Alexandrian school

The Alexandrian school is a collective designation for certain tendencies in literature, philosophy, medicine, and the sciences that developed in the Hellenistic cultural center of Alexandria, Egypt during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Alexandria was a remarkable center of learning due to the blending of Greek and Oriental influences, its favorable situation and commercial resources, and the enlightened energy of some of the Macedonian Dynasty of the Ptolemies ruling over Egypt, in the final centuries BC. Much scholarly work was collected in the great Library of Alexandria during this time. A lot of epic poetry, as well as works on geography, history, mathematics, astronomy and medicine were composed during this period.

The name of Alexandrian school is also used to describe the religious and philosophical developments in Alexandria after the 1st century. The mix of Jewish theology and Greek philosophy led to a syncretic mix and much mystical speculation. The Neoplatonists devoted themselves to examining the nature of the soul, and sought communion with God. The two great schools of biblical interpretation in the early Christian church incorporated Neoplatonism and philosophical beliefs from Plato's teachings into Christianity, and interpreted much of the Bible allegorically. The founders of the Alexandrian school of Christian theology were Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great about the time when Greece, in losing her national independence, lost also her intellectual supremacy, was well adapted for becoming the new centre of the world's activity and thought. Its situation brought it into commercial relations with all the nations lying around the Mediterranean, and at the same time it was the one communicating link with the wealth and civilization of the East. The natural advantages it enjoyed were increased to an enormous extent by the care of the sovereigns of Egypt. Ptolemy Soter (reigned 323–285 BC), to whom Egypt had fallen after the death of Alexander, began to draw around him from Greece a circle of men eminent in literature and philosophy. To these he gave aid for them to carry out their work. Under the inspiration of his friend Demetrius of Phalerum, the Athenian orator, statesman and philosopher, Ptolemy laid the foundations of the great Library of Alexandria and began the search for all written works, which resulted in such a collection as the world has seldom seen. He also built the Museum, in which, maintained by the state, the scholars resided, studied and taught. The Museum, or academy of science, was in many respects not unlike a modern university. The work begun by Ptolemy Soter was carried on by his descendants, in particular by his two immediate successors, Ptolemy Philadelphus and Ptolemy Euergetes. Philadelphus (285–247), whose librarian was the celebrated Callimachus, bought up all Aristotle's collection of books, and also introduced a number of Jewish and Egyptian works. Among these appears to have been a portion of the Septuagint. Euergetes (247–222) increased the library by seizing on the original editions of the dramatists from the Athenian archives, and by compelling all travellers who arrived in Alexandria to leave a copy of any work they possessed.

This intellectual movement extended over a long period of years and can be split into two periods. The first period extends from about 306 to 30 BC, the time from the foundation of the Ptolemaic dynasty to the conquest by the Romans; the second extends from 30 BC to the destruction of the Alexandria Library sometime before or upon the capture of Alexandria by 'Amr ibn al-'As in 641 AD. The clear differences between these two periods explains the variety and vagueness of meaning attaching to the term "Alexandrian School."

In the first period the intellectual activity was of a literary and scientific nature. It was an attempt to continue and develop, under new conditions, the old Hellenic culture. This effort was particularly noticeable under the early Ptolemies. As we approach the 1st century BC, the Alexandrian school began to break up and to lose its individuality. This was due partly to the state of government under the later Ptolemies, partly to the formation of new scholarly circles in Rhodes, Syria and elsewhere. This gradual dissolution was much increased when Alexandria fell under Roman sway.

This page was last edited on 14 June 2018, at 17:23 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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