“The place of the cure of the soul.”
Inscription at the Great Library of Alexandria.
In my travels around Manhattan, I sometimes plan to take iconic photos. Sometimes I capture a unique point in time, unintentionally. In this instance I wanted to take photos of the New York Public Library. The New York Public Library was founded by immigrants and industrialists and available to all. At the time of it’s opening it was the largest marble structure ever built in the United States. My target was the Lions that have guarded the entrance since 1911. When the lions were first placed there they were hated and ridiculed almost universally. The Lions have become so iconic that they now are synonomous with libraries everywhere.
Mayor LaGuardia created the turning point to establish the lions as one of the most loved public sculptures in The City. Fiorello Henry LaGuardia, son of an immigrant, an interpreter at Ellis Island was New York City’s greatest mayor. He named the Lions during The Great Depression, Patience to the south and Fortitude, to the north, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression.
I arrive and there are big black boxes around my lions! but there are also posters about what’s going on. They need care once every ten years, and they’re getting it!
Throughout human history libraries have always been essential, aspirational and made a status statement about the importance of education, scholarship and level of sophistication of a population. These are the Roman ruins of the Library of Celsus in the city of Ephesus in Turkey, which i visited in February this year (2019).
It’s a magnificent Ruin and during it’s peak it rivaled the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt.
At the antiquities in the world Libraries are one of the cornerstones that indicate a society at it’s peak of power and culture. Celsus is important, It demostrates that libraries were built not just in Rome, but around the Roman empire. They also competed with each other. Celsus competed with the great library in Alexadria, which had become known as the capital of knowledge, learning and amassed papyrus scrolls. The price of papyrus rose and and the reed used for making it was over-harvested towards local extinction in the two nomes of the Nile delta. An alternate had to be found. That alternate, which was plentiful in Turkey, parchment, became the medium of scrolls here and in the Great Library in Pergamon.
“While Celsus was destroyed by an earthquake, the great library at Alexadria declined gradually over the course of several centuries, starting with the purging of intellectuals from Alexandria in 145 BC which resulted in Aristarchus of Samothrace, the head librarian, resigning from his position and exiling himself to Cyprus. Many other scholars, including Dionysius Thrax and Apollodorus of Athens, fled to other cities, where they continued teaching and conducting scholarship. The Library, or part of its collection, was accidentally burned by Julius Caesar during his civil war in 48 BC,”* *wikipedia
In today’s libraries we are moving from papyrus to electrons. Unfortunately the politics of purging intellectuals, scholars and now scientists as well as book burning hasn’t changed in several millenia regardless of whether the medium is electrons, parchment or papyrus.