Alexandria – the universal city
Alexandria – the universal city
Alexandria was the first actual cosmopolitan city in the world, a label we bandy about loosely today describing cities like London, New York or Sydney, with little understanding of its true meaning.
The word cosmopolitan comes from the Greek cosmopolis, from cosmos, meaning ‘universe’ and polis ‘city’, so literally ‘the city of the cosmos’ or ‘the universal city’. The term cosmos itself was actually coined by Pythagoras (q.v.) to mean the All, the interconnection of everything in the universe within the Divine order and plan of God. A true cosmopolis or ‘universal city’ is one in which the living of the city’s inhabitants reflect this understanding, as they live in accordance with the awareness that they are part of the unfolding Divine Plan of evolution of the universe and responsibly assume their own unique yet equal role in it. Such was the nature of Alexandria for many of its citizens in its days of glory.
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in his conquest of the Persians and became the capital of Greek-ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra and the absorption of Egypt into the Roman Empire. The major effect of Alexander’s conquest was to spread Greek science, religion and philosophy throughout the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, where it hybridised with indigenous traditions in those regions. For example, in the region of Judea, Greek philosophy, especially Pythagoreanism and Platonism, mixed with native Jewish elements to produce the school we know as the Essenes (q.v.).
But Alexandria was a completely new city. It had no major prior native traditions, and so right from the start it was a city of migrants. Being located in Egypt, just west of the Nile delta, its culture was influenced of course by the ancient esoteric traditions of Egypt, stretching back to Hermes (q.v.) and Imhotep (q.v.), but its rulers were Greek, and Greek was its prestige language, although the city was multilingual and multicultural due to all the migrants from diverse lands that resided there. Given its prime position, the city rapidly grew rich on trade, and this of course encouraged even more migration; indeed within a century of its founding it was the largest city in the world.
Rather than looking inwardly to its hinterland, as the earlier Egyptian tradition had largely done, it looked outward to the world, and its Greek rulers wanted a capital to attest to the city’s status, to rival the glories of fifth century Athens. They imported many philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and other scholars from mainland Greece, and the opportunities afforded by the city attracted many such people from other lands around the Mediterranean as well.
Alexandria became a melting pot of the greatest philosophers and scientists alive at the time from all over, and the glory that was Alexandria lasted for seven centuries, with some ups and downs, from its founding in the 4th century BC to the destruction of its Library and the murder of Hypatia (q.v.) at the hands of a Christian mob early in the 5th century AD.
In Alexandria many cultural, scientific, philosophical and religious traditions met and influenced each other. Besides Greek philosophers and scientists and initiates of esoteric Greek schools like the Orphic Mysteries, there were Buddhists and Yogis from India and central Asia, Magi and followers of Zoroaster from Persia, Essenes and members of other Jewish esoteric groups, Romans and sages drawn from all over the Roman Empire, as well as those thoroughly steeped in the ancient science, philosophy and religion of Egypt, which by the time of the founding of Alexandria already stretched back thousands of years.
Given the open port and rich trading city that it was, all were welcome in Alexandria and lively exchange and mixing of traditions ensued, out of which grew the stupendous achievements in science and philosophy that we know of from the period of Alexandria’s glory, such as Euclid’s geometry, Archimedes’ engineering, Plotinus’ Neo-Pythagorean and Neo-Platonist philosophical synthesis, the writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo, the astronomy of Aristarchus, the astronomy, geography and mathematics of Ptolemy, the mathematics and geography of Eratosthenes and Strabo and the mathematics of Theon and his daughter Hypatia, all of which are just a few highlights of the enormous bequest to humanity from Alexandria’s golden centuries.
But at the core of all of Alexandria’s glory was the Ageless Wisdom.
These scientists and philosophers did not work in a vacuum, but were guided from the outset by the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom, truths of which were brought to the city by the many sages who moved there, and later passed on down the centuries by those who flourished there.
Early in the city’s history, its first rulers, Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, set up a Museum – a word meaning ‘place of the Muses’ as the Muses were the Greek goddesses of science, philosophy and the arts – and a Library, to which they invited Greek philosophers and scientists to study and teach. Others soon followed. These two, in particular the Library, became the centres of Alexandrian learning and study, places where the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom were safeguarded, but made available to study, and from this inspiration flowed all the stunning output of scientific findings and philosophical insight.
Alexandria represented the greatest concentration of teachers of the Ageless Wisdom and its flowering in the world up to that time, nothing less than an explosion of the Ageless Wisdom, and this has not been surpassed since, though it will be in the coming times of this, the New Era.
Teachers from around the Mediterranean and further afield such as India taught, studied and exchanged insights in the Library and Museum, and precious texts of the Ageless Wisdom stretching back to those of Hermes, were located, brought back to the Library for preservation, and copied and studied intensively. Nearly all of what we know of ancient and classical writings is due to the preservation efforts of the collectors and librarians of the Library of Alexandria.
In this respect the Library and the collection within its walls and the people who studied there were dedicated to preserving this living wisdom for all time; it was a new pyramid, representing a place where humanity’s access to this source of living wisdom was assured and would always be available to those members of humanity who sought it.
The Library was not just a depository of tomes and scrolls, it was a living institution of the Ageless Wisdom, open to anyone of whatever social class who wanted to access its treasures. All who entered the Library were held in a deep respect and equality. It welcomed within its smooth stone colonnades and cool vaults all of humanity who were inspired to study the Ageless Wisdom.
All of the Ageless Wisdom was catapulted into this one place, where everyone who entered was offered a way of living that supported their bodies to take in and understand the Wisdom and to be in its sacredness. The rows and shelves of parchment emanated this same quality of sacredness.
Teachings and seminars went on constantly, and each was encouraged to discover through their own livingness the Truth for themselves. The volumes of the Library were catalogued according to their energetic teachings and where they came from and how they fit into the whole of the universal system of the Ageless Wisdom.
There was activity and continuous enthusiasm for study and discussion going on everywhere in the Library – it was a bustling centre – but all was conducted from a quality of stillness, as the goal was not knowledge for self but wisdom for all, and that meant living in a true rhythm of stillness and a movement (way of living) that allowed wisdom to shine forth.
But in the end it did not last. The long period of stability for the cities around the Mediterranean provided by the Roman Empire was coming to an end with its decline, and a new aggressive fanatical religion, Christianity, was now the official religion of the Empire; it saw the Ageless Wisdom and its teachers associated with the Library as a direct threat to its power and prestige.
Under Christian force, the Library was sacked, much of its literature stolen, destroyed and or burned, and its teachers dispersed or, worse, as in the case of Hypatia, brutally murdered. The Dark Ages descended upon Europe with the extinguishment of the light of Alexandria, but all was not lost.
Some of the true materials were hidden away in the desert to be rediscovered when the time was right again, such as the Nag Hammadi scrolls; or spirited away to depositories of Constantinople, only to be reintroduced to Europe again when the time was right, the period of the Renaissance, as that city too fell, in this instance to Islam.
What is key to note about the City and Library of Alexandria is that its wisdom lives on in all of us.
Its teachings through books, scrolls, discussions and presentations were gathered in a central place in order to accelerate the Evolution of man at this time.
However, as all true teachers know, the Ageless Wisdom and its living way resides within, and thus it is in what we have preserved in ourselves of this glorious flowering time of the Ageless Wisdom, it is in how we know to live as we did then, and it is now ready to be reborn as we step up to the call of evolution, now, in the New Era.