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One of the most important questions for any student of the ancient world to address is 'how do we know what we know about antiquity?' Whether we're thinking about urban architecture, or love poetry, or modern drama, a wide range of factors shape the picture of antiquity that we have today. This free course, Library of Alexandria, encourages you to reflect upon and critically assess those factors. Interpreting an ancient text, or a piece of material culture, or understanding an historical event, is never a straightforward process of 'discovery', but is always affected by things such as translation choices, the preservation (or loss) of an archaeological record, or the agendas of scholars.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- understand the ancient and modern significance of the Library of Alexandria
- critically assess the evidence in the different accounts of its destruction
- understand the ways in which different modern contexts and ideologies shape our interpretations of historical events.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Approaching the Library of Alexandria
- 2 The universal library?
- 3 The destruction of the library
- 4 Reimagining the library
- Andy Potts, ‘The internet’s librarian’
- Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night
- Plutarch, Life of Caesar 49
- Dio Cassius, Roman History 42.38.2
- Ammianus Marcellinus, Histories 22.16.13–14
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- Gregory Bar Hebraeus/Abu’l Faraj, Chronicum Syriacum
- Keep on learning
- Further reading
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Library of Alexandria
This OpenLearn free course encourages you to reflect upon and critically assess the factors that shape what we know about antiquity, as well as offering some insight into how different approaches to antiquity – whether through texts, material culture, or modern receptions – can work together. It is important to be aware of how studying the ancient world is always, at heart, an interdisciplinary endeavour, a fact which the case study in this free course demonstrates particularly well. You will explore the ancient Library of Alexandria, a great institution of learning and scholarship founded by the Ptolemaic rulers of Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Monday, 11th January 2016
Last updated on: Monday, 11th January 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
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