Among the streets of empty houses in the elegant Garden District, stopped only now and then by soldiers who inspect your press pass and cheerfully wave you on, you get an uneasy sense of what the Vandals must have felt like as they picked over Rome’s ruins, or what the first explorers may have seen as they stumbled into Alexandria’s library.
Say what? ... and that got past the editors. Meanwhile, the New York Times also ponders New Orleans in relation to the Library at Alexandria (inter alia):
What will happen to New Orleans now, in the wake of floods and death and violence, is hard to know. But watching the city fill up like a bathtub, with half a million people forced to leave, it has been hard not to think of other places that have fallen to time and the inconstant earth.
Some of them have grown larger in death than they ever were in life.
Take the library in Alexandria. If anyplace might have had justifiable pretensions of permanence it would have been the library, founded sometime around 300 B.C. It grew under the early Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt into an enduring symbol of culture and knowledge before disappearing into the sand and sea less than 1,000 years later.
"This was the library," said Roger Bagnall, a historian at Columbia. "It influenced everybody who ever thought about building a library."
Nobody, Dr. Bagnall complains, knows how large it was - estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls - or what was actually in it. The library's demise is equally shrouded in myth. One legend says the books burned during Caesar's conquest of Alexandria in 47 B.C., but the library was still around in the fourth century, according to historical accounts.
Dr. Bagnall thinks that simple neglect killed the library. "Books rot," even acid-free papyruses, he said, noting that there are no records of any investment in maintaining the library after the early Ptolemies.
By the time Christian mobs sacked the library and museum at the end of the century as a pagan institution, there was probably little left to destroy. "The palace quarter was pretty well wrecked by that point. Whatever had survived the rotting didn't make it past that," Dr. Bagnall said.
Later, in 642, the Arabs moved Egypt's capital to the Cairo region and Alexandria shrank into obscurity.