Geniuses of the Library of Alexandria

Famous people who worked at the ancient Library of Alexandria

Alexander the Great founded what would become the cosmopolitan, culturally rich, and wealthy city of Alexandria, in Egypt, at the end of the 4th century B.C. Following Alexander's death, his generals split the empire, with a general named Ptolemy in charge of Egypt. His Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Alexandria and the rest of Egypt until the Roman Emperor Augustus defeated its most famous queen (Cleopatra).

Note that Alexander and Ptolemy were Macedonians, not Egyptians. The men of Alexander's army were mainly Greeks (including Macedonians), some of whom settled in the city. In addition to the Greeks Alexandria also had a thriving Jewish community. By the time Rome took control, Alexandria was the greatest cosmopolitan area of the Mediterranean littoral.

The first Ptolemies created the learning center in the city. This center held a cult temple to Serapis (Serapeum or Sarapeion) with Alexandria's most important sanctuary, museion (museum) and a library. Which Ptolemy had the temple built is debatable. The statue was a draped figure on a throne with a sceptre and a Kalathos on his head. Cerberus stands beside him.

"Reconstructing the Serapeum in Alexandria from the Archaeological Evidence," by Judith S. McKenzie, Sheila Gibson and A. T. Reyes; The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 94, (2004), pp. 73-121.

Although we refer to this learning center as The Library of Alexandria or The Library at Alexandria, it was more than just a library. Students came from all over the Mediterranean world to learn. It cultivated several of the ancient world's most renowned scholars.

Here are some of the major scholars associated with the Library of Alexandria.

I'm including an indication of how I pronounce the names, but without using the very useful symbols found in phonetics. It is not the right way to pronounce these names, but some may find it useful, even with this disclaimer.

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Euclid (c. 325-265 B.C.) was one of the most important mathematicians ever. His Elements is a treatise on geometry that uses the logical steps of axioms and theorems to form proofs in plane geometry. People still teach Euclidean geometry.

One possible pronunciation of the name Euclid is Yoo'-clid. More »

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Planets According to Ptolemy
Andreas Cellarius (1661) the solar system according to Ptolemy of Alexandria. CC Flickr User Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL
This Ptolemy was not one of the rulers of ancient Egypt during the Roman era, but an important scholar at the Library of Alexandria. Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. c. 90-168) wrote an astronomical treatise known as the Almagest, a geographical treatise known simply as Geographia, a 4-book work on astrology known for the number of books as Tetrabiblios, and other works on assorted topics.

One possible pronunciation for the name Ptolemy is Tah'-leh-me.

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Elbert Hubbard, "Hypatia", in Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers, v.23 #4, East Aurora, New York : The Roycrofters, 1908. PD Courtesy of Wikipedia
Hypatia (A.D. 355 or 370 - 415/416), the daughter of Theon, a teacher of mathematics at the Museum of Alexandria, was the last great Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher who wrote a commentary on geometry and taught Neo-platonism to her students. She was brutally murdered by zealous Christians.

One possible pronunciation for the name Hypatia is: Hie-pay'-shuh. More »

Eratosthenes. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Eratosthenes (c. 276-194 B.C.) is known for his mathematical calculations and geography. The third librarian at the famous Alexandrian library, he studied under the Stoic philosopher Zeno, Ariston, Lysanias, and the poet-philosopher Callimachus.

One possible pronunciation for the name Eratosthenes is Eh-ruh-tos'-thin-nees. More »