Ὅπου ὁ Bagnall δείχνει μιὰ ἐναλλακτικὴ θεωρία γιὰ τὸ τέλος τῆς βιβλιοθήκης τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρειας, ἡ ὁποία (θεωρία) δὲν κέντρισε ποτὲ τὴν φαντασία ὅσων –ἱστορικῶν καὶ μή– σκέφονται τὴν ἱστορία μὲ ὅρους στιγμιαίων τρομακτικῶν καταστροφῶν σὰν ἐκείνων στὶς ταινίες τοῦ Χόλυγουντ. Ὑποστηρίζει ὅτι ἡ βιβλιοθήκη παρήκμασε καὶ χάθηκε λόγῳ ἔλλειψης ἐνδιαφέροντος γιὰ τὴν ἀντιγραφὴ τῶν παπύρων, ποὺ φθείρονταν γρήγορα στὴν Ἀλεξάνδρεια, κι ὄχι ἐπειδὴ κάποια ὁμάδα ἢ κάποιος αὐτοκράτορας ἔκαψε τὰ βιβλία.
Nothing in the Library’s history has quite inflamed the imagination so much as its destruction. But how was it destroyed? This is a murder mystery with a number of suspects, each at least with opportunity and means. The most popular candidate has been Julius Caesar, whose operations in 48 b.c. in the harbor of Alexandria are often blamed for setting fire to the library near the shore. The turbulent political history of the third century of our era also offers some possibilities, including the emperors Caracalla, Aurelian, and Diocletian, all of whom did significant damage in Alexandria. The anti-Christian party insists that it was the mob of monks responsible for the destruction of the Serapeum in 391, who wiped out classical learning. The pro-Christian, anti-Muslim sentiment can believe the stories that blame instructions given by the caliph to Amr, the Arab conqueror of Egypt, to feed the books to the fires in 642, but these originate centuries after the fact and are surely fiction.
What is less commonly recognized is the existence of what a film about brittle books some years ago called “slow fires.” Papyrus is a good material, acid free and highly durable. It can last for hundreds of years under good conditions. But Alexandria hardly represented ideal conditions. It has a Mediterranean climate, not a Saharan one, with humidity enough to be detrimental to books. No papyri have survived there from antiquity to the present day, unlike in drier desert areas in Egypt. Books deteriorate also with use, and who is to say that there were no mice or insects in the great library? These certainly were present in archives even in drier parts of Egypt. We have plenty of evidence for papyrus rolls remaining in use for a century, and some for survival as long as two or even three hundred years. But that is about the limit, as far as we can see. The likelihood is that by the reign of Tiberius relatively little of what had been collected under the first three Ptolemies was still usable. Even without hostile action, then, the Library, or Libraries, of Alexandria would not have survived antiquity. Indeed, any library almost certainly would have been a sorry remnant well before late antiquity, unless its books were constantly replaced by new copies, with the rolls being supplanted by codices in the fourth century. But there is no evidence that any such replacement went on in Alexandria, nor any indication that the imperial Roman government provided any book acquisition budget to the Library. That does not mean there was none, but it is not likely to have been on the scale needed to maintain a truly great library. It is hard to give up villains, but it looks as if we must abandon the search for some individual or small group to blame. The disappearance of the Library is the inevitable result of the end of the impetus and interest that brought it into being and of the lack of the kind of sustained management and maintenance that would have seen it through successive transitions in the physical media by means of which the texts could have been transmitted.
Ἰδιαίτερα ἐνδιαφέρουσα εἶναι ἡ ἀντιστροφὴ τῆς κυρίαρχης –ἀπὸ τὸν Γίββωνα – συλλογιστικῆς, σχετικὰ μὲ τὴ σχέση «Μεσαίωνα» καὶ «καταστροφῆς τῆς Βιβλιοθήκης». Δὲν εἶναι ὅτι ἡ ἐξαφάνιση τῆς Βιβλιοθήκης εἶχε ὡς συνέπεια κάποιους «Σκοτεινοὺς Αἰῶνες», ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀντίθετο: Δηλαδή, ἐπειδὴ ἤδη ὑπῆρχε ἀδιαφορία γιὰ τὴν τύχη τῆς Βιβλιοθήκης, σὰν νὰ ὑπῆρχαν ἤδη οἱ «Σκοτεινοὶ Αἰῶνες», γι’ αὐτὸ ἐξαφανίστηκε ἡ Βιβλιοθήκη:
It is not that the disappearance of a library led to a dark age, nor that its survival would have improved those ages. Rather, the dark ages—if that is what they were, and in the Eastern Roman Empire we may doubt the utility of such a concept—show their darkness by the fact that the authorities both east and west lacked the will and means to maintain a great library. An unburned building full of decaying books would not have made a particle’s worth of difference. Indeed, no more books would have survived antiquity if the Library had not been destroyed (deliberately or accidentally) than did so anyway. The destruction simply is not important. This may seem like a bleak assessment, but it need not be so. It suggests that we should turn our attention away from the dramatic single event and toward the forces and personalities that create and sustain cultural institutions, for it is their absence in the Roman period, not the presence of some destructive force, that decided the fate of the books of Alexandria. Why should anyone be disillusioned by the realization that creative achievements survive only if we foster a cultural milieu that values them? Most books existed in multiple copies, and it is the failure of most to survive that is most important. The rarities of the Alexandrian Library too owe their disappearance as much to omission as to Commission.