Imatges de pÓgina

isms, orators, sophists, doctors, medical philosophers, historians, etc. Ptolemy II. (Philadelphus) commissioned every captain of a vessel to bring him MSS., for which he paid so royally that many forgeries were speedily put on the market. Attalus and Euinenes, kings of Pergamus, in north-west Asia Minor, established a rival library in their capital, and prosecuted the search for books with such ardour that the library of Aristotle, bequeathed to Theophrastus and handed on to Neleus of Scepsis, had to be buried to escape the hands of their rapacious collectors, only to find its way, however, to Alexandria at last. Philadelphus accordingly issued an order against the exportation of papyrus from Egypt, and thus the rival collectors of Pergamus had to be content with vellum ; hence some say, pergamene, parchemin, parchment. The commerce of MSS. was carried on throughout all Greece, Rhodes and Athens being the chief marts.

Thus Alexandria became possessed of the most ancient MSS. of Homer and Hesiod and the cyclic poets; of Plato and Aristotle, of Æsclıylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and many other treasures.

Moreover, large numbers of translators were employed to turn the books of other nations into Greek. Some of the sacred books of the Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Elamites, Babylonians, Chaldæans, Romans, Phænicians, and Syrians were translated, and the septuagint version of the Hebrew bible was added to the number, not without miracle, if we are to believe the legend recounted by Josephus.

Even by the time of Ptolemy III. (Energetes) the Bruchion could not contain all the books, and a fresh nucleus was established in the buildings of the Serapeum, on the other side of the city, but not in the temple itself with its four hundred pillars, of all of which Pompey's Pillar alone remains to us.

What a wealth of books in so short a time! Even in the times of the first three Ptolemies, we read of 400,000 rolls or volumes. What then must have been the number in later years? Some say they exceeded a million rolls and papyri. Let us, however, remember that a "book” or “roll” was generally not a volume as with us, but rather the chapter of a work. We read of men writing “six thousand books”! The rolls had to be comparatively sinall, for the sake of convenience, and a work usually had as many rolls as it contained chapters. We must, therefore, bearing this in mind, be on our guard against exaggerating the size of the great Library.

The Serapeum, however, soon contained as many books as the Bruchion, and all went well till 47 B.C., when the great fire which destroyed Cæsar's fleet, burnt the Bruchion to the ground. An imaginative chronicler, Lucian, asserts that the glow of the conflagration could be seen as far as Rome!

So they had to rebuild the Bruchion, and put into the new building the famous library of Pergamus, which the city had bequeathed to the Senate, and which the infatuated Mark Antony handed over to Cleopatra, last of the Ptolemies.

When the glory of Alexandria began to depart, its library began to share its fate. Julian, the emperor (360-363) took many volumes to enrich his own library; when the Christian fanatics in 387 stormed the Serapeum, they razed the temple to its foundation, and nothing of the library was left but the empty shelves. Finally in 641 Amru, general of Omar, second in succession to the Prophet, fed the furnaces of the 4,000 baths of Alexandria for full six months with the Bruchion's priceless treasures. If what the rolls contained were in the Korân, they were useless, if what they taught were not in the Korân, they were pernicious; in either case burn thein ! Some Mohammedan apologists have lately tried to whitewash Omar; but he is as little to be excused as the Christian barbarians who devastated the shelves of the Serapeum.

THE MUSEUM. Such was the written material on which the scholars, scientists and philosophers of Alexandria had to work. And not only was there a library, but also a kind of university, called the Museum, dedicated to the arts and sciences, and embracing among other things an observatory, an amphitheatre of anatomy, a vast botanical garden, an immense menagerie, and many other collections of things useful for physical research.

It was an institution conceived on a most liberal plan, an assembly of savants, lodged in a palace, richly endowed with the liberality of princes, exempt from public charges. Without distinction of race or creed, with no imposed regulations, no set plan of study or lecture lists, the members of this distinguished

[ocr errors]

assembly were left free to prosecute their researches and studies untrammelled and unhainpered. In theirranks were innumerable poets, historians, geometricians, mathematicians, astronomers, translators, critics, commentators, physicians, professors of natural science, philologists, grammarians, archæologists, in brief, savants of all sorts laying the first foundations of those researches which have once more in our own time, after the lapse of centuries, claimed the attention of the world. True, the Museum of Alexandria inade but faltering steps where we to-day stride on with such assurance; but the spirit and method was the same, feeble compared on our strength, but the saine spirit now made strong by palingenesis.

Very like was the temper then, in the last three centuries before the modern era, to the temper that hias marked the last three centuries of our own time. Religion liad lost its hold on the educated; scepticism and “science" and misunderstood Aristotelian philosophy were alone worthy of a man of genius. There were " emancipated women” too, “dialectical daughters," com moli enough in those latter days of Greece.

Had not, thought these schoolmen, their great founder, Alexander, conquered the political world by following the advice of his master Aristotle? They, also, would follow the teaching of the famous Stagirite, who had mapped out heaven and earth and all things therein, and soon they too would conquer what else of the world there was to be conquered, both natural and intellectual. It seemed so probable then, so simple and logical. It seems to be probable even now to some minds !

So they set to work with their commenting, and criticizing, their philologizing, their grammar, and accentuation, their categorizing and cataloguing. They set to work to measure things; being pupils of Euclid, they attempted to measure the distance of the sun from the earth, and Eratosthenes, by copper armillæ, or circles for determining the equinox, calculated the obliquity of the ecliptic, and by further researches calculated the circumference of the earth; he also mapped out the world from all the books of travel and earth-knowledge in the great Library. In mechanics, Archimedes solved the mysteries of the lever and hydrostatic pressure which are the basis of our modern hydrostatics and statics.

Hipparchus too thought out a theory of the heavens, upside down in fact, but correct enough to calculate eclipses and the rest, and this three hundred years later, under the Antonines, was revamped by a certain Ptolemy, a commentator merely and not an inventor, the patent now standing in his name. Hipparchus was also the father of plane and spherical trigonometry.

But enough has already been said to give us an idea of the temper of the times, and it would be too long to dwell on the long list of famous names in other departinents, encyclopædists and grammarians like Callimachus and Aristophanes; poets such as Theocritus.

Thus with the destruction of the building in the fire of Cæsar's Aleet and with the Roman conquest the first Museum came to an end. It is true that a new Museum was established in tlie reign of Claudius (41-50 A.D.), but it was a mere shadow of its former self, no true hoine of the muses, but tlie official auditorium of the wearisome writings of an emperor-scribbler. Claudius had written in Greek, magis inepte quam ineleguntur, as Suetonius remarks, eight books of a history of Carthage, and twenty books of a history of Etruria. He would, therefore, establish a Museum and have his precious writings read to sycophant professordom once a year at least. Thus passed away the glory of that incarnation of scholarship and science; it was a soulless thing at best, marking a period of unbelief and scepticism, and destined to pass away when once man woke again to the fact that he was a soul.


And wliat of the schools of so-called philosophy during this period? They, too, were barren enough. The old sages of Greece were no more. Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had passed from the sight of mortals. The men who followed them were for the most part word-splitters and phrase-weavers. Dialectic arguers of the Megaran school, Eristics or wranglers, Pyrrhonists or doubters, Cyrenaics who believed in the senses alone as the only avenues of knowledge, pessiinists and annihilationists, a host of later Sceptics, Cynics, Epicureans, Academics, Peripatetics, and Stoics. Epicureans who sought to live comfortably, Stoics who, in opposition to Plato's doctrine of social virtues, asserted the solitary dignity of human individualism.

After the three great reigns of the first Ptolemies, Alexandria fell morally together with its rulers; for one hundred and eighty years “sophists wrangled, pedants fought over accents and readings with the true odium grammaticum," till Cleopatra, like Helen, betrayed her country to the Romans, and Egypt became a tributary province. So far there had been no philosophy in the proper sense of the word ; that did not enter into the curriculum of the Museum.

[ocr errors]


THE DAWN-LAND. Hitherto Alexandria had had no philosophy of her own, but now she is destined to be the crucible in which philosophic thought of every kind will be fused together, and not only philosophy, but more important still religio-philosophy and theosophy of every kind will be poured into the melting pot, and many strange systems and a few things admirably good and true will be moulded out of the matter cast into this seething crucible. So far the Grecian genius has only thought of airing its own methods and views before the east. Into Egypt, Syria, Persia, into India even, it has fitted and sunned itself. It has taken many a year to convince Greek complacency that the period of world-genius is not bounded on one hand by Homer and on the other by Aristotle. Slowly but remorselessly it is borne in upon Hellenic ingenuity that there is an antiquity in the world beside which it is a mere parvenu. The Greek may despise the Orientals and call them mere “barbar” or Barbarians, because they are strangers to the Attic tongue, but the Barbarian is to laugh last and laugh best after all, for he has a carefully guarded heirloom of wisdom, which he has not yet quite forgotten. The Greeks have had the tradition, too, but have now forgotten it; they have replaced Orpheus by Homer, and Pythagoras and the real Plato by Aristotle. Their mysteries are now masonic and no longer real, except for the very very few.

And if the Greek despised the Barbarian, the Barbarian, in his turn, thought but little of the Greek. “You Greeks are but children, O Solon," said the wise priest of Saïs to the Attic lawgiver. “You Greeks misunderstand and change the sacred myths

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »