Musaeum  

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The Musaeum or Mouseion at Alexandria, which included the famous Library of Alexandria, was an institution founded by Ptolemy I Soter or, perhaps more likely, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. This original Musaeum ("Institution of the Muses") was the home of music or poetry, a philosophical school and library such as Plato's Academy, also a storehouse of texts. It did not have a collection of works of art, rather it was an institution that brought together some of the best scholars of the Hellenistic world, analogous to a modern university. This original Musaeum was the source for the modern usage of the word museum.

Contents

History

The Musaeum was an institution founded, according to Johannes Tzetzes, by Ptolemy I Soter or, perhaps more likely, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus at Alexandria. The Mouseion remained supported by the patronage of the royal family of the Ptolemies. Such a Greek Mouseion was the home of music or poetry, a philosophical school and library such as Plato's Academy, also a storehouse of texts. Mouseion, connoting an assemblage gathered together under the protection of the Muses, was the title given to a collection of stories about the esteemed writers of the past assembled by Alcidamas, an Athenian sophist of the fourth century BCE.

Though the Musaeum at Alexandria did not have a collection of sculpture and painting presented as works of art, as was assembled by the Ptolemies' rival Attalus at the Library of Pergamum, it did have a room devoted to the study of anatomy and an installation for astronomical observations. Rather than simply a museum in the sense that has developed since the Renaissance, it was an institution that brought together some of the best scholars of the Hellenistic world, as Germain Bazin compared it, "analogous to the modern Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton or to the Collège de France in Paris." In the 21st century, the nearest equivalent is a university.

More than 1,000 scholars lived in the Mouseion at a given time. Staff members and scholars were salaried by the Mouseion and paid no taxes. They also received free meals, free room and board, and free servants. The Mouseion was administered by a priest appointed by the Pharaoh.

The Mouseion's scholars conducted scientific research, published, lectured, and collected as much literature as possible from the known world. In addition to Greek works, foreign texts were translated from Assyrian, Persian, Jewish, Indian, and other sources. The edited versions of the Greek literary canon that we know today, from Homer and Hesiod forward, exist in editions that were collated and corrected by the scholars assembled in the Musaeum at Alexandria.

Appearance

The Greek geographer Strabo described the Musaeum and Library as richly decorated edifices in a campus of buildings and gardens.

"The Mouseion is also part of the palaces, possessing a peripatos and exedra and large oikos, in which the common table of the philologoi, men who are members of the Mouseion, is located. This synodos has property in common and a priest in charge of the Mouseion, formerly appointed by the kings, but now by Caesar." --Strabo

The Mouseion featured a roofed walkway, an arcade of seats, and a communal dining room where scholars routinely ate and shared ideas. The building was filled with private study rooms, residential quarters, lecture halls, and theaters.

Notable scholars

The following scholars are known to have studied, written, or performed their experiments at the Musaeum of Alexandria.

Decline

The classic period of the Musaeum did not survive the purge and expulsion of most of the intellectuals attached to it in 145 BCE, when Aristarchus of Samothrace resigned his position; at any rate, the sources that best describe the Musaeum and library, Johannes Tzetzes and others, all Byzantine and late, do not mention any further directors. the emperor Claudius added an additional building. Under the emperors, membership of the Musaeum was awarded to prominent scholars and statesmen, often as a reward to supporters of the emperor. Emperor Caracalla suppressed the Musaeum in 216, perhaps as a temporary measure. By this time, the center of learning in Alexandria had already moved to the Serapeum.

Destruction

The last known references to Musaeum membership occur in the 260s. The Bruchion, the section of Alexandria that included the Musaeum, was probably destroyed by fire on the orders of Emperor Aurelian in 272. Scattered references in later sources suggest that a Musaeum was reestablished in the 4th century on a different site, but little is known about this later organisation and it is unlikely to have had the resources of its predecessor. The mathematician Theon (ca. 335 – ca. 405), father of Hypatia, is described in the tenth century Suda as "the man from the Mouseion." It is not known what connection he actually had with the Musaeum. Zacharias Rhetor and Aeneas of Gaza both speak of a physical space known as the "Mouseion" in the later 5th century.

Legacy

This original Musaeum or Institution of the Muses was the source for the modern usage of the word museum. In early modern France, it denoted as much a community of scholars brought together under one roof as it did the collections themselves. French and English writers referred to these collections as a "cabinet" as in "a cabinet of curiosities." A catalogue of the 17th century collection of John Tradescant the elder and his son John Tradescant the younger was the founding core of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was published as Musaeum Tradescantianum: or, a Collection of Rarities. Preserved at South-Lambeth near London by John Tradescant, 1656.

Further reading

  • M MacLeod, Roy, The Library of Alexandria: centre of learning in the ancient world, 2000.
  • El-Abbadi, Mostafa, The life and fate of the ancient library of Alexandria, 1990.
  • Canfora, Luciano, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World, 1987. (The only modern history.)
  • Young Lee, Paula, "The Musaeum of Alexandria and the formation of the 'Museum' in eighteenth-century France," in The Art Bulletin, September 1997.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Musaeum" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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