Library of Alexandria
Library of Alexandria

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Library of Alexandria

Conclusion

Let us end, then, by lingering on the enduring symbolism of the library of Alexandria, usefully summed up in the reading by Alberto Manguel. What I take from his reflections is this: historically speaking, we may know very little about the nature of the library and what happened to it, but that doesn’t mean it is of no use to us when thinking about the ancient world, the nature of knowledge, or indeed the human condition itself. Manguel shows how meaningful the library can be as a symbol, even if it is not supported by concrete historical evidence; indeed, I think it is the very fact that the ‘real’ library is so elusive that makes it so powerful as a symbol. In this sense, ‘knowledge’ about the ancient world doesn’t necessarily mean only the historically verifiable facts and solid remains of material culture. As important as they are, they don’t amount to very much when it comes to the library of Alexandria – and yet, as we have seen, it’s something that assumes enormous importance in what we might call the historical imagination, through the stories that keep on being told about it. I hope that you, too, will have gained from this free course a keen sense of how to evaluate the gaps between what we think we know about antiquity and what the ancient evidence actually tells us, and to recognise that the stories that grow up in order to fill those gaps are interesting and important in their own right.

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