Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Library of George the Patriarch of Alexandria (356 - 361 CE)

George of Laodicea was Patriarch of Alexandria from 356 until December 24th, 361.  Little is known of his life other than the fact that he traveled widely, succeeded in amassing a considerable fortune and then - after arriving some time earlier in Alexandria - was asked to by the anti-Athanasius faction in the city to sit in the Episcopal throne.  One of the most interesting things about George was that we keep hearing about what an amazing library he collected over the course of his life.

I happened to be at my parents house this week and stumbled upon a great number of Loeb editions that I left here long ago. I was reading Volume Three of the collection of surviving extracts from the Emperor Julian and was struck by repeated mention of the pagan crusader's desperate attempt to get his hands on George's library. Letter 23 is addressed to Ecdicius the current Prefect of Egypt and the Emperor writes:

Some men have a passion for horses, others for birds, again, for wild beasts; but I, from childhood, have been penetrated by a passionate longing to acquire books. It would therefore be absurd if I should suffer there to be appropriated by men whose inordinate desire for wealth gold alone cannot satiate, and who unscrupulously design to steal these also. Do you therefore grant me this personal favour, that all the books which belonged to George be sought out. For there were in his house many on philosophy, and many on rhetoric; many also on the teachings of the impious Galileans. These latter I should wish to be utterly annihilated, but for fear that along with them more useful works may be destroyed by mistake, let all these also be sought for with the greatest care. Let George's secretary (Porphyrinus?) take charge of this search for you, and if he hunts for them faithfully let him know that he will obtain his freedom as a reward, but that if if he prove in any way whatever dishonest in the business he will be put to the test of torture. And I know what books George had, many of them, at any rate, if not all; for he lent me some of them to copy, when I was in Cappadocia, and these he received back.

There are a number of points that are interesting here. The first is of course that most of our surviving MSS of Clement of Alexandria strangely come from Cappadocia. While the surviving codex is associated with the bishop Arethas, a student of Photius, I wonder whether the collection here might have gone back to the time of George.

As we shall see shortly Julian's initial reference to this greedy George not only stealing gold but plundering books comes from his historical sacking of the library of the Serapium. But there seems to be confusion regarding the great amount of books that George had already amassed previous to this robbing of the great pagan temple of Egypt and those he had previously in Cappadocia. Not only does Julian testify to the existence of Christian books in George's possession in Caesarea but Origen himself is thought to have come into contact with Symmachus in the city a century earlier.

In any event, Julisn later writers to George's secretary Porphyrius:

The library of George was very large and complete and contained philosophers of every school and many historians, especially among these, numerous books of all kinds by the Galileans. Do you therefore make a thorough search for the whole library without exception and take care to send it to Antioch. You may be sure that you will yourself incur the severest penalty if you do not trace it with all diligence, and do not by every kind of enquiry, by every kind of sworn testimony and, further, by torture of the slaves, compel, if you cannot persuade, those who are in any way suspected of having stolen any of the books to bring them all forth.
(Ep. 38)

For my regular readers I want to make clear that this library is the closest we ever get to any knowledge of the Marcionite NT canon, the Gospel of the Hebrews and quite possibly - Secret Mark.

And now some background or context from some articles I have pieced together from other sources on the internet.

In 360 CE George orders Artemius, the prefect of the city to ransack the Serapium. (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Bk III. Ch. 3). We are told that George “brought an army into the holy city [Alexandria] and the Prefect of Egypt [Artemius] seized the most sacred shrine of the God [the Serapeum] and stripped it of its statues and offerings and of all the ornaments.” (Julian, Letters, ‘To the Alexandrians’). Did that include the library in the colonnade? Perhaps. Julian will write to Ecdicius, the new Prefect of Egypt, and ask him to confiscate George’s large private library and send it to him at Constantinople (Julian, Letters, 'To Ecdicius'). Julian knows that George has a lot of books because they had known each other earlier in life. So George is a book-lover and, since he ordered the temple ransacked, he might very well have taken the books in the Serapeum for himself. It is certain that the books were no longer there when Ammianus Marcellinus, later writes of its library in the perfect tense [fuerunt]. The temple “once had” many books. The perfect tense in Latin denotes an action that is over and done with.

Paul Orosius, writing some forty years afterwards (ca.AD 417), will say that “in some of the temples there remain up to the present time book chests, which we ourselves have seen, and that, as we are told, these were emptied by our own men in our own day when these temples were plundered.” Perhaps he is referring to George and his looting of the Serapeum in AD 360. Notice that he does not say the books were destroyed, only that they were grabbed by looters. It was then not uncommon even for emperors and governors to loot older institutions in order to furnish their own endowments.

Six months later, while on his way to Persia, Julian will write to Porphyrius that that George’s book collection was “very large and complete and contained philosophers of every school and many historians.” Julian, Letters, 'To Porphyrius'). We don’t know whether Julian ever received George’s books. They may have reached the capital after Julian left for Antioch and were incorporated into the Imperial Library.

The earliest reference to a library at the temple is made by the Christian father Tertullian at the end of the second century CE who mentions in passing that the library of the Ptolemies is stored there and that it contains copies of the Old Testament which local Jews go to hear read [Tertullian The Apology 13]. This is yet another retelling of the story from the Letter of Aristeas but the library has been moved to the Serapeum. Likewise, John Chrysostom was haranguing the people of Antioch in 379 CE when he said that the temple still held copies of the Greek Old Testament which he claims Ptolemy II Philadelphus deposited there [John Chrysostom First Homily Against the Jews 6, 1].

It seems highly suspicious that when Aristeas, Philo, and Josephus, in short every author up until the Serapeum was rebuilt, tell the story of the translation of the Septuagint, they do not mention a library at the temple but claim the translation was under the auspices of the Royal Library. However, immediately after the rebuilding, Tertullian and then John Chrysostom say that this is where the library was and even think it was set up by the Ptolemies. It therefore seems possible that there was no library in the Serapeum until the Roman rebuilding of the temple. It may have been that it then contained what was left of the Royal Library because it was not unusual for an Emperor to remove treasures from an old institution to adorn his new foundation. On the other hand Tertullian could just be confused about the Ptolemy connection and Chrysostom misinformed. Both men were Christian apologists and so might not be considered the most reliable source of historical facts. Instead they were just telling an old story to make a religious point. Perhaps, realising that the Royal Library no longer existed, they decided to move the library that the Septuagint was supposed to have been deposited in to an institution that was still operating.

John Tzetzes is often said to state that the Ptolemies founded the Serapeum library [Canfora op. sit. p138], but unfortunately he never actually mentions the Serapeum by name, instead referring to an outer or public library. Notwithstanding that the Serapeum library was open to the public (as most libraries appear to have been), Tzetzes was writing some fifteen hundred years after the event and he is not backed up by any more ancient source. This means that he should not be used as evidence here and indeed, two much earlier sources contradict him completely.

Firstly, Orosius, as mentioned, recounts the destruction of the Royal Library by Caesar. However, he goes on to say that there was no other library in Alexandria at the time of Caesar’s visit and that later libraries (including, one presumes, the Serapeum library) were set up in an attempt to emulate the wisdom of the ancients [Paulus Orosius op. sit. 6, 15].

Secondly there is the evidence of Epiphanius of Salamis who is one of the most revealing ancient sources on the subject of the Royal Library and Serapeum. Writing in about AD400, he tells the Aristeas story again at length, mentioning how the Septuagint was deposited in the Royal Library which he says was the first to be founded [Epiphanius op. sit. 11]. Later, he mentions that the Serapeum, or daughter library, was founded two hundred and fifty years later and that the works of Symmachus, Aquila and Theodotian were deposited there [ibid 11]. These three characters are all second century AD translators of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek which would be consistent with the Roman date for the foundation of the Serapeum Library. However, the reference to two hundred and fifty years is anomalous as it does not fit either the traditional Ptolemaic date or the later Roman one.

Fraser attempts to compromise slightly between Tzetzes and Epiphanius by looking at the archaeological evidence [Fraser op. sit. p323]. As the temple was founded by Ptolemy III Euergetes, he suggests that this might be what Epiphanius meant by ‘later’. Thus, the Serapeum Library is both founded by the Ptolemies but later than the Royal Library. He further gives Rowe’s identification of a chamber in the Ptolemaic temple that could have held a library rather more credence than Rowe’s own circumspection justifies. Despite Fraser’s efforts, Tzetzes is so late and allows so much time for confusion over a subject which, as Ammianus demonstrates, the ancients were already confused about, that it is practically worthless as evidence.

There is one other source that must be mentioned here but only in order to dismiss it. Plutarch relays that the 200,000 volumes of the library of Pergamon were given by Mark Antony to his lover Cleopatra [Plutarch Life of Antony 58]. Edward Gibbon [Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chapter 28, (footnote 41)] is the not the last to suggest that this gift might have been to restock the Royal Library after the losses caused by Antony’s compatriot Julius Caesar. However, quite apart from the massive exaggerated in number of volumes, reading Plutarch in context makes it clear that he is merely reporting a list of slanders against Antony made by Calvisius, one of Octavian’s party, and the reader is not actually supposed to believe any of it. As Plutarch says, “Calvisius, however, was looked upon as the inventor of most of these stories.”

It would be reasonable to conclude that a major library was founded at the Serapeum during its rebuilding in the second century CE and that this library became confused in the minds of various writers with the Royal Library of the Ptolemies that had disappeared over two centuries before.

As mentioned above, the Serapeum ceased to be when a Christian mob tore it down to the foundations under the leadership of the orthodox patriarch Theophilus after he had received word from the Emperor Theodosius. The year this happened is generally fixed to AD391 and it is one of the best attested events in late antiquity.

The earliest description of the sack of the Serapeum was almost certainly one by Sophronius, a Christian scholar, called On the Overthrow of Serapis [Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 134] and it is now lost. Then there is Rufinus Tyrannius, an orthodox Latin Christian who spent many years of his life in Alexandria. He arrived in 372 CE and whether or not he was actually present when the Serapeum was demolished, he was certainly in the city at around the same time. Late in life, he made a rather free translation of Eusebius's History of the Church into Latin and then added his own books X and XI taking the narrative up to his own time. It is in book XI that one finds the best source for the events at the Serapeum which he describes in detail [Rufinus Tyrannius History of the Church 2, 22]. He seems to regret the passing of the Serapeum, but puts the blame squarely on the local pagans for inciting the Christian mob.

The story is repeated with various flourishes by three later Christian chroniclers. Socrates Scholasticus wrote a History of the Church himself early in the fifth century that continued on from that of Eusebius. His is more detailed and in Greek rather than Rufinus’s Latin. It contains a chapter about the destruction of the Serapeum [Socrates Scholasticus op. sit. 5, 16] which acknowledges that the deed was ordered by the Emperor, that the building was demolished and that it was later converted to a church. His passage about the cross-shaped hieroglyphics found in the temple gives some idea of how Christianity turned pagan symbolism to its advantage.

The histories of Sozomen and Theodoret were written a little later and cover a similar period. They are pleased to report in detail the Serapeum's destruction [Theodoret History of the Church 5, 22; Hermias Sozomen History of the Church 7, 15] and Theodoret says that the wooden idols of Serapis were burnt. Both of these histories are heavily dependent on Socrates but do include details from other sources.

As well as these four Christians, the pagan writer Eunapius of Antioch included an account of the sack of the Serapeum in his Life of Antonius [Eunapius Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists ‘Antony’] who, before he died in 390 CE, had prophesied that all the pagan temples in Alexandria would be destroyed (not a desperately surprising contingency at the time). Eunapius wants to show how accurate Antonius’s prediction was to be. As well as being a pagan, Eunapius was vehemently anti-Christian and spared no effort in making Theophilus and his followers look as foolish as possible. His narrative is laced with venom and sarcasm as he describes the sack of the temple as a battle without an enemy.

But the strange thing about all of these accounts is that none of them contain the merest hint of a library or any books. Even Eunapius, who is a scholar and would certainly have mentioned the iniquity of the loss of a large number of books is silent. Those of a conspiratorial frame of mind who might suggest Christian writers expunged the details of their shameful act should note that Christians of this and later periods would have felt neither any shame nor a need to cover up the destruction of a pagan or Jewish book collection. Besides, Socrates reports the murder of the philosopher Hypatia by a Christian mob even though he is clear that this is something he regrets occurred [Socrates Scholasticus op. sit. 7, 15] so it is hard to see why he would omit the destruction of a library.

Hypatia of Alexandria, the female mathematician, has become a romantic heroine, a feminist icon and an archetypal victim of religious intolerance. Charles Kingsley of The Water Babies fame published his novel, Hypatia, in 1853 and it was this that started her modern cult. However the sources for her life are scanty to say the least. Socrates is embarrassed to have to report her murder [Socrates Scholasticus op. sit. 7, 15], John of Nikiou revels in it [John of Nikiou Chronicle 84, 87] and the Suda [Suda ‘Hypatia’] gives a few more details that need to be treated with the same caution as everything else in that Byzantine encyclopaedia. The Christian bishop Synesius of Cyrene was a pupil of hers and despite her paganism wrote her adoring letters asking for advice [Synesius of Cyrene Letters 10, 15, 16, 33, 81]. Modern myths about her include that she was a Librarian of the Great Library and that she worked at the Museum. Neither have any basis in fact or the sources and there is nothing to connect her to the Royal or Serapeum libraries at all.

There is also the question of how total the destruction of the temple was. The sources agree it was razed to the foundations but there were ruins still in evidence until the Middle Ages [Butler op. sit. p402 (note) quotes Makrîeî’s Account of Egypt]. Rufinus, by his use of the present tense suggests the outer boundaries survived [Rufinus Tyrannius op. sit. 2, 23]. Evagrius, reporting events of 451 CE, says that a mob took shelter in the ‘old Serapeum’ [Evagrius History of the Church 2, 5] although this might simply refer to the fortified acropolis on which the temple once stood. With this evidence in mind, it is likely that the outer colonnades did survive while the temple within was torn down.

It can safely be said that the story of Christians destroying the Serapeum library was originated by Edward Gibbon [Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chapter 28] in the late eighteenth century when he read too much into his sources and this story has been repeated ever since. Alexandria Rediscovered by Jean-Yves Empereur, Cosmos by Carl Sagan and From the Holy Mountain by William Dalyrymple are just three recent books to combine this myth with the earlier loss of the Royal Library while even scholars such as Luciano Canfora and Alfred Butler have tried to interpret the evidence to support Gibbon.

The Serapeum library was probably founded as an adornment to the new Roman temple. Although there are no details as to its size, it would have been quite large enough to be confused with the earlier Royal Library. The various descriptions of the temple are highly significant as one, from Aphthonius, has the library in situ, while another, from Ammianus Marcellinus, says it is gone. Both these sources will be examined in some detail.

Aphthonius of Ephesus was a fourth century writer whose Progymnasmata is a textbook on rhetoric with worked examples. He describes the acropolis of Alexandria as his example of how to put together a rhetorical description [Aphthonius op. sit. 12]. He does not actually call the huge edifice on top of the acropolis the Serapeum but one can assume that this is what he was talking about. There were no other buildings present, his words tie in with the available archaeology [Rowe op. sit. contains plans of the temple layout] and the grandeur of what he describes is consistent with other writings [Rufinus Tyrannius op. sit. 2, 23; – Ammianus Marcellinus op. sit. 22, 16, 15]. Of the library he says:

Chambers are built within the colonnades. Some are repositories for the books, open to those who are diligent in philosophy and stirring up the whole city to mastery of wisdom.[Aphthonius op. sit. 12]

Aphthonius’s description has caused a good deal of confusion. Parsons has allowed himself to be convinced that the library was not actually part of the Serapeum [Parsons op. sit. p370] but this is because he does not seem to realise that the colonnades were part of the temple complex. More surprisingly, Butler claims Aphthonius does not mention the temple itself and so visited after the Christian destruction [Butler op. sit. p416]. In fact the Progymnasmata mentions that “Before one comes to the middle of the court there is set an edifice with many entrances, which are named after the ancient gods” which can only be the pagan temple.

A definitive date for this description would be extremely helpful. Aphthonius was a pupil of Libanius of Antioch [Kennedy Greek Rhetoric Under the Christian Emperors p60] who started to teach in that city after AD350 and died in 393 CE. However, it is unclear whether Aphthonius saw the temple himself or if he is relating something second hand. For this reason, even if one knew the date at which the Progymnasmata itself was written one could not date the actual description of the Serapeum with certainty. One can only say it dates from before the Christian destruction in 391 CE and also before Ammianus’s visit (probably shortly after 363 CE) because when he arrived, the library described in the Progymnasmata was no longer there.

Ammianus describes the temple in glowing terms in his Roman History and says of the library:

In here have been valuable libraries and the unanimous testimony of ancient records declares that seven hundred thousand books, brought together by the unremitting energy of the Ptolemies, were burned in the Alexandrine War when the city was sacked under the dictator Caesar.[Ammianus Marcellinus op. sit. 22, 16, 15].

He is of course wrong about Caesar who never went near the Serapeum library. It probably did not even exist at the time and Ammianus, like other writers, is confusing it with the Royal Library of the Ptolemies. But whatever his confusion, the fact is that by the time of his visit, the Serapeum contained no library worth mentioning. This is further confirmed by the silence, pointed out above, of all the chroniclers of the temple’s final destruction. Much has been made about Ammianus using a plural form of bibliotheca with claims that he thought there was more than one library [Canfora op. sit. p135]. In fact, the use of the plural is purely idiomatic and does not suggest separate institutions – simply one library made up of many sections or rooms.

The date of Ammianus’s visit is also hard to pin down but he appears to have gone on his travels after leaving the army at Antioch in AD363 during the reign of Jovian. One can fairly conclude that some time between the visits of Aphthonius and Ammianus, the Serapeum Library disappeared. Where did it go? The answer is that it was most likely taken to a different institution, probably Christian, like the books that had resided in the temples visited by Orosius in Alexandria which he reports were removed in his own time.[Paulus Orosius op. sit. 6, 15]

It happens that in the case of the disappearance of the Serapeum Library there is one suspect who had the means to acquire it, certainly would have wanted it, was believed to have similar goods about his person and fits the time scale perfectly. The man in question was George of Cappadocia and this is the case against him.

The Emperor Constantius II was sympathetic towards the heresy of neo-Arianism and after he had deposed the orthodox Christian patriarch of Alexandria, George of Cappadocia was appointed in his stead. George was also a 'heretic' so one should not be surprised that the orthodox Christians hated him. But so too did the pagans who he treated so badly that in 361 CE, as soon as his protector Constantius was dead, they brutally murdered him [Socrates Scholasticus op. sit. 3, 2; Hermias Sozomen op. sit. 4, 7]. The new Emperor was Julian, also a pagan, who berated his fellows in the name of Serapis for the deed while acknowledging they were provoked when George “…brought an army into the holy city and the Prefect of Egypt seized the most sacred shrine of the God and stripped it of its statues and offerings and of all the ornaments”[Julian Letters ‘ To the Alexandrians’]

Did this clearing out of the Serapeum (for the context makes clear that this is the temple referred to) involve the removal of the library? It may well have done because at much the same time Julian writes to the new Prefect of Egypt, one Ecdicius (the old one, Artemius having been executed for sacking the temple [Ammianus Marcellinus op. sit. 22, 11, 2]), and asks him to send George’s large private library on to him at Constantinople [Julian op. sit. ‘To Ecdicius’]. This suggests at least that George was a bibliophile and, given he ordered the temple ransacked, he might have liked the library for himself. It further shows he had enough books to come to the notice of the Emperor himself. Julian already knew that George had a good few of them because they had known each other earlier in life

It must have been a lot of books because six months later Julian writes again, on his way to war with Persia, this time to one Porphyrius. He says that George’s book collection was “very large and complete and contained philosophers of every school and many historians.” [ibid. ‘To Porphyrius’] It is impossible to be sure whether or not Julian ever received the books he asked for or what happened to them. Perhaps they arrived in Constantinople after his departure for Antioch and were incorporated into the Imperial Library there. On the other hand, the Suda, quoting John of Antioch, mentions that the Emperor Jovian destroyed Julian’s library at the Temple of Hadrian in Antioch [Suda ‘Jovian’]. For various reasons, including the silence of contemporary pagan writers Ammianus Marcellinus and Libanius who were both in Antioch at the time, this story cannot be relied upon. However, taken as a whole the case of George and Julian seem to supply the best lead as to what happened to the Serapeum Library.[source]

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