One of the popular conceits about the Library of Alexandria is the perception that the unfortunately destroyed archives contained in the dusty scrolls the answers to mysteries that will never be solved and secrets lost to the ages.
But, really? Maybe in a comic book universe a lost scroll held the secrets of eternal youth and spells leading to other dimensions, but not in our reality. In the real world the Library of Alexandria was a repository of all the knowledge that civilization had recorded up to that point.
Now think about that for a moment.
How smart were people of the third century AD? Not very. Culturally, they were barely out of the stone age. Human life was cheap, fire scared them and they saw magic and ghosts everywhere and they thought flies were born out of mud puddles. For all the advances in plumbing and infrastructure the denizens of that era were pretty primitive. After all, how smart do you have to be to figure out that if you poop where you live then horrible disease will result? Even forest animals know to eliminate outside the den. The library was a good idea in concept but probably failed in practice. Knowledge wasn't that important to most people then. The pressures of daily life took precedence. People didn't need to go to the library to research when to plant corn, they knew that already and didn't have time for learning.
The destruction of the library was certainly a crime against humanity but the idea that it held all the answers to arcane mysteries is doubtful. What library would store for public or scholarly perusal the method for making Greek fire, gunpowder or changing base metals into ones more precious? If there were tomes in existence that were full of dangerous ideas then I really doubt the average scholar would have had access to any of them. Imagine some high school kids checking out the Name of God scroll as a laugh and speaking the creator's name backwards thus unmaking the universe. Scary thought.
As an experiment try gathering up the collected knowledge of any modern city today and any archivist would be appalled at the pile of incorrect entries to wade through to get to the facts. The main sources of information would come from the misinformed, stupid, well-meaning but wrong, misanthropic and those with skewed agendas. The royal library was probably full of questionable material. In content the Library of Alexandria was probably somewhat similar to many current on line resources with poorly-vetted or wrongly accepted information that is taken as a definitive source.
Did the Library of Alexandria hold the answers to the many secrets of the universe? No. But I bet it had a great section devoted to tasty dung beetle recipes.
Tags: Knowledge Question everything because everything you know is wrong