Youth Guard Library of Alexandria During Egyptian Protests

2 Feb

While protests rage in Egypt, the country’s youth have banded together to protect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, according to The Guardian.  Imagine a country where people want to loot a library and it’s the young people who organize themselves to protect this historic building and its millions of books.  It says a lot about the value they place on knowledge and literature.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina—which can shelve 8 million books and holds, and among other facilities holds a planetarium, four museums, and a manuscript-restoration laboratory—was inaugurated on October 16, 2002.  However, this expansive cultural center stems from the rich legacy of the Royal Library of Alexandra, also called the Ancient Library of Alexandria.

In 331 BC, the Greek king Alexander the Great founded the small town of Alexandria along the shores of the Mediterranean.  It became an incredibly important city, and for almost a thousand years Alexandria was Egypt’s capitol.  The library was founded by Demetrius of Phaleron in 3rd century BC, during the Ptolemiac dynasty.  Demetrius of Phaleron was an Athenian who was forced to flee to Alexandria because the citizens viewed him as a pro-Macedonian pawn and then Demetrius I of Macedon came to power and, ironically, forced him out.  When he had lived in Athens, Demetrius of Phaleron was friends with the dramatist Menander and when he moved to Alexandria,  Demetrius himself began to write prolifically.  Among his writing subjects was literary criticism.  Alexandria at that time was run by the Macedonian general Ptolemy I Soter.  This Greek rule of Alexandria perhaps allowed Demetrius of Phaleron to establish the Ancient Library of Alexandria, which he built in the style of the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s educational institution The Lyceum.

Demetrius of Phaleron’ Ancient Library of Alexandria did more to further world knowledge and cultural understanding than any other library in the world, according to research, because, unlike most libraries, the Ancient Library of Alexandria specifically sought out books from other parts of the world.  Book publishers today are always talking paper availability and price, but back in ancient times Egypt was one of the few countries that could easily reproduce documents because of its access to papyrus.  The Library pulled books off of boats that docked along the Mediterranean and made copies of their manuscripts.  Furthermore, the libraries attended book fairs in Greece and collected new books.  Ptolemy III Euergetes paid a huge sum of money for The Library to “borrow” (he never actually returned them) from Greece the original manuscripts of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles.

Unfortunately, Julius Caesar burned the library down in 48 BC.  It wasn’t until 2002 that Alexandria finally opened Bibliotheca Alexandrina to stand in for the Ancient Library of Alexandria.  Today, in the wake of violent conflict in Egypt, Bibliotheca Alexandrina stands another day because the youth of the country want it to.

Ismail Serageldin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, posted this statement on January 30, 2011, to the main page of the library’s website:

Events deteriorated as lawless bands of thugs, and maybe agents provocateurs, appeared and looting began.  The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria…. The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.

It is said that the following words were carved into a wall at the Ancient Library of Alexandria:

The place of cure for the soul.


5 Responses to “Youth Guard Library of Alexandria During Egyptian Protests”

  1. queen February 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Amazing article. The young people of Alexandria are courageous and inspiring.

  2. Cary February 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Loved reading about this just after writing about the value of engaging in others’ stories. I love the spirit of those engaged in protecting and valuing the treasure of the written word.

  3. just a guy February 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    “Cure for the soul” — I like that!


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