Philosopher, Rhetorician, Statesman (c.350 BC – c.280 BC)
Demetrius of Phalerum was a statesman, orator, rhetorician and writer, member of the Peripatetic School of philosophy and student of Theophrastus, who served as epistates of Athens under the rule of Cassander. He is best known in history for being one of the greatest rhetoricians and writers of the 4th century BC and the founder of the Library of Alexandria together with Ptolemy I Soter.
As an epistates, he ruled Athens for 10 years, proving to be a skilled governor. He increased the total financial income of Athens, passed into law numerous social innovations, conducted the very first census in recorded history and beautified Athens as a city overall. Legend says that he was so well received by the Athenians that 360 statues of him were made, one for each day of the year, as a token of appreciation.
Demetrius’ role as an epistates of Athens ended in 307 BC when Demetrius the Poliorcetes arrived in Piraeus escorted by 20 ships and took control over Athens. Demetrius of Phalerum initially fled to Thebes and then to Egypt, where he befriended Ptolemy I Soter. Demetrius’ life long dream to create the greatest spiritual center of Hellenism, where all knowledge in the world could be stored in one place earned Ptolemy’s approval and thus, in 300 BC, works for the Library of Alexandria began being implemented.
Having been governor of Athens, Demetrius knew very well the function and organization of a library as he had studied most likely in the Lyceum of Aristotle. In addition to the Library, which would become the storehouse of all knowledge man had acquired at the time, Demetrius founded the “Musaeum”, a university within the Library of Alexandria dedicated to the 9 Muses, based on the principles of the Athenian schools. Undoubtedly, his influence in Alexandria was significant. He was in the epicenter of the spiritual life of Alexandria. He wrote an estimated 45 historical, rhetorical, philosophical and political works, none of which survive today, wrote commentaries and critiques on ancient texts, advocated the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic chronicles to Greek and encouraged the study of letters in Egypt.
Demetrius of Phalerum inaugurated a new era to the Alexandrians. He transferred his love of letters and knowledge to them, promoting the arts and sciences to a great extent that had never before been done. Many of the Alexandrian philosophers and scientists were influenced by him either directly as students or by means of his works. It is thanks to his efforts that Alexandria became the world’s largest and grandest spiritual center of its time.
- “Demetrius Phalereus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
- Δημήτριος ο Φαληρεύς : Ο φιλόσοφος που διετέλεσε επιμελητής της πόλης των Αθηνών. Αυτόχθονες Ἐλληνες. Autochthonesellhnes.blogspot.gr. Web. May 11, 2014.