"Oh for poet - for beacon bright
To rift this changeless glimmer of dead gray
To spirit back the Muses, long astray
And flush Parnassus with a newer light"

Ptolemy 1 was on of Alexander the Great's favourite generals. After Alexander's death, Ptolemy seized Egypt as his share of the divided empire and he became the founder of the Ptolemic dynasty that ruled Egypt for three hundred years. Around 290 Ptolemy, an educated man who enjoyed the company of artists, philosophers, poets and other writers, established the Museum and Library in Alexandria which were to make fame for that city. Ptolemy decreed that copies be made of all the books of the world and the writings of all the nations. Ptolemy 11 improved upon the example of his father, inviting as guest's famous poets, critics, scientists, philosophers and artists. He made the capital beautiful with architecture in the Greek style and, during his reign, Alexandria became the literary and scientific capital of the Mediterranean.

When the Ptolemies built an institute of higher learning called the Mouseion, or Temple of the Muses, in Alexandria, they not only created a great centre of literature and science but also rescued Greek literature from decay. The preserved the classical works of Greek literature and provided a sacred site where one could be with the muse. The Mouseion boasted a roofed walkway, an arcade of seats, and a communal dining room for scholars, rooms for private study, residential quarters and lecture halls and theatres. Its great hall, suitable for meetings and conferences, its arcaded walks and vast dining room all facilitated exchanges between scolars. It enabled a very special kind of communion, an opportunity to break bread together. So that they might devote all their time to study, members of staff and scholars were subsidised by the institution itself and paid no taxes. They received free meals and accommodation, good salaries and a host of other amenities, including servants.

The Pharaoh appointed a priest as the administrator of the Museum and a seperate Librarian was responsible for the collection. Over 1000 scholars lived in the Museum. They carried out new scientific research, published, lectured, performed the first systematic study of Greek literature, edited, critiqued, and collected al Greek classics and also gathered translations of Assyrian, Persian, Jewish, Indian and other nations' literature having nearly a million works in its holdings during the late Ptolemic period. The museum was the cradle of modern science, of rhetoric, philosophy, medicine, anatomy, geometry, geography and astronomy, The art, literature and learning of Alexandria greatly influenced Rome, the other pole of the Mediterranean basin. The Roman poets Catullus, Propertius, Ovid and others drew inspiration from the Egyptian fountainhead.

No one is sure what the great institution looked like but the Greek geographer Strabo described it as part of a richly decorated complex of buildings and gardens. The library stood for at least 300 years after its foundation, but strangely, there are few facts and many theories about the cause of its destruction and disappearance, and certainly even about the century in which its demise took place. Some historians believe that in AD 30 the library was party lost in fire and finally destroyed by an earthquake. Others claim that it was burned to the ground in 48 BC, when Egyptian ships attacking Julius Caesar's troops were set on fire and the flames were carried the library by a north wind.

Another story is that, with the decline of interest in the library, manuscripts were gradually used as fuel for heating the city; another that fanatical Christians, worried by the pagan writings stored in the library, spread the rumour that gold was buried on the site; the library would thus have been gutted by searches for its treasures. The Encyclopedia Britannica says Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, probably destroyed the libraries buildings.

The loss of the wealth of Alexandria's learning must be one of the great calamities of the ancient world for the most complete collection of all Greek and Near Eastern literature was lost in one great conflaguration. The enormity of the loss is illustrated by accounts of some 700,000 rolls being destroyed by fire in the Mouseion when flames spread from the Egyptian Fleet.

Fortunately all has not been lost. In the words of Athenaeus of Alexandria "And concerning the number of books, the establishment of libraries and the collection of the Hall of Muses, why need I speak, since they are all in mankind's memories?"

Here, within the sanctuary of the House of the Muse and the Lemurian Abbey mankind's memories are rekindled and burn brightly. Lemuria and The House of the Muse capture the spirit of the Mouseion and while institutions like this thrive, as new travellers come to the door, bearing candles of light and hope, Ptolemy's extraordinary beacon remains alight.

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Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work