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Library of Alexandria

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Author Topic: Library of Alexandria  (Read 1075 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« on: September 21, 2010, 01:17:57 pm »

Arabic sources for the destruction of the library
In 642, Alexandria was captured by the Moslem army of Amr ibn al `Aas. There are five Arabic sources, all late, which mention the fate of the library.
•   Abd'l Latif of Baghdad (1162–1231) states that the library of Alexandria was destroyed by Amr, by the order of the Caliph Omar.[26]
•   The story is also found in Al-Qifti (1172-1248), from whom Bar Hebraeus copied the story.[27]
•   The longest version of the story is in the Syriac Christian author Bar-Hebraeus (1226-1286), also known as Abu'l Faraj. He translated extracts from his history, the Chronicum Syriacum into Arabic, and added extra material from Arab sources. In this Historia Compendiosa Dynastiarum[28] he describes a certain "John Grammaticus" asking Amr for the "books in the royal library". Amr writes to Omar for instructions, and Omar replies: "If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them."[29]
•   Al-Maqrizi (1364 – 1442) also mentions the story briefly, while speaking of the Serapeum.[30]
•   There is also a story in Ibn Khaldun (1332 - 1406) which tells that Omar made a similar order about Persian books.[31]
The story was still in circulation among Copts in Egypt in the 1920's.[32]
There is no agreement among scholars as to whether this story should be believed, and never has been.[33]
Edward Gibbon tells us that many people had credulously believed the story, but "the rational scepticism" of Fr. Eusèbe Renaudot(1713) did not.[34]
Alfred J. Butler himself, Victor Chauvin, Paul Casanova and Eugenio Griffini did not accept the story either.[20]
Bernard Lewis has argued that this version, though untrue, was reinforced in mediaeval times by Saladin, who decided to break up the Fatimid caliphate's collection of heretical Isma'ili texts in Cairo following his restoration of Sunnism to Egypt, and will have judged that the story of the caliph Umar's support of a library's destruction would make his own actions seem more acceptable.[35] Kelly Trumble[36] and Roy MacLeod[37] reject the story also.
However Luciano Canfora included the account of Bar Hebraeus in his discussion of the destruction of the library without dismissing it.[38]

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