Alexandria Also Had a “Daughter” Library

April 23, 2015



The daughter library, built by the Ptolemies to accommodate the surplus of volumes from the Great Library, was housed in the precinct of the Serapeum, the most famous of Alexandria’s temples, dedicated to Serapis, an immense marble god, and his cult. The Ptolemies created the god and cult so that Greeks and Egyptians would have a deity they could worship together.


            In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam tells us that as a child she toured its subterranean corridors, crypts, and cells:


            We were barred from some of the rooms: the chapels for ascetic worship and contemplation, the dungeon for those guilty of a sacrilege against the god, the living quarters for the monks, the refectories for the functionaries and servants, the vaults for the temple’s most precious treasures, the stalls and stables for its sacrificial animals, and the well-stocked arsenal to defend the precinct and its enormous wealth. Still, we were able to pick our way through the meeting halls and the kitchens with their soot-streaked walls, enormous hearths, bakeries, pantries, and wine cellars, each chamber a hive of activity dappled by the sputtering light of smoky, oil-fed torches and ripe with the smell of sweat on unwashed bodies.



            The temple area (but not the temple itself) accommodated over 100,000 volumes, and if, as some scholars claim, the collection of the Library of Pergamum also came to be housed there (according to legend, as a wedding gift from Marc Anthony to Cleopatra), then the number of volumes could have reached 300,000.


            (Please note: The Corinthian column in the photograph, Pompey’s Pillar, that towers high above the temple itself, was erected at that location in 297 CE, approximately 250 years after Miriam’s time.)



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