Library in Piraeus

Main information
Location / Site
Athens
Chronological era
4th c. BC – AD 1st c.
Periods
  • Hellenistic
Identifying features
  • Inscriptions (dedications, catalogs, regulations) (texts from the institution)
Contents
  • Literary texts
  • Historical texts
  • Philosophy
  • Political texts

Presentation

Identifying features

An inscribed pilar or statue base in Pentelic marble evoking a library was found in Piraeus in the mid-19th c. Only two faces of this monument were partially preserved. The two fragmentary inscribed columns recorded a list of literary works. It was probably the catalogue of the works belonging to a library.

History of the library

Unknown. The inscription is dated from the 2nd or 1st c. B.C.E.

Location

Unknown, but likely in Piraeus.
The inscription was discovered in Piraeus, in the isthmus between the harbours of Cantharos and Zea. We don’t know the context of the discovery.

Architecture and internal fittings

Unknown.

Place of the library in the society

Unknown. Several hypotheses have been proposed: a library linked to a gymnasium, or a private library.

Functioning and activities

Unknown. The inscription could be a fragmentary library catalogue, or a list of books given to the library.

Contents of the library

The inscription includes about sixty titles, which seem to be organised by authors. This list has been used by historians to complete ancient writers’ bibliographies, as some works cited here were previously unknown.

The catalogue includes works of different nature:

  • Classical and Hellenistic tragedies, in particular the works of the great Classical tragedians Sophocles (l. 19-27, face A) and Euripides (l. 39-43, face B). Other less-known writers are also listed, such as the Hellenistic poet Nikomachos from Alexandria Troas (l. 2, face A), and 5th c. tragedian Achaios (l. 15-16, face A).
  • Attic comedies, including the works of Menander (l. 5-7, face A) and Diphilos (l. 33-38, face B), two of the most illustrious poets of the New Comedy (second half of the 4th B.C.E.).
  • Philosophical dialogues, like those of Socrates’ student Euclides of Megara (l. 10, face A), and a commentary on Eschyles, perhaps written by Aristotle’s student Chamaleon (l. 4, face A).
  • At least one speech by the Athenian orator Demosthenes (. 32, face B).
  • The works of the historian Hellanikos of Lesbos (l. 33, face B).
  • Some of the other listed writers or works are of unidentified nature.

The catalogue doesn’t present any visible logical organisation: the writers are not classified thematically, nor are they listed alphabetically. Moreover, none of the items in the list are emphasized by a particular placement of the names or titles in the stone.

Links with other libraries or centres of knowledge

Epigraphists have generally considered that the “Piraeus marble” could be linked to the Ptolemaion library in Athens. Some even see it as a fragmentary catalogue of this library, contemporary with the stone.

Bibliography

  • Blanck H., 1992, Das Buch in der Antike, Munich.
  • Burzachechi M., 1963, ‘Ricerche epigrafiche sulle antiche biblioteche del mondo greco’, Rendiconti della Academia nationale dei Lincei XVIII, p. 75-96 (inscription C, p. 93-96).

Author

Coqueugniot Gaëlle

Notice

Title : Library in Piraeus
Creator : Coqueugniot Gaëlle
Subject : Disputed library
Description : Literary texts, Historical texts, Philosophy, Political texts
Editor : Coqueugniot Gaëlle (transl.)
Date : June 2018
Type : Disputed library /
Format : Text & image
Source : Inscriptions (dedications, catalogs, regulations) (texts from the institution)
Language : English
Relation : http://nimrod.huma-num.fr/en/sites/athens-hellenistic/
Rights : CC by NC - SA
Coverage :

Greece, Attica

/ 4th c. BC – AD 1st c. / Hellenistic