a woman’s death… Everyone has a past life remembered (or not), and everyone has a memory of conquering and destroying which surfaces when they begin to heal on a very deep spiritual level, past their own love and light into their own personal karma. Healing is very painful work to free one’s soul from its past, past memories into remembrance and even that is painful.
Art by Italian artist Federica Bordoni – Trento, Italy
Ancient Alexandria from the website: www.ancient.eu