The New Alexandria


“The New Alexandria

Judd H. Burton—8.5.07


            Welcome students and visitors, and may God grace you with wisdom and knowledge.  Knowledge is a beautiful thing, and more beautiful still, is knowledge utilized for virtue and justice.  These are indeed tempestuous times in which we live, and the need to be informed and enlightened is greater than at any time in history.  With all the sources that one has at his or her fingertips, where is one to turn.  I will here talk about one of those sources, and as with all sources of knowledge, it may be used for great good, or great ill.

            The internet is a wonderful, infinitely useful resource.  In many ways it is the “New Alexandria.”  It is voluminous and expansive in its coverage of human knowledge.  For those who would avail themselves of it, it is a well spring of wisdom, both ancient and modern.  Those familiar with antiquity will recognize the allusion to Alexandria, and its relevance.

            In the city of Alexandria, in Egypt, there existed a vast library—the largest one in antiquity.  It was founded during the early third century BC, by Ptolemy II.  His father built a Museion, or temple of the Muses (from which we derive our word museum), and Ptolemy expanded it into the library of ancient fame.  While the Ptolemy family established the complex, a student of Aristotle, one Demetrius of Phaleron, organized the library and became its first chief librarian.  The library was a research and teaching institution, whose specialty lay in editing and in the study of Homeric texts.  The complex not only consisted of rooms to house scrolls, but also contained lecture halls with central podiums.

            The amassing of scrolls at the library was a monumental undertaking.  Ptolemy III ordered that scholars visiting Alexandria relinquish their scrolls briefly to allow the scribes of the library to copy them.  The Ptolemies also purchased books and scrolls from all around the Mediterranean and the ancient world.  Hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of papyrus scrolls and parchment codices comprised the collection.  Unfortunately, no catalogue of the collections survives today, but it is safe to conclude that the library was a major center for study in the ancient world because of its vast holdings.

            The final misfortune for the library and for us—the would-be heirs—was that the library was destroyed.  Culprits range from Julius Caesar in the first century BC, to the Byzantine Theophilus in the fourth century AD, to the Muslims in the Arab Conquest of the seventh century.  It is possible however, that the Muslims preserved much of the collection and incorporated into their first universities.  This last scenario is at least plausible, given the Western reacquisition of classical works such as Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many others from the Muslim world during the era of the Middle Ages.  Whatever its demise, the library ceased to exist and much of its collections and artifacts were pilfered or destroyed over the ages

In many ways, the internet is one of the legacies of the Library of Alexandria.  Any person with a phone line (at the very least) and a PC has access to the wealth of the ages.  Anyone with the desire and will can acquire a classical education without stepping so much as one foot onto a school or college campus.  It requires only the spark to learn, will, and resource.  And from the experience one may derive the most important lesson of all—the lesson that is most crucial in high school….in college…nay, my good friends, in life itself.  This lesson:  the ability to teach one’s self—the very quality that inspires one to learn, and love the experience.  For, life requires us all to learn constantly.

The main purpose for establishing Burton Beyond and by extension, The New Alexandria Academy, is to carve out a niche in the cybersphere.  This, friends, is a place where you can feel comfortable learning.  Within the cyber walls of this Museion you may feel at ease and it is my hope that you will feel inspired.  No bureaucracy exists here, no inefficient, state-mandated standardized tests blur the objective of learning.  Here you will find the New Alexandria, a place where you can pursue knowledge in the venue of classical education.  I offer my services, such as they are—all my years of experience as a teacher and knowledge spanning the humanities—as mentor, guide, colleague, and friend.  Welcome to the New Alexandria.

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