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Alexandrian School

   After the decline of liberty and intellectual cultivation in Greece, Alexandria, in Egypt, became the home and centre of science and literature. The time in which it held this position may be divided into two periods--the first including the reigns of the Ptolemies, from B.C. 323 to 30; the second, from B.C. 30 to A.D. 640, or from the fall of the Ptolemaean dynasty to the irruption of the Arabs. During the first period the intellectual activity at Alexandria was mainly of a purely literary or scientific kind; but during the second, partly from Jewish and Christian influences, it developed into the speculative philosophy of the Neo-Platonists and the religious philosophy of the Gnostics.
    Ptolemy Soter, the first ruler who introduced and patronized Greek science and literature in Alexandria, was followed by a still more munificent patron, Ptolemy Philadelphus, who regularly established the celebrated Alexandrian Library and Museum, which had been begun by his father. This Museum was somewhat like a modern university, and within its walls learned scholars both lived and taught. The loss of Greek freedom soon took from Greek thought much of its boldness and originality, but thinkers found substitutes for these in learned research and criticism. They studied grammar, prosody, mythology, astronomy, and medicine, and unfolded their information in long didactic poems in epic form, full of learning, and marked by perfect mastery of verse, but often dull to a degree, and marred by numerous obscure and recondite allusions. Examples of these are the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, and the Alexandra or Cassandra of Lycophron. Other writers of epics were Euphorion, Nicander of Colophon, Dionysius Periegetes, Rhianus, and Oppianus. Many poets employed lyric and elegiac forms for subjects completely unsuited for poetic treatment, which are yet happily expressed in verse. The earliest of the elegiac poets was Philetas of Cos; the greatest, perhaps, Callimachus. Among the lyric poets were Phanocles, Hermesianax, Alexander of Aetolia, and Lycophron. Epigrams and dramas were also written, but of the latter scarcely anything has survived beyond the names of the seven tragedians called the Alexandrian Pleiades. Out of the Amoebean verse or bucolic mime--a rudimentary kind of drama--grew the best product of Alexandrian poetry, the idyls of Theocritus. Still more active than the poets were the grammarians, to whom it is mainly due that we now possess the masterpieces of Greek literature at all. They were both philologists and litterateurs, who explained things as well as words, and were thus a kind of encyclopaedists. Among these the greatest were Zenodotus of Ephesus, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and Aristarchus of Samothrace; only less eminent crities were Alexander of Aetolia, Lycophron, Callimachus, and Eratosthenes. Their chief service consists in having collected the writings then existing, prepared corrected texts, and preserved them for future generations.
    The Alexandrian School had a spirit and character altogether different from the previous intellectual life of Greece. From the attention paid to the study of language, it was natural that correctness, purity, and elegance of expression should be especially cultivated; and in these respects many of its writers are distinguished. But what no study and no effort could give--the spirit that animated the earlier Greek poetry--was in most of these works wanting. In place of it, there was displayed greater art in composition; what had formerly been done by genius was now to be done by the rules furnished by criticism. Where imitation and rule thus took the place of inspiration, each generation of disciples became more artificial and lifeless than their masters, until ultimately criticism degenerated into frivolous fault-finding, and both prose and poetry became laboured affectation. Still, for about four centuries, the Alexandrian School was the centre of learning and science in the ancient world. Counting from its origin to its complete extinction, it lasted a thousand years; and its lasting influence upon Latin literature in the Augustan age must not be forgotten. We find it in all the contemporary poets, and notably in Vergil, the greatest poet of the group.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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