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Alexander’s spectacular campaigns not only won for him an empire stretching from his Greek homeland, Macedonia, to the western border of India, but they united most of the Greek people. Prior to his conquests, they’d lived in autonomous and fiercely independent city-states, each with its own culture, politics, and resources.

The empire was divided into three parts after Alexander died in 323 BCE. Ptolemy I, one of Alexander’s generals, took over the Egyptian portion. With Egypt contributing its grain to feed the empire and enrich its treasury, he could focus on building a reputation for culture.

Ptolemy’s most important contribution was establishing the Library of Alexandria as a figurative temple to the Muses, the goddesses of art, knowledge, and science. And then he and his successors acquired the most comprehensive repository of Greek manuscripts in the Ancient World. And so, thanks to Alexander’s conquests, his city came to be regarded as the capital of knowledge and learning.

Miriam herself was familiar with the work of the Library’s scholars. When, in THE DEADLIEST FEVER, she first approaches an inn from a dung-tufted lane, she describes it this way: “The cracks in the ancient wood of its once-blue door reminded me of the map in the Great Library that Hector, my tutor, had once shown me of the arteries and veins Erasistratus had drawn from the dissections and vivisections he’d done on criminals.”

But she was more interested in the single candle that glowed in the inn’s greasy second-floor window. To find why, click here.

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