Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern MindThe Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent introduction to an amazing time and place. Knowing only a very little bit about Alexandria before reading this book: founded by Alexander the Great and the exotic scene of Cleopatra's dramatic life, I was overwhelmed by the discoveries and innovations achieved by the citizens of this city.

From the introduction, "Alexandria was the greatest mental crucible the world has ever known, the place where ideas originating in obscure antiquity were forged into intellectual constructs that far outlasted the city itself. If the Renaissance was the 'rebirth' of learning that led to our modern world, then Alexandria was its original birthplace. Our politics may be modeled on Greek prototypes, our public architecture on Roman antecedents, but in our minds we are all the children of Alexandria."

Towards the end of the book, I was introduced to Hypatia, the 5th-century mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher whose murder marks for many the end of classical antiquity and the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life. Much as Cleopatra's reign represented a last chance for an independent Egypt, Hypatia's Platonist school at Alexandria was the last gasp of Alexandria's remarkable melting pot of ideas where followers of the Greek philosophers, Jews and Christians studied and debated. Hypatia was brutally murdered by Coptic monks who were followers of Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria.

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