Famous People Who Worked at the Ancient Library of Alexandria

Sepia sketch of people inside the library of Alexandria.

Wikimedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

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. A general named Ptolemy was put 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 scepter and a Kalathos on his head. Cerberus stands beside him.

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.

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

01
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Euclid

Pencil sketch of Euclid.

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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.

02
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Ptolemy

Map depicting Terra Australis Ignota, Unknown Southern Land according to Claudius Ptolemaeus, Ptolemy, 2nd century A.D.

DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Contributor / Getty Images

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 (c. 90-168 A.D.) wrote an astronomical treatise known as the Almagest, a geographical treatise known simply as Geographia, a four-book work on astrology known as Tetrabiblios, and other works on assorted topics.

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

03
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Hypatia

Death of Hypatia of Alexandria pencil sketch in black and white.

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Hypatia (355 or 370 - 415/416 A.D.), 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.

04
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Eratosthenes

Eratosthenes teaching at the library of Alexandria.

mark6mauno / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Eratosthenes (c. 276-194 B.C.) is known for his mathematical calculations and geography. He was 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.

Source

  • McKenzie, Judith S. "Reconstructing the Serapeum in Alexandria from the Archaeological Evidence." The Journal of Roman Studies, Sheila Gibson, A. T. Reyes, et al., Volume 94, Cambridge University Press, March 14, 2012.