Alexandria’s Library - Books of Magic and Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Alexandria’s Library
Books of Magic and Witchcraft

Once upon a time, the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt is believed to have been the largest depository of written work in the ancient world. It’s estimated that at its peak it held between 400,000 and 700,000 scrolls, including Aristotle’s own personal collection donated by one of his students. Allegedly, the Library possessed a copy of every book then in existence. How was this accomplished? Theft.

The Library belonged to the Pharaoh, whose word was law. All visitors to Alexandria were required to surrender any books in their possession. Copies would be made and the copy returned to the rightful owner, while the original was retained by the Library. Visitors didn’t even have to enter the city. The Library was authorized to remove any books (scrolls) found aboard ships docking at this major port city on the Mediterranean; once again, copies were made and given to the owner.

All that remains of the Alexandria Library is information regarding its policies and the names of some of its titles, a little taste of what was lost. In addition to books of general interest, the Library possessed vast stores of metaphysical works from ancient temple collections throughout Egypt, Greece, Judea, Libya, Mesopotamia, and Nubia.

The Library is believed to have been founded during the third century BCE by Pharaoh Ptolemy II. There are various versions of how the library was lost. The version most commonly circulated until recently suggested that during Julius Caesar’s invasion of Alexandria, the Egyptian fleet was burned with the fire spreading to city and library. Much of the old royal city of Alexandria ended up underwater following a series of earthquakes. Only recently has technology been developed to enable archeologists to study these ancient submerged ruins. The old city has been recreated and mapped more accurately than ever before. It’s now believed that Caesar’s military actions did not destroy the library itself; instead it’s believed that warehouses filled with books, perhaps intended for export, near the Alexandria docks were burned instead.

Before modern archeology, much of what was known about ancient history was filtered through the eyes of Christian monks who translated, wrote, and edited history texts. Booklovers themselves, they may have preferred the notion that Caesar was responsible for this waste and destruction. (Even reports that still hold Caesar responsible acknowledge that attempts were made to rebuild or further enhance the Library. Marc Antony allegedly gave his lady-love, the scholar pharaoh Cleopatra, a gift of 200,000 books for what was essentially her library.)

The Royal Library was finally shut and destroyed during the late fourth century when all other Pagan temples were destroyed. Theophilus, the second Bishop of Alexandria, requested authorization from the Emperor in 391 to destroy all aspects of Paganism and that was the end of the Library. Exactly what happened to the Library is unclear, however the Temple of Serapis was destroyed by a Christian mob that burned all texts found within the shrine.