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The Library at Pergamum

"The Attalic kings, stimulated by their great love for philology, having established an excellent public library at Pergamum, Ptolemy, actuated by zeal and great desire for the furtherance of learning, collected with no less care, a similar one for the same purpose at Alexandria, about the same period."

Vitruvius, On Architecture (VII, Preface 4)

Pliny speaks of the rivalry between Ptolemy V Epiphanes and Eumenes II (197-159 BC), the king of Pergamum, and their respective libraries. When Ptolemy prohibited the export of papyrus, parchment (charta pergamena) was said to have been invented at Pergamum as a substitute. "After this, the use of that commodity, by which immortality is ensured to man, became universally known" (Natural History, XIII.70). Animal skins, in fact, had been a writing material for hundreds of years and used, according to Herodotus, whenever there was a scarcity of papyrus (Histories, V.58.3). So jealous was each king of his library that, when Aristophanes of Byzantium, a pupil of Zenodotus and Callimachus (Suda, A3933) and teacher of Aristarchus, was suspected of preparing to decamp to the court of Eumenes, Ptolemy was said to have imprisoned him (A3936).

Crates of Mallus (in Cilicia) likely was a director of the Library of Pergamum and founded there a school of linguistic criticism. His teachings gained popularity in Rome when, as an envoy to the Senate in about 169 BC, he fell into an open sewer and broke his leg.  It was while recuperating that he lectured and held seminars, thereby becoming "the first to introduce the study of grammar into our city" (Suetonius, De Grammaticis, II).

Strabo considered Aristarchus and Crates to be "the leading lights in the science of criticism." But to his exasperation they approached Homer differently. "The poet says: 'the Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the farthermost of men' [Odyssey, I.22-23]. About the next verse there is a difference of opinion, Aristarchus writing: 'Abiding some where Hyperion sets, and some where he rises'; but Crates: 'abiding both where Hyperion sets and where he rises.' Yet so far as the question at issue is concerned, it makes no difference whether you write the verse one way or the other" (Geography, I.2.24). Indeed, in the Loeb translation of Homer, the line regarding the abode of the Ethiopians on the Ocean shore is that of Aristarchus.

While in Greece, Aulus Gellius compiled a miscellany for the edification of his children. "Now two distinguished Greek grammarians, Aristarchus and Crates, defended with the utmost vigour, the one analogy, the other anomaly. The eighth book of Marcus Varro's treatise On the Latin Language, dedicated to Cicero, maintains that no regard is paid to regularity, and points out that in almost all words usage rules" (Attic Nights, II.25.4-5).

This is the passage to which Gellius was referring: "Certain writers express the idea that in speaking men ought to follow those words and forms which are derived in similar fashion from like starting points—which they call the products of Analogy; and others are of opinion that this should be disregarded and rather men should follow the dissimilar and irregular, which is found in ordinary habitual speech—which they call the product of Anomaly. But in my opinion we ought to follow both, because in voluntary derivation there is Anomaly, and in the natural derivation there is even more strikingly Regularity [Analogy]" (On the Latin Language, VIII.23, also IX.1).

The Peripatetic Aristarchus, in other words, championed the notion of analogy in studying the formal structure of language and the regularity of its principles. Crates the Stoic (after the Stoa in Athens) argued that words and the things they describe sometimes do not have such a regular relationship but, like irregular declensions and conjugations, are anomalous.

Crates also was given to allegorical exegesis, as when he interpreted the shield of Agamemnon in the Iliad (XI.32-40) to be a representation of the cosmos. A cosmologist himself, it is not surprising that Crates constructed the first globe of the earth (Geography, II.5.10). The torrid zone circling the equator was "occupied" by the Ocean, which divided the temperate zones above and below the equator, with Ethiopians living in both hemispheres (I.2.24). For Strabo, all this was annoyingly pedantic, with the two rival grammarians indulging in "a petty and fruitless discussion of the text." Athenaeus agreed, dismissing "the sons of Aristarchus...buzzing in corners, mumbling monosyllables, whose sole business is the difference between 'ye' and 'your' and 'it' and 'hit'" (Deipnosophistae, V.222A).

After ruling for almost forty years (197-159 BC), Eumenes was succeeded by his son, who in 133 BC bequeathed Pergamon and its kingdom to Rome (Geography, XIII.4.2). When Caesar's assassins were defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, Antony remained behind to rule in the East. His domain included Pergamon, "by far the most famous city in Asia" (Natural History, V.126). The next year, he was said to have given the 200,000 volumes in its Library to Cleopatra (Plutarch, Life of Antony, LVIII.5). The year after that, she gave him the Sun and the Moon, the names of their twin children.


On a terrace just below the acropolis was the Temple of Athena, protector of the city and its patron deity. The temple precinct (temenos) was surrounded on three sides by a stoa that was open on the western side to allow the temple to be better seen from the valley below.

In the photograph of the ruins (top), the Library occupied several rooms in the right foreground. The Temple of Athena was at the back, where there now is only a ruined Byzantine tower. A better impression is conveyed by the model of the acropolis in the Pergamon Museum (Berlin).

When Eumenes died, he was succeeded by his brother Attalos II, who began work in Athens on a Stoa that was bestowed in appreciation for having studied philosophy there. A long two-storey colonnaded portico protected the shops that became the main commercial center in the Agora. In 1956, using surviving remnants, the Stoa (above) was recreated on its original foundation and now houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora. It conveys a sense of the stoa that fronted the Library.

The statue (right) is a copy of the chryselephantine cult statue of Athena Parthenos by Phidias in the Parthenon (which takes its name from the epithet) and was situated in a room of the Library. It now is in the Pergamon Museum (Berlin), where it has been placed in front of the façade of the Temple of Zeus Sosipolis ("savior of the city," Strabo, Geography, XIV.41) from Magnesia on the Maeander.  


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