All about Hypatia
Athens Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
Well i know this is a site where u can write about travel and places, but when i talk about Greece all i can think its history. So my ggfather was greek and a big part of my memories are about his stories, miths...and smell of his cookies.
All his stories marked all my chilhood....so i start to love what i saw through his eyes, when he was talkin about his country his eyes were sparking...his smile was very warm, and his dimples very deep....he was lookin at the sky and smoke his cigarette....he loved to be old, he thought old it mean wise, and wise is that kind of people that lived a full life of experience and now being old had the time and patience to share with the world the beauty of what he called " a beautiful jorney to unknown".
Anyways, what i remember 2 years ago visiting my relatives in Greece.
Who was Hypatia? By all accounts she was stunningly beautiful, dazzlingly brilliant, yet always modest and kind, living in an age when women were mere chattels. She is history’s first female mathematician, as well as the first female astronomer, inventor, and natural philosopher. As the daughter of the last head professor of the Museum of Alexandria, she practically grew up in the Great Alexandrian Library, where all the world’s knowledge was kept, for in addition to being a child prodigy, she was a voracious reader. A little more about her life, before I review two novels based on her that I have read.
Hypatia of Alexandria (about 370 – 415 AD) was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria who was a teacher of mathematics at the Museum of Alexandria, Egypt. The famous museum was a centre of Greek intellectual and cultural life, and it included many independent schools and the great library of Alexandria. Hypatia studied with her father, and with many others including Plutarch the Younger. She herself taught at the school of philosophy, whose slant was Neoplatonist. She became the salaried director of this school in 400. She probably wrote on mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, including about the motions of the planets, about number theory and about conic sections.
Hypatia corresponded with and hosted scholars from others cities. Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, was one of her correspondents and he visited her frequently. Hypatia was a popular lecturer, drawing students from many parts of the empire. From the little historical information about Hypatia that survives, it appears that she invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope, with Synesius of Greece, who was her student and later colleague.
Orestes, the governor of Alexandria, like Hypatia, was a pagan (non-Christian). Orestes was an adversary of the new Christian bishop, Cyril (later canonized). Orestes, according to the contemporary accounts, objected to Cyril expelling the Jews from the city, and was murdered by Christian monks for his opposition. Cyril also objected to Hypatia due to the following reasons: She represented heretical teachings, including experimental science and pagan religion. She was an associate of Orestes. And she was a woman who didn't know her place. Cyril's preaching against Hypatia is said to have been what incited a mob led by fanatical Christian monks in 415 to attack Hypatia as she drove her chariot through Alexandria. They dragged her from her chariot and, according to accounts from that time, tore her clothes, killed her, stripped the flesh from her bones, scattered some body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body in the library of Caesareum.
Hypatia's students fled to Athens, where the study of mathematics flourished after that. The Neoplatonic school she headed continued in Alexandria until the Arabs invaded in 642 AD. When the library of Alexandria was burned by the Arab conquerors, books were used as fuel for baths, and the works of Hypatia were also destroyed. We know her writings today through the works of others who quoted her (even if unfavourably) and through a few letters written to her by contemporaries.
Charles Kingsley has written a novel based on the life of Hypatia, simply called “Hypatia” (1853). This novel is set in fifth century Alexandria and portrays decadent Romans, effete Roman Catholics, sophisticated pagan philosophers and vital Germanic warriors struggling for mastery as the world around them collapses. By setting the novel in the 5th century he was able to attack 19th century attitudes, which he believed were rending the fabric of English life. Kingsley was criticizing through his novel what he considered to be destructive 'high-church' tendencies in Victorian England. Kingsley’s novel is typically Victorian, nevertheless replete with atmosphere, accurate in detail and with great characterisation. It reminded somewhat of Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Last Days of Pompeii” in style.
The second novel is by Brian Trent and is titled: “Remembering Hypatia” (2005). This is essentially a historical novel about Hypatia, in the tradition of historical fictional epics. Obviously, Trent has studied Kingsley’s novel and uses some of the details of the earlier work in his novel, but Trent’s version is more likely to appeal to the modern reader, in that his style is more engaging in terms of writing and plot development.
I would recommend either of these books to you if you wish to learn about this great human being whose murder by a fanatical mob can be taken to be a presage of the dark ages that followed in the West, where the quest for knowledge, active scientific enquiry, philosophical thinking and rationalism were suppressed by superstition and fanaticism.