If the Library of Alexandria did not burn, how much further advanced do you think the human race would be?
or do you think it would not have made a difference?
I also asked this question in the History section. I thought Year of the Dragon had an intresting response. If you would like to read it.
- Anonymous1 decade agoFavorite Answer
Its a very interesting question. Since we are not entirely sure about the content of the scrolls, we really do not know for sure. However it is known that the scrolls contained knowledge; like mathamatics, astronomy, steam power, even possibly electricty. I saw some episode on the history channel about this and the analogy that was drawn, was had the library not burned down, then Columbus would have likely gone to the moon. That might be a stretch, but according to the show I saw, they claimed that the knowledge lost there set western civilization back by about 1500 years. And I can at least see that seeing as how steam power was not practical until some 1200 years after the fire.
However the factor that pops into my mind is the emergence of christianity. The early church was pretty good at destroying all litterature that was not cannonical. So had the church developed the same way, its possible the library and its knowledge would have been destroyed anyway.
Besides in those days I don't think many knew the adage "don't keep all your eggs in one basket". There could have just as easily been some other disaster like an earthquake (Alexandrian is location near a fault line) that would have been just as devistating.
Its still kinda interesting to wonder what life would be like had the library never been destroyed at all though.
EDIT: After reading the year of the dragon's response I think his first sentance pretty much summerized where I was going with my response:
"There is a school of thought that says whatever was there would have been suppressed by the Catholic Church anyway."
EDIT (again): I was on my way home last night when I thought of a few more things related to this question.
While the library of Alexandria was a hub of western knowledge, it was not the only library. There were many libraries, though they did not have as many texts or access to so many great minds. But many of the texts at the library of Alexandria were also at other libraries too. Some were just translations, others were legit copies. So the loss of the library didn't mean that the knowledge there didn't already exist else where.
Really its not the loss of the great library that set mankind back, it was the rise of Christianity that destroyed the copies of the text that were spread through out the western world.
The other reason that the great library acted as a hub of learning and the exchange of ideas. It was not only the loss of unique works, but a place where the greatest minds of the day could converge and share their knowledge.
- Anonymous4 years ago
It would not have made a difference. The library of Alexandria was excellent and had the largest single collection in the world at the time. However, it did not contain unique works, it was all available in other places for the most part. The Dark Ages had much more effect on humanity's development. Many discoveries were destroyed and knowledge suppressed or lost because it was contrary to the church in some way. Superstition and dogma overshadowed reason and logic for a very long time.
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- MathsorcererLv 71 decade ago
I don't think it would have made any difference. Heron of Alexandria lived long before the final destruction of the Library and knowledge of some of his inventions like the aeolipile (the sphere with the steam jets on it) and the thermodynamically-driven temple doors (lighting a fire on an altar heated water, which wound up opening a set of doors) did not create an Industrial Revolution in Rome.
The reason for this is economic--it was cheaper in the ancient world to use slave labor than it would have been to develop steam technology. *shrug*
The complete collapse of the Roman Empire had more to do with "setting us back" from a technological point of view than the burning of the Library.
It would still be wonderful to know what kind of information was stored there, though.
- squeakywealLv 51 decade ago
Many good answers. It would have made a difference, maybe of a few hundred years, but we probably had regressed before that and probably will again. Many questions would have been answered, but could we really answer the BIG ones? Was there a record of our development as humans, both culturally and technologically, stretching much further back in time? Was there a "mother culture" that had been destroyed as in so many myths but left some tangible record, maybe yet to be deciphered, in Alexandria's library? Could we be migrants from somewhere else?
The loss of Alexandria was due to a combination of conquest and ignorance. Knowledge was preserved through the Dark Ages by being confined to preistly and shamanic classes. Our knowledge is today disseminated to the point where so much is known by so many. However, so little, as they say, is cast in stone, and exists only in a virtual environment. Natural cataclysms can wreak as much havoc today as they did in ancient times, and were a destructive event to visit us on a cosmic scale, our knowledge might again be reduced to where it was after Alexandria was sacked. Pyramids would outlive our grandest cities and clay tablets, our greatest works of literature and art. And someday, hundreds of years from now, someone else will be having this same discussion.
- Mr. PLv 71 decade ago
You cannot say that not even 1 of those 700,000 scrolls was not important to our understanding?
How would we feel as a civilisation if a religious group destroyed the pyramids or burned the Bayeux tapestry.
I think it has set our civilisation back at least 800 years, maybe more. Given that we have come so far in just the last 100 years, this is an unforgivable crime against humainity.
Some things will now never be known, and are lost forever.
- JohnLv 71 decade ago
That's a great question. When you learn about all that was lost in that fire, it's absolutely heartbreaking. I don't know how much further along we would be. If we did not lose that knowledge, would we have been able to avoid the Dark Ages which stifled scientific exploration for so long? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to say how much religious orthodoxy would have pushed back against scientific knowledge and allowed it to flourish. It's a ponderous question.
- SkepDoc 2.0Lv 61 decade ago
some good answers already. I will just add that there is a hypothesis that knowledge advancement happens at certain crucial points in history. This seems to be independent of individual accomplishments, or "lost" knowledge.
For example, the world of knowledge was ready for Relativity in the early 20th century. If Einstein had died , or if nobody published his ideas...somebody else would have come up with the concept. It was an idea whose time had come.
The cause of the Dark Ages is multifactorial, and I don't think the burning of one library actually made much difference. The suppression of knowledge by the Christian church would still have occured. Knowledge was preserved and new ideas flourished in the middle east...until Islam suppressed knowledge.
We came out of our Dark Ages...the world of Islam is still in them.
- lithiumdeuterideLv 71 decade ago
I think we would be 50 years ahead of where we are now, at most. The detrimental social philosophies of the day (mysticism and slavery) which eventually plunged Europe into a thousand years of backward progress would not be halted by a minor setback like being unable to burn a library.