The Idea of the Library in the Ancient World

The Idea of the Library in the Ancient World

Yun Lee Too

Language: English

Pages: 250

ISBN: 0199577803

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In The Idea of the Library in the Ancient World Yun Lee Too argues that the ancient library was much more than its incarnation at Alexandria, which has been the focus for students of the subject up till now. In fact, the library is a complex institution with many different forms. It can be a building with books, but it can also be individual people, or the individual books themselves. In antiquity, the library's functions are numerous: as an instrument of power, of memory, of which it has various modes; as an articulation of a political ideal, an art gallery, a place for sociality. Too indirectly raises important conceptual questions about the contemporary library, bringing to these the insights that a study of antiquity can offer.

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Christian creeds (ad 150–350), and, Wnally, the Alexandrian school (ad 350–642).34 In this narrative, the library eventually meets its demise at the hands of the Muslims, when Amir ordered the books from the library to be burned so that the city baths could be heated (from Ibn Al-Qifti History of Wise Men).35 But this thread takes us far away from the pagan library of Greco-Roman antiquity, which is rather more our concern, and it may in any case be the construction of a contemporary theology

the narrative regarding the appointment of Aristophanes of Byzantium who as librarian at Alexandria establishes the need to supplement the textuality constituted by the conventional library. In the preface to book 7 of De Architectura Vitruvius (X. 1st cent. bc17) states that, after deciding to set up a rival library to Pergamum’s, Ptolemy—Vitruvius does not specify which one—establishes literary contests dedicated to the Muses and to Apollo. He seeks educated judges (iudices litterati) to

encourage the good to aspire to Wne conduct. The Library seems to have oVered portraits of Quintus Scaevola, who governed Asia fairly (37.5.1); Mucius Scaevola, who righted corruption (37.5.2–4); Lucius Asyllius, who rose from a humble position to become the governor of Sicily to right wrongs there (37.8.1–4); and Marcus Livius Drusus, who combines oratorical skill with fairness (37.10.1 V.). The Library is not just a catalogue of cruelties and injustice visited by individuals upon other

Nepotianus, and even Apuleius (by his own account) had the ability to recall vast tracts of text. We have no account or dramatization of their actual recollections. Inside and Outside the Library 187 It is the purpose of Photius’ work to enact memory and in the process to stimulate the recreation of the library for Tarasios by ensuring that he will read the works. Metadata ensure that the Library of Photius is a very diVerent type of construction from the library up until that point. The

their memories to writing, for then they would simply be transcribing the original works, but have a version in their memories. The transcription would also be incredibly vast. There is, moreover, an element of competition between the actual library and the walking library— which is the more authoritative, the library or the scholar? Where individuals are less successful at recalling works, such as the dinner guests at Larensis’ party in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae, the library is only very

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