Start your review of Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr Write a review Shelves: favorites In doing my original research, for my novel Selene of Alexandria , I ran across Professor Deakin and his most useful website where he posted all the primary sources that mentioned Hypatia. Over the years, he spoke of her at conferences and wrote articles. Finally, in he published his book and I got to add another resource to my research shelf. Deakins work differs from Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska primarily in style and a little in content.
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She was not only possibly the last scientist with access to the books of the Library of Alexandria, but the first female mathematician in recorded history. She also was an expert astronomer, philosopher, physicist, and overachiever. Unfortunately, Hypatia was killed by a mob of Christian zealots in particularly grisly fashion, turning her life story into a point of contention for centuries to come.
By most accounts, she never married although she turned down many proposals , instead becoming headmaster at the contemporary equivalent of Yale. She regularly met with the town magistrates, who all agreed that she knew what she was talking about.
The problem was, Alexandria at the time was politically unstable, resulting in a lot of people wilding out on the regular. On one side, you had the town prefect, Orestes, who was basically trying to keep the peace.
On the other side, you had the bishop of the town church, Cyril, who was trying to look after his own. Evidently these guys could give up meat for six weeks, but not murder. Hypatia got dragged into the middle of this when Orestes started seeking out her advice — because she was, as has been established, a capital-s Smart Lady. The mob under Cyril latched on a rumor that she was prolonging the conflict by giving Orestes bad advice, so they did what mobs do: went to her house in some accounts, her classroom , stripped her naked, and killed her.
The translation here is subject to debate, but the instrument of her death was either roof tiles or sharpened oyster shells. Afterwards, her remains were burnt and scattered around the city. And this happened during Lent. What Sagan says about Hypatia in Cosmos both book and TV series is factually accurate, if a bit inflammatory.
Where he gets a little outside the realm of straight fact is where he characterizes the conflict as one of pagan intellectualism versus Christian mob mentality. It overlooks a couple things: Hypatia taught both Christians and pagans all the time. By all contemporary accounts, neither group had particular issues with her lessons. The real conflict was between Cyril and Orestes, and they were both Christian. But hey. Rachel Weisz! She was a victim of politics by being the wrong person, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Basically, what you should take away from it is this: she was a victim of politics by being the wrong person, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Based off of the available evidence, we can infer that she was helping to discover and hammer out the sort of math that one learns about toward the end of high school nowadays — which may flip her from hero to villain in your mind, depending on how you did in linear algebra.
Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr
Cyril won and immediately began to punish those who had supported Timothy; he closed the churches of the Novatianists , who had supported Timothy, and confiscated their property. And the governor of the city honoured her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic. And he ceased attending church as had been his custom And he not only did this, but he drew many believers to her, and he himself received the unbelievers at his house. 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. Watts both dismiss this hypothesis, noting that there is absolutely no evidence in any ancient text to support any part of the hypothesis. The Ptolemaic model of the universe was geocentric , meaning it taught that the sun revolved around the earth.
Deakin, , pp. There is a great deal of speculation and conjecture about her but remarkably few undisputed facts. Some say her slaughter was instigated by Saint Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria. The number of speculative details is not much larger but possibly more interesting.