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Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene which is now in Libya in North Africa. His teachers included the scholar Lysanias of Cyrene and the philosopher Ariston of Chios who had studied under Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. Eratosthenes also studied under the poet and scholar Callimachus who had also been born in Cyrene. Eratosthenes then spent some years studying in Athens.
The library at Alexandria was planned by Ptolemy I Soter and the project came to fruition under his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The library was based on copies of the works in the library of Aristotle. Ptolemy II Philadelphus appointed one of Eratosthenes’s teachers Callimachus as the second librarian. When Ptolemy III Euergetes succeeded his father in 245 B.C., he persuaded Eratosthenes to go to Alexandria as the tutor of his son Philopator. On the death of Callimachus in about 240 B.C., Eratosthenes became the third librarian at Alexandria in the library in a temple of the Muses called the Mouseion. The library is said to have contained hundreds of thousands of papyrus and vellum scrolls.
Despite being a leading all-round scholar, Eratosthenes was considered to fall short of the highest rank. Heath writes:
Eratosthenes was, indeed, recognized by his contemporaries as a man of great distinction in all branches of knowledge, though in each subject he just fell short of the highest place. On the latter ground he was called Beta, and another nickname applied to him, Pentathlos, has the same implication, representing as it does an all-round athlete who was not the first runner or wrestler but took the second prize in these contests as well as others.
Certainly this is a harsh nickname to give to a man whose accomplishments in many different areas are remembered today not only as historically important but, remarkably in many cases, still providing a basis for modern scientific methods.