Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

WHEN the Russian State Library was unable to return a rare book to Aberdeen University because it could not afford the postage, the British Council intervened. Inter-library loans have been a dodgy business ever since they were invented.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 Bc, his ramshackle empire fell apart, and the Macedonian generals he had left in charge of each area promptly turned themselves into autonomous kings. Ptolemy (Greek Ptolemaios) was in charge of Egypt at the time, and he established the line of Ptolemaic rulers there which lasted for some 300 years till Egypt became a province of Rome in 30 Bc (Cleopatra was the last, still without a millilitre of Egyptian blood in her veins).

Ptolemy decided to make his mark by establishing his new capital Alexandria as a centre of learning to rival Athens. He built a scientific and literary research centre (the Museum and the Library) and poured money into attracting the greatest scholars of the age. …

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