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In support of the latter understanding is Plutarch’s remark that “the Peripatetics no longer possess the original texts of Aristotle and Theophrastus, because they had fallen into idle and base hands.” Fabulous stories circulated about the lengths to which the Ptolemies would go in their avid hunt for books.
One method to which they reportedly resorted was to search every ship that sailed into the harbour of Alexandria.
The enormous sum of 15 talents of silver was deposited in Athens as a pledge for their safe restitution.
The king thereupon kept the originals and sent back copies, willingly forfeiting the pledge.
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The idea of a universal library, like that of Alexandria, arose only after the Greek mind had begun to envisage and encompass a larger worldview.
The Greeks were impressed by the achievements of their neighbours, and many Greek intellectuals sought to explore the resources of “Oriental” knowledge.
There is literary evidence of Greek individuals visiting Egypt especially to acquire knowledge: e.g., Herodotus, Plato (particularly in .
If a book was found, it was taken to the library for a decision as to whether to return it or to confiscate it and replace it with a copy made on the spot (with an adequate compensation to the owner).
Books acquired in that manner were designated “from the ships.” Another story (reported by Galen in the writings on Hippocrates) reveals how Ptolemy III managed to obtain the original texts of the great dramatic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.Ptolemy I is said to have encouraged Egyptian priests to accumulate records of their past tradition and heritage and to render them available for use by Greek scholars and men of letters whom he had invited to live in Egypt.