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Hadrian's Library

Books in Ancient Greece

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Delphi had always been very suspicious of reading.  Not that she didn’t like words – it just didn’t seem fair to pin them down onto a scrap of papyrus.  Delphi instinctively felt words should be free, in the air, not curled up in a scroll.  If she really admitted it, which she wouldn’t, she would like to be able to read.  Words always seemed so important when they were written down.  It wasn’t even as if she could blame being a girl on not being able to read.  Some women in the city could read and write, but not sculptor’s daughters, whose family didn’t have enough money to have a slave that could teach her.

There were even some small libraries in the city.  Delphi found this hard to imagine.

There surely couldn’t be that many things worth writing down.

Hadrian's Library: Fact box

  • Hadrian’s Library was built during Roman times, in 132 AD, so a long time after Delphi’s time in Athens.


  • Hadrian was a Roman Emperor, who lived in the 2nd century AD.  In Britain, he is famous for the wall that was built between England and Scotland, but Hadrian’s real passion was for all things Greek.


  • He ordered the building of several large buildings in the city, including Hadrian’s Gate, buildings in the Roman Agora, the Temple of Zeus and this library.  You might be imagining a library full of books, but no – in those days writing would have been mainly on rolled up parchments.  You read them by unrolling them a little bit at a time (or at least by getting your slave to!).


  • Some of the books written by the ancient Greeks are some of the oldest books we have – such as the myths written by Homer, or the philosophical dialogues written by Plato.  But sadly, only some of what they wrote has survived and so there are plenty of books written by the Greeks we will never be able to read.

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