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|Born||c. AD 351–370|
|Main interests||Mathematics, astronomy|
|Born||c. AD 351–370|
|Main interests||Mathematics, astronomy|
Hypatia (// hy-PAY-shə; Ancient Greek: Ὑπατία; Hypatía) (born c. AD 350 – 370; died 415) was a Greek Alexandrian Neoplatonist philosopher in Egypt who was one of the earliest mothers of mathematics. As head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she also taught philosophy and astronomy.
As a Neoplatonist philosopher, she belonged to the mathematic tradition of the Academy of Athens, as represented by Eudoxus of Cnidus; she was of the intellectual school of the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, which encouraged logic and mathematical study in place of empirical enquiry and strongly encouraged law in place of nature. For followers of Plotinus the life of reason had as its ultimate goal mystical union with the divine.
According to the only contemporary source, Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the governor Orestes and the Bishop of Alexandria. Kathleen Wider proposes that the murder of Hypatia marked the end of Classical antiquity, and Stephen Greenblatt observes that her murder "effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life". On the other hand, Maria Dzielska and Christian Wildberg note that Hellenistic philosophy continued to flourish in the 5th and 6th centuries, and perhaps until the age of Justinian.
The mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of the mathematician Theon Alexandricus (ca. 335–405). She was educated at Athens. Around AD 400, she became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, where she imparted the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle to students, including pagans, Christians, and foreigners.
Although contemporary 5th-century sources identify Hypatia of Alexandria as a practitioner and teacher of the philosophy of Plato and Plotinus, two hundred years later, the 7th-century Egyptian Coptic bishop John of Nikiû identified her as a Hellenistic pagan and that "she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles". However, not all Christians were as hostile towards her as John of Nikiu: some Christians even used Hypatia as symbolic of Virtue.
The Byzantine Suda encyclopaedia reported that Hypatia was "the wife of Isidore the Philosopher" (apparently Isidore of Alexandria); however, Isidore of Alexandria was not born until long after Hypatia's death, and no other philosopher of that name contemporary with Hypatia is known. The Suda also stated that "she remained a virgin" and that she rejected a suitor with her menstrual rags, saying that they demonstrated that there is "nothing beautiful" about carnal desire—an example of a Christian source using Hypatia as a symbol of Virtue.
Hypatia corresponded with former pupil Synesius of Cyrene, who was tutored by her in the philosophical school of Platonism and later became bishop of Ptolemais in AD 410, an exponent of the Christian Holy Trinity doctrine. Together with the references by the pagan philosopher Damascius, these are the extant records left by Hypatia's pupils at the Platonist school of Alexandria. The contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in Ecclesiastical History:
|“||There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.||”|
—Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History
Two widely cited but divergent texts describe the feud between Orestes, the prefect (or Governor) of Alexandria and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria. The feud and the city-wide anger it provoked ultimately brought about the death of Hypatia.
One source, the Historia Ecclesiastica (or "Ecclesiastical History"), was written by Socrates Scholasticus (who was himself a Christian), some time shortly after Hypatia's death in AD 415. Scholasticus gives the more complete, less biased account of the feud between Orestes and Cyril and of the role Hypatia played in the feud that resulted in her death.
The other source, The Chronicle, written by John of Nikiu in Egypt around 650 AD, demonizes Hypatia and Orestes directly, while validating all Christians involved in the events Nikiu describes. The Chronicle is more biased on the matter of the historical feud, omitting several points of the narrative that are included in Scholasticus’s account.
Ecclesiastical History, Socrates Scholasticus
Orestes, the Roman governor of Alexandria, and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, were involved in a bitter feud in which Hypatia became one of the main points of contention. In 415 AD, the feud began over Jewish dancing exhibitions in Alexandria. Because the exhibitions attracted large crowds and were commonly prone to civil disorder of varying degrees, Orestes published an edict that outlined new regulations for such gatherings. When crowds gathered to read the edict shortly after it was posted in the city's theater, it angered Christians as well as Jews. At one such gathering, Hierax, a devout Christian follower of Cyril, read the edict and applauded the new regulations. Many people felt Hierax was attempting to incite the crowd into sedition. Orestes reacted swiftly and violently out of what Scholasticus suspected was "jealousy [of] the growing power of the bishops…[which] encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities." He ordered Hierax to be seized and tortured publicly in the theater.
Hearing of Hierex's severe and public punishment, Cyril threatened to retaliate against the Jews of Alexandria with "the utmost severities" if the harassment of Christians did not cease immediately. In response to Cyril's threat, the Jews of Alexandria grew even more furious, eventually resorting to violence against the Christians. They plotted to flush the Christians out at night by running through the streets claiming that the Church of Alexander was on fire. When Christians responded to what they were led to believe was the burning down of their church, "the Jews immediately fell upon and slew them" by using rings to recognize one another in the dark and killing everyone else in sight. When the morning came, the Jews of Alexandria could not hide their guilt, and Cyril, along with many of his followers, took to the city’s synagogues in search of the perpetrators of the massacre.
After Cyril rounded up all the Jews in Alexandria, he ordered them to be stripped of all possessions, banished them from Alexandria, and allowed their goods to be pillaged by the remaining citizens of Alexandria. With Cyril's banishment of the Jews, "Orestes [...] was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population." Because of this, the feud between Cyril and Orestes intensified, and both men wrote to the emperor regarding the situation. Eventually, Cyril attempted to reach out to Orestes through several peace overtures, including attempted mediation and, when that failed, showed him the Gospels.[clarification needed] Nevertheless, Orestes remained unmoved by such gestures.
Meanwhile, approximately 500 monks who resided in the mountains of Nitria, and who were "of a very fiery disposition," heard of the ongoing feud between the Governor and Bishop and descended into Alexandria armed and prepared to fight alongside Cyril. Upon their arrival, the monks intercepted Orestes's chariot and proceeded to bombard and harass him, calling him a pagan idolater. In response to such allegations, Orestes countered that he was actually a Christian and had even been baptized by Atticus, the Bishop of Constantinople. The monks paid little attention to Orestes’ claims of Christianity, and one of the monks, Ammonius, struck Orestes in the head with a rock, causing him to bleed profusely. At this point, although Orestes’ guards fled in fear, a nearby crowd of Alexandrians came to his aid. Ammonius was subsequently secured and ordered to be tortured for his actions. He died of the torture.
Following the death of Ammonius, Cyril ordered that he henceforth be remembered as a martyr. Such a proclamation did not sit well with "sober-minded" Christians, as Scholasticus pointed out, seeing that he "suffered the punishment due to his rashness…[not because] he would not deny Christ." This fact, according to Scholasticus, became apparent to Cyril through general lack of enthusiasm for Ammonius's case for martyrdom.
Scholasticus then introduces Hypatia, the female philosopher of Alexandria and the woman who would become a target of the Christian anger that was inflamed during the feud. Daughter of Theon, and a teacher trained in the philosophical schools of Plato and Plotinus, she was admired by most for her dignity and virtue. Of the anger she provoked among Christians, Scholasticus writes, Hypatia ultimately fell "victim to the political jealousy which at the time prevailed." Orestes was known to seek her counsel, and a rumor spread among the Christian community of Alexandria blaming her for Orestes's unwillingness to reconcile with Cyril. A mob of Christians gathered, led by a reader (i.e., a minor cleric) named Peter, whom Scholasticus calls a fanatic. They kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the "Church called Caesareum. They then completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles." Socrates Scholasticus was hence interpreted as saying that, while she was still alive, Hypatia's flesh was torn off using oyster shells (tiles; the Greek word is ostrakois, which literally means "oystershells" but the word was also used for brick tiles on the roofs of houses and for pottery sherds). Afterward, the men proceeded to mutilate her and, finally, burn her limbs. News of Hypatia's murder provoked great public denouncement, not only against Cyril, but against the whole Alexandrian Christian community. Scholasticus closes with a lament: "Surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort."
Chronicle, John of Nikiu
Bishop John of Nikiu, who lived several hundred years after the events he describes, writes bitterly of Hypatia, claiming that "she beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles." Orestes, who Nikiu writes was himself a victim of Hypatia's demonic charm, regularly honored her and took to abandoning the Christian Church in order to follow her teachings more closely. Moreover, the Bishop claimed that Orestes himself persuaded others to leave the Church in favor of Hypatia's philosophical teachings and went as far as to host such "unbelievers" at his house.
One day, Orestes published an edict "regarding public exhibitions in the city of Alexandria" and all citizens gathered to read the edict. Cyril, curious to see why the edict caused such an uproar, sent Hierax, a "Christian possessing understanding and intelligence," who, although opposed to paganism, did as Cyril asked and went to learn the nature of Orestes's edict. Meanwhile, the Jews who gathered in anger over the edict believed that Hierax had come only for the sake of provocation (which, according to Scholasticus's text, was Hierax's intent). Upon this assumption, Orestes had Hierax punished for a crime for which "he was wholly guiltless."
For the punishment and torture of Hierax, as well as the death of several monks, including Ammonius, Cyril grew increasingly furious with Orestes. (Here, Nikiu blatantly ignores the assault on Orestes by the 500 monks, in which Ammonius played an active role in bringing about his own torture and death.) Cyril then warned the Jews against any further harm upon the Christians. However, with the support of Orestes (which is in no way implied by Scholasticus), the Jews felt confident in defying Cyril's authority, and so one night ran through the streets proclaiming: "The church of the apostolic Athanasius (Alexander) is on fire: come to its succour, all ye Christians." The Christians responded to the alarms only to be slaughtered by the Jews in a coordinated ambush.
The next morning, all remaining Christians of the town came to Cyril with news of the massacre, after which Cyril marched with them to purge the Jews from Alexandria. In so doing, Cyril allowed the pillaging of their possessions, and soon after purified all the synagogues in the city and made them into Churches (Scholasticus makes no mention of "purifying" the Synagogues). In the expulsion of the Jews, Orestes was unable to offer them any assistance.
Shortly thereafter, a group of Christians, under Peter the magistrate, went looking for Hypatia, the "pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments." They found her sitting in a chair, at which point they seized and brought her to "the great church, named Caesarion," where they proceeded to rip the clothes off her body. Then they dragged her through the streets of Alexandria until she died and burned her remains. Nikiu's description of Hypatia's death also differs from that of Scholasticus. Following the death of Hypatia, Bishop Cyril was named "the new Theophilus". With the death of Hypatia, Nikiu writes, the Christians had expelled the last remnant of pagan idolatry.
|Socrates Scholasticus (born after 380 AD, died after 439 AD)||John of Nikiû (7th century)|
Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home and, dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.
And, in those days, there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes, and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles . . . A multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the Magistrate . . . and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the Prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her . . . they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesareum. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her . . . through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire.
No written work, widely recognized by scholars as Hypatia's own, has survived to the present time. Many of the works commonly attributed to her are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus, this kind of authorial uncertainty being typical for female philosophers in Antiquity.
A partial list of Hypatia's works as mentioned by other antique and medieval authors or as posited by modern authors:
Her contributions to science are reputed to include the invention of the hydrometer, used to determine the relative density (or specific gravity) of liquids. However, the hydrometer was invented before Hypatia, and already known in her time.
Her student Synesius, bishop of Cyrene, wrote a letter describing his construction of an astrolabe. Earlier astrolabes predate that of Synesius by at least a century, and Hypatia's father had gained fame for his treatise on the subject. However, Synesius claimed that his was an improved model. Synesius also sent Hypatia a letter describing a hydrometer, and requesting her to have one constructed for him.
Shortly after her murder, there appeared under Hypatia's name a forged anti-Christian letter. The Neoplatonist historian Damascius (ca. AD 458–538) was "anxious to exploit the scandal of Hypatia's death", and attributed responsibility for her murder to Bishop Cyril and his Christian followers; that historical account is contained in the Suda. Damascius's account of the Christian murder of Hypatia is the sole historical source attributing direct responsibility to Bishop Cyril. Maria Dzielska proposes that the bishop's body guards might have murdered Hypatia.
Centuries later, the early 18th-century deist scholar John Toland used the murder of Hypatia as the basis for the anti-Catholic tract Hypatia: Or the History of a most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish’d Lady; who was torn to pieces by the Clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their Archbishop, commonly, but undeservedly, stil'd St. Cyril.
In turn, the Christians defended themselves from Toland with The History of Hypatia, a most Impudent School-Mistress of Alexandria: Murder'd and torn to Pieces by the Populace, in Defence of Saint Cyril and the Alexandrian Clergy from the Aspersions of Mr. Toland, by Thomas Lewis[disambiguation needed], in 1721.
In the 19th century, interest in the "literary legend of Hypatia" began to rise. Diodata Saluzzo Roero's 1827 Ipazia ovvero delle Filosofie suggested that Cyril had actually converted Hypatia to Christianity, and that she had been killed by a "treacherous" priest.
In 1843, German authors Soldan and Heppe argued in their highly influential History of the Witchcraft Trials that Hypatia may have been, in effect, the first famous "witch" punished under Christian authority (see Witch-hunt).
Charles Kingsley's 1853 novel Hypatia – or New Foes with an Old Face, which portrayed the scholar as a "helpless, pretentious, and erotic heroine", recounted her conversion by a Jewish-Christian named Raphael Aben-Ezra after supposedly becoming disillusioned with Orestes.
On 2 January 1893, a stage play "Hypatia", written by G. Stuart Ogilvie, opened at the Haymarket Theatre in London. It was based on the novel by Charles Kingsley, and was produced by Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The title role was initially played by Julia Neilson, and it featured an elaborate musical score written by the composer Hubert Parry.
Rinne Groff's 2000 play The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem features a character named Hypatia who lives silently, in fear that she will suffer the fate of her namesake.
A fictional version of the historic character appears in several works and indeed series, such as
A more scholarly historical study of her, Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (translated into English by F. Lyra, published by Harvard University Press), was named by Choice Magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Book of 1995, Philosophy Category".
The last two centuries have seen Hypatia's name honored in the sciences, especially astronomy. 238 Hypatia, a main belt asteroid discovered in 1884, was named for her. The lunar crater Hypatia was named for her, in addition to craters named for her father Theon and for Cyril. The 180 km Rimae Hypatia are located north of the crater, one degree south of the equator, along the Mare Tranquillitatis.
By the end of the 20th century Hypatia's name was applied to projects ranging in scope from an Adobe typeface (Hypatia Sans Pro), to a cooperative community house in Madison, Wisconsin. A genus of moth also bears her name.
Her life continues to be fictionalized by authors in many countries and languages. Two recent examples are Ipazia, scienziata alessandrina by Adriano Petta (translated from the Italian in 2004 as Hypatia: Scientist of Alexandria), and Hypatia y la eternidad (Hypatia and Eternity) by Ramon Galí, a fanciful alternate history, in Spanish (2009).
Azazil, by Egyptian Muslim author Dr. Youssef Ziedan, tells the story of the religious conflict of that time through the eyes of a monk, including a substantial section on Hypatia; Zaydan's book has been criticized by Christians in Egypt.
Examples in English include
More factually, Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr (2007) is a brief (113 page) biography by Michael Deakin, with a focus on her mathematical research. Hypatia has been considered a universal genius.
The 2009 movie Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, focuses on Hypatia's final years. Hypatia, portrayed by actress Rachel Weisz, is seen investigating the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Aristarchus of Samos, and even anticipating the elliptical orbits discovered by Johannes Kepler 1200 years later. Given her mathematical skill, familiarity with the Platonic curves, with Greek theories and observations of celestial movements, and the difficulty of knowing what she was researching at the time of her death, this portrayal is not unreasonable and perhaps fair and effective to portray the class of knowledge, teaching and researcher lost with the Library. However, the film more or less portrays rioting as the prime cause of the Library's decline, which is only partly true, as the worst decline seems to have been caused by budget cuts. Given her many Christian admirers it may also have been possible that one of them managed to mercifully kill her early or before the torturous process of murdering her with 'tiles'.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
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