WAS THE GREAT LIBRARY DESTROYED BY FIRE?

March 17, 2015

Maybe. Maybe not.

 

No one knows for sure, but according to several Roman writers, including Plutarch, who lived roughly during Miriam bat Isaac's time, a huge number of its precious volumes were destroyed by fire in 48 BCE during the Siege of Alexandria. Here’s their story.

 

Against the wishes of the Keeper of the Books and the Master of the Library, Cleopatra promised some one hundred books to her lover, Julius Caesar, after which the books were packed up and warehoused on the docks.

Caesar had come to Alexandria to mediate a dispute between Cleopatra and her brother. Letting no good deed go unpunished, Achillas, a powerful general of Cleopatra’s brother, organized an army 20,000 strong to mount an attack against Caesar and Cleopatra from the sea. To distract Achillas, the Roman countered by ordering his meager force of 3200 men to set fire to the Alexandrian fleet. Hastened by a driving wind, the fire soon engulfed not only the ships and grain depots but the warehouses in which the books were stored. So, according to Plutarch and others, it wasn’t the Library itself but the scores of priceless volumes warehoused on the docks that were destroyed.

 

Others argue that the books destroyed during the Siege were simply the account books and ledgers of the port. And so, in Chapter 24 of THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam, living a century after the Siege, can still take you inside the Great Library’s vaulted reading room. But to see what happened to her there, why her beloved tutor had to hustle her away, you have to read the book. To order, go to www.junetrop.com.

 

 

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Venture with Miriam into the claustrophobic underbelly of Alexandria at night.