Triumph from the Ancient World's First Think Tank

Triumph from the Ancient World's First Think Tank - Lib Inf...

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Triumphs From the Ancient World’s First Think Tank Page 1 of 5 Lib Inf 1- Introduction to Library Services Denise K. Fourie, Cuesta College Reading: Triumphs From the Ancient World's First Think Tank Smithsonian - June 1985: 158-168 by Lionel Casson When Pericles and Sophocles were in school in Athens they had the same trouble reading Homer as modern schoolboys do reading Shakespeare. The Iliad and Odyssey, written some 300 years before their time, were full of old-fashioned expressions and obsolete words. We turn to a dictionary for enlightenment. They could not: there was no such thing. And would not be for two more centuries, not until after 300 BC when scholars, slaving away in far-off Alexandria, took the first steps toward composing one. Invention brings to mind the wheel, the cotton gin, the steam engine, the telegraph. But the dictionary had to be invented too, as well as the encyclopedia, the textbook, even the grammar book. These tools of learning are so much a part of life today that it is hard to imagine a time when they did not exist. But there was—a long time: Thucydides wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, Sophocles wrote Oedipus, Euripides Medea, Plato his dialogues, without these simple devices for storing and retrieving information. For schoolboy Pericles and schoolboy Sophocles homework did not consist of doing term papers or anything else that involved research. It meant memorizing passages from the great books—the epics of Homer and Hesiod, the odes of Pindar, the tragedies of Aeschylus. Research, to be sure, existed— Thucydides could hardly have written his history without it but it depended upon the collecting of notes and a well-developed memory, not on a shelf full of reference works. Then, around 300 BC, a remarkable institution came into being, the great library and museum at Alexandria. It was the world's first think tank. With a little help from Plato and Aristotle Before that, of course, the situation had begun to change. During the fourth century BC, with help from Plato and Aristotle, philosophy became the Greeks' dominant interest. Aristotle's philosophical enquiries involved carefully observing and recording nature; he himself wrote treatises on biology and zoology, and his favorite pupil, Theopllrastus, turned out treatises on botany. Soon the doors of scholarship were thrown wide open and Greeks busied themselves amassing facts of all sorts. When Alexander the Great died at Babylon in 323 BC, one of his generals, the canny Ptolemy, promptly took over as king of Egypt, a land where the fertile Nile valley ensured a full treasury. Much of it was spent by Ptolemy and his successors on embellishing the capital at Alexandria. Having somehow got his hands on Alexander's corpse (there were those who claimed he stole it as it
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This note was uploaded on 11/19/2009 for the course ED 21086 taught by Professor Jeanmitchell during the Spring '09 term at California State University , Monterey Bay.

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Triumph from the Ancient World's First Think Tank - Lib Inf...

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