It is said that the ancient library of Alexandria contained some 400,000 scrolls. The Greek physician Galen, who lived in the second century, reported that all ships entering Alexandria’s harbor were required to give up their books immediately for copying.

The library was eventually destroyed, perhaps by Caesar’s invading armies, or set on fire after falling into disrepair in the fourth century. Some of its books probably survived in collections in Constantinople, Andalusian Spain, and in the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad. But many of its books were lost forever, including works by Euclid, Aristophanes, and Euripides. On its shelves one might have found Homer’s third epic poem, The Margites, which is now lost forever.

Alexandria was one of world’s greatest libraries. According to legend, an inscription over the shelves read:


ψυχῆς ἰατρείον

“The place for the cure of the soul.”


(A view of Alexandria, including the famed lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world. Image courtesy New York Public Library.)

Top image of the Admont Abbey library, Austria © Jorge Royan /, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.