Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hypatia, Last of the Ancient Greeks

Hypatia (b. ca. AD 350–370, d. March 415) (play /hˈpʃə/heye-PAY-shəGreekὙπατίαHypatía) was a Greek scholar from AlexandriaEgypt, who is considered the first notable woman mathematician; she also taught philosophy and astronomy.[1][2][3][4][5][6] As a Neoplatonist philosopher, she belonged to the mathematic tradition of the Academy of Athens, as represented by Eudoxus of Cnidus;[7] she was of the intellectual school of the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, which encouraged logic and mathematical study in place of empirical enquiry.[8] Hypatia lived in Roman Egypt, and was assassinated by a Christian mob who accused her of causing religious turmoil.[9] Kathleen Wilder proposes that the murder of Hypatia marked the end of Classical antiquity,[10][11] while Maria Dzielska and Christian Wildberg note thatHellenistic philosophy continued to flourish in the 5th and 6th centuries, and perhaps until the age of Justinian.[12][13] Nonetheless, the American historian of scienceDavid C. Lindberg proposes that the assassination of Hypatia was not consequence of the anti-intellectual conflict between religion and science, but that "her death had everything to do with local politics, and virtually nothing to do with science".[14] The name Hypatia (uppermost) derives from the Greek adjective ὑπάτη, the feminine form of ὕπατος (upatos).[15][16]


Hypatia, by Charles William Mitchell(1885).
The mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of the mathematician Theon Alexandricus (ca. 335–405), who educated her as was the norm for boys; he was the last librarian of the Alexandria Library in the Museum of Alexandria.[17] She was educated at Athens and in Italy; at about AD 400, she became headmistress of the Platonist school at Alexandria, [18][19][20] where she imparted the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle, to any student; the pupils included pagans, christians, and foreigners.[21] [22][8] The contemporary, 5th-century sources do not identify Hypatia of Alexandria as practicant of any religion, but, 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 magicastrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles".[23] [24] Nonetheless, despite the historical record, the Christians later used Hypatia as symbolic of feminine Virtue.[8]Moreover, the Byzantine Suda encyclopaedia reported that Hypatia was "the wife of Isidore the Philosopher" (Isidore of Alexandria), and that they (husband and wife) had agreed she would remain a virgin; and that she rejected a suitor with her menstrual rags, saying that they demonstrated "nothing beautiful" about carnal desire. [25] [21][26][21]
Hypatia corresponded with former pupil Synesius of Cyrene, who became bishop of Ptolemais in AD 410; and an author of the Christian Holy Trinity doctrine derived from thePlatonic education he received from her.[27] Together with the references by the pagan philosopher Damascius, these are the extant records left by Hypatia's pupils at the Platonist school of Alexndria.[28] 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.[8]
Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History


Hypatia was believed to be the cause of strained relations between Orestes, the Imperial Roman Prefect, and the Patriarch Cyril, thus she attracted the hatred of the Christians of Alexandria, who wanted the politician and the priest to reconcile. One day, in March AD 415, during Lent, a Christian mob of Nitrian monks lead by "Peter the Reader", waylaid Hypatia's chariot as she travelled home.[29] The monks attacked Hypatia, then stripped her naked, to humiliate her, then dragged her through the streets to the recently Christianised Caesareum church, where they killed her. The reports suggest that the mob of Christian monks flayed her body with ostraca (pot shards), and then burned her alive:
Socrates Scholasticus (5th century)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 by scraping her skin off with tiles and bits of shell. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them." [30]
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. [23]


Cameron's 1867 photograph Hypatia
An actress, possibly Mary Anderson, in the title role of the play Hypatia, circa 1900.
Many of the works commonly attributed to Hypatia are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus, this kind of authorial uncertainty being typical for feminine philosophy in Antiquity.[31]
A partial list of Hypatia's works:
Her contributions to science are reputed to include the charting of celestial bodies[6] and the invention of the hydrometer,[35] used to determine the relative density and gravity of liquids.
Her pupil Synesius, bishop of Cyrene, wrote a letter defending her as the inventor of the astrolabe, although earlier astrolabes predate Hypatia's model by at least a century – and her father had gained fame for his treatise on the subject.[36]


[edit]Late Antiquity to the Age of Reason

Shortly after her assassination, there appeared under Hypatia's name a forged anti-Christian letter.[37] 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 theSuda[38] Moreover, Damascius's account of the Christian murder of Hypatia is the sole historical source attributing responsibility to Bishop Cyril.[39] Maria Dzielska proposes that the bishop's body guards might have murdered Hypatia; furthermore, the fact that most historians of the 4th century, and later, were Christians, is likely why there are few extant historical sources about Hypatia and her murder.[40]
Moreover, in the 14th century, there appeared the woman intellectual Eudokia Makrembolitissa (1021–1096), the second wife of Byzantine Emperor Constantine X Doukas, whom the historian Nicephorus Gregoras described as a "second Hypatia".[41] Four hundred years later, the early 18th-century deist scholar John Toland used the assassination 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.[42] 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, in 1721.[43] In the event, when intellectual women became politically convenient, the Christians substituted Hypatia's life as that of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.[44][45]

[]19th century

In the 19th century, interest in the "literary legend of Hypatia" began to rise[46] 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).[47] In his 1847 Hypatie and 1857Hypatie et Cyrille, French poet Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle portrayed Hypatia as the epitome of "vulnerable truth and beauty".[48] Charles Kingsley's 1853 novelHypatia - or New Foes with an Old Face, which portrayed the scholar as a "helpless, pretentious, and erotic heroine",[49] recounted her conversion by a Jewish-Christian named Raphael Aben-Ezra after supposedly becoming disillusioned with Orestes.
In 1867, the early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron created a portrait of the scholar as a young woman.[50]

]20th century

References to Hypatia appear in other fiction. Some authors mention her in passing, such as Marcel Proust, who dropped her name in the last sentence of "Madame Swann at Home," the first section of Within a Budding Grove. Some characters are named after her, such as Hypatia Cade, a precocious child and main character in the science fiction novel The Ship Who Searched by Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey.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. Hypatia is the name of a 'shipmind' (ship computer) in The Boy Who Would Live Forever, a novel in Frederik Pohl's Heechee series. Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino sees the protagonist meet a secluded society of satyr-like creatures who all take their name and philosophy from Hypatia.
A fictional version of the historic character appears in several works and indeed series, such as the Heirs of Alexandria series written by Mercedes LackeyEric Flint and Dave Freer, which includes fictitious references to Hypatia's conversion to Christianity and subsequent correspondence with John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo; the Corto Maltese adventure Fable of Venice, by characteristic superposition of anachronistic elements, sees Hypatia preside over an intellectual salon in pre-Fascist Italy; and as a recurring character in Mark London Williams' juvenile fiction Danger Boy. She also appears, briefly, as one of the kidnapped scientists and philosophers in the Doctor Who episode Time and the Rani.
American astronomer Carl Sagan, in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, gave a detailed speculative description of Hypatia's death, linking it with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. 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".
She has been claimed by second wave feminism, most prominently as Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, published since 1986 by Indiana University PressJudy Chicago's large-scale The Dinner Partyawards her a place-setting, and other artistic works draw on or are based on Hypatia.
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 is located north of the crater, one degree south of the equator, along the Mare Tranquillitatis.[51]
By the end of the 20th century Hypatia's name was applied to projects ranging in scope from an Adobe typeface (Hypatia Sans Pro),[52] to a cooperative community house in Madison, WisconsinA genus of mothalso bears her name.

21st century

Her life continues to be fictionalised 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 by Ramon Galí, a fanciful alternate history, in Spanish (2009).[53] The 2008 novel Azazīl, by Egyptian Muslim author Dr. Yūsuf Zaydan, tells the story of the religious conflict of that time through the eyes of a monk, including a substantial section on Hypatia.[54] Zaydan's book has been criticized by Christians in Egypt.[55] Her life is portrayed in the Malayalam novel Francis Itty Cora(2009) authored by T. D Ramakrishnan, and she is a central character in The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson (2006) and his sequel novelette "Unburning Alexandria" (2008). Hypatia has been considered auniversal genius.[56]
Two examples in English are Remembering Hypatia: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Brian Trent,[57] and Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandria by Ki Longfellow, which was published by Eio Books in September 2009 as the second in a trilogy of the divine feminine, the first being The Secret Magdalene.[58]
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.
The 2009 movie Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, focuses on Hypatia's final years. Hypatia, depicted by actress Rachel Weisz, is seen investigating the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed byAristarchus of Samos.

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