Libraries & Culture 36.3 (2001) 471-472
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The Library of Alexandria:
Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World. Edited by Roy MacLeod. London and New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2000. xii, 196 pp. $55.00. ISBN 1-86064-428-7.
This collection of essays is indicative of a renewed interest in the ancient library of Alexandria, an interest that may wax and wane but never entirely disappears. One impetus behind the renewed interest is the scheduled opening in 2001 of the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, an "ultra-modern library and conference center, developed under the auspices of UNESCO and the Egyptian government, and rising on the shoreline of Alexandria" (xi). The volume, in fact, is a result of efforts made by a Sydney, Australia, chapter of the Friends of the Alexandria Library "to share recent work on the Library's significance" (xi).
The ten essays are authored by accomplished Australian scholars, mainly classicists, classical archaeologists, and historians. The broad array of their interests includes ancient philosophy and religion; bibliography; history of libraries; Mesopotamian, Iranian, and classical archaeology; conservation of antiquities; ancient comparative historiography; the conflict of paganism and Christianity; and Patristics. With this variety, it is no surprise to find the volume comprehensive in its approach to the theme without necessarily being exhaustive.
There are no new revelations about the famous library in these well-written and researched essays. Eight of them focus directly or indirectly on the library at Alexandria, though two (essays 6 and 8) do not discuss the library at all. The book begins with an introductory essay by the editor (Roy MacLeod) on the role played by the Alexandrian library in history. His endnotes are laden with helpful bibliography, though a significant omission is Diana Delia's comprehensive introduction to the topic, "From Romance to Rhetoric: The Alexandrian Library in Classical and Islamic Traditions" (American Historical Review 97 [December 1992]: 1449-67). In addition to his excellent introductory essay, MacLeod provides some brief but helpful comments (10-12) on the nine essays that follow. These are divided into two sections: "Part I. Alexandria in History and Myth" (essays 1-4) and "Part II. Scholarship in the Alexandrian Manner" (essays 5-9).
The essays are followed by a ten-page bibliography (181-90) and a six- page index (191-96). The bibliography is helpful, providing a good selection of relevant works. The index provides access solely to the names of persons, countries, and literary works; there is no opportunity to access material on subjects such as the Serapeum. Extensive undifferentiated indicators (e.g., s.v. "Rome") and incorrect syndetic references (e.g., s.v. "Khorsabad, Assyria") detract from the overall quality of the volume.
A few very brief comments on the essays themselves provide a glimpse into the nature of the work. The first essayist (D. T. Potts) ties the Alexandrian library to its predecessors "by reviewing the essential points of its ancient Near Eastern antecedents" (11). [End Page 471] Though he does not directly discuss how the Alexandrian library may have been the recipient of librarianship passed on by predecessor libraries in the Near East, the basic outlines of that reception are clear enough. Next, Wendy Brazil examines the city of Alexandria itself with Strabo's Geography in hand and adds background history where needed. The third essay (Robert Barnes) focuses directly on the library and what the ancient sources tell us about it. The fourth submission (R. G. Tanner) discusses the various views on whether the private library of Aristotle was the beginning corpus for the Alexandrian library.
John Vallance leads off Part II with an essay in which he "challenges the received view that Alexandria dominated the medical world of medical scholarship" (11). He denies that medical studies were a part of the research effort at the museum. The next essay (J. R. Green) demonstrates how the theater of Alexandria and the theater of Paphos shared a common architectural style, with the former being "a likely source of...