Ancient Egyptian library rivaled a modern residential university

By | November 18, 2009 have just returned from Egypt where modern medicine established its roots in the fourth century B.C., but where all its ancient grandeur has been shed by the 21st century A.D. With the exception of the Nile Valley, it doesn't appear that anything could take root today as the windswept dry and sandy desert extends forever to the east and to the west.

Modern Egypt is a police state, with police visibly in charge of almost all the functions of life. There are tourist police and museum police and hotel police and airport police — every variation with the notable exception of traffic police. Cairo traffic, for example, almost defies description. There are ever-changing, three lanes of traffic on every well-marked, two-lane highway and the occasional cross-walks and rare traffic lights are paid no heed by motorists and pedestrians alike. I would say the greatest health risk must be being a pedestrian attempting to cross the street!

The visit was absolutely fantastic and no one should go through life without seeing the pyramids.

But back to medicine.

The ancient Egyptians had a great understanding of human anatomy through their practice of mummification. However, this was not adapted to medical practice until the beginning of the great medical school of Alexandria. The city itself was founded by Alexander the Great after he defeated the Persians in the fourth century B.C., and advanced south through modern Lebanon, Israel and Gaza to invade Egypt.

He selected the site for the city that bears his name but never saw it built. After his untimely death, his empire was divided up between his generals. Egypt and Alexandria went to his half brother Ptolemy Soter, a provincial Macedonian warlord.


It was remarkable and extraordinary that this soldier built one of the greatest academic institutions in history. It was called the House of Muses (from which we derive the word “museum”) and contained all the elements of a modern residential university. It comprised four schools — mathematics, letters, astronomy and medicine. The building eventually accumulated the largest library in the ancient world, with hundreds of thousands of volumes. Within just a couple of generations its discoveries included the accurate measurement of the diameter of the earth, the cylinder and piston, the pump and one-way valve, the science of hydraulics and a system of planetary motion.

… At its peak, the Alexandria school conducted hitherto forbidden human dissection, studied and timed the pulse with a portable water clock invented by a physicist and recognized that the heart was a pump. These advances in medicine were breathtaking at the time, but could not be sustained. Toward the end of the second century, things started to fall apart with squabbling and hair-splitting. With its reputation waning and the exodus of scientists from the oppressive local ruler, the school closed.

In 48 B.C., Julius Caesar burned the Egyptian fleet in Alexandria harbor while fighting Pompey. The fire spread to destroy the library, but Caesar did not think to mention the incident in his memoirs. The intellectual gem of antiquity was gone forever.

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2 thoughts on “Ancient Egyptian library rivaled a modern residential university

  1. kebap

    เคบับเนื้อ เคบับไก่ สำเร็จรูปแบบหมักด้วยสูตรต้นตำรับจากตุรกี พร้อมส่ง และอุปกรณ์ ประกอบด้วย เตาเคบับเป็นแก๊ส ไฟฟ้า
    พร้อมสูตรโดยเชฟชาวตุรกีเป็นผู้สอน สามารถประกอบกิจการได้เลยสนใจติดต่อ ออกบูทงานปาร์ตี้ งานแต่งงาน งานวันเกิด งานปีใหม่ งานเทศกาลต่างๆ
    จำหน่าย Ramazan Döner kebap

    1. Xeno Post author

      Anyone care to translate? The possibilities are frightening. Is this the recipe for an Atom Bomb? The phone number of a hooker? An announcement of plans by aliens to eat everyone under 5 ft tall next Tuesday? Or even worse, is it…. spam? I may just delete it.

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