Hypatia 370 - 416 (46)

Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.


Hypatia (370-416 AD) was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer and mathematician who lived in Alexandria during Roman times. She was daughter of the mathematician and astronomer Theon who took good care of her education, sending her first to Italy and then to Athens where she attended the Neoplatonic school of Plutarch the Younger and his daughter Asklipigeneias. She also studied near Proclus and Hierocles, and she was philosophically influenced by Neoplatonic Plotinus and Lamblichus. She returned to Alexandria where she became head of the school of Platonists (400 AD). She taught philosophy and mathematics and became a magnet for intellectuals. Alexandria at that time was free of misogynist traditions which were prevailing in the rest of the Roman Empire. Although the Romans forced the conquered territories to follow their laws, the conquered had a relative autonomy; resulting especially in Alexandria the coexistence of Greek, Roman and Egyptian laws. Hypatia followed the Greek laws and could hold land and own house, was able to have her own business without a supervisor and to live independent, which was inconceivable for the rest of Egypt. Wearing the mantle of classical philosophers, she taught publicly about Plato and Aristotle to audience of pagans and Christians, while in small groups of students in her public office of some kind, she taught philosophy and rhetoric. Hypatia commented on Diophantus’ Arithmetic, she wrote the Astronomical Canon and perfected the Cone of Apollonius. She also helped her pupil Synesius to build an astrolabe and a hydrometer. Unfortunately, although she was prolific in writing none of her projects have been saved, only references to them. Many of her students belonged to senior circles of the aristocracy and became important figures such as Bishop Synesius of Cyrene and the Roman prefect of Alexandria, Orestes, with whom she had a close relationship.

During Hypatia’s lifetime the Romans were turning to Christianity but Hypatia had remained loyal to Greek religious beliefs, the Christians were hostile to this beliefs. In 416 there was much tension and hatred in Alexandria and the prefect Orestes was at odds with Archbishop Cyril. The Christians were accusing Orestes and Hypatia that had made sacrifices to the Greek gods and that they were pagans in contrast with the law of Theodosius who forbade idolatry. When a monk named Ammonius died because he had thrown a rock to Orestes, Cyril and other Christians turned against Hypatia, calling her a witch and a priestess. There are many theories about who was responsible for her death, the prevailing is that Cyril gave order. The murder is described in the writings of Christian historian from the 5th century, Socrates the Scholastic as follows: "Most of the people respected and admired her for her simple humility of mind. However, some people were jealous and because she often met and had great familiarity with Orestes, they accused her that she was the reason for not being friends the Bishop and Orestes. In short, some stubborn and reckless scatterbrained promoted and led by Peter, a follower of this Church, watched this woman returning home and they snatched her by force from her coach. They transferred her to the Church called Caesarium, they stripped her down and ripped her skin with sharp shells until she died. Then they tore her body apart, took its pieces to mount Kinaros and burned it.