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Monday, 26 September 2011

Hypatia Of Alexandria - Female scholar of Eygpt

Hypatia of Alexandria lived during the declining times of one of Europe’s most formidable Empires. She was a famous scholar born in Alexandria, Egypt – then still under rule by the great Roman Empire, but into the sphere of families that stemmed from Greek learning. Her actual date of birth is not known, but most historians believe it to be between the years of 355 AD to 370 AD. This is a fifteen year gap, which leaves historians undecided on Hypatia’s actual age when she died in 415 AD. Therefore she could have been anywhere between the age of forty six to sixty when her life was brutally ended.

The port city of Alexandria in Egypt was a grand place that boasted the great Greek schools of learning from the times of King Ptolemy I and his son, King Ptolemy II before 300 BC. Mathematicians and Philosophers of the great Greek learning orders revered the place as did the Romans. The great Library of Alexandria was the hub where many of these great schools of learning were situated. A little like various schools and houses in today’s great universities in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale. Of course there are many more universities and I’ve used two Brit and American ones because the languages at the universities are the same. It gives an idea why the Egyptian city of Alexandria used the Greek ways because of the prior Greek settlers from King Alexandria the Great’s time.

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon Alexandricus – the last Librarian of The Library of Alexandria. She was brought up and schooled in Mathematics and Philosophy and was sent to other schools of learning outside of Alexandria as she grew. Her educational experience took her to Athens and Italy where she began to develop a reputation of high prestige, despite being a woman, in a very male dominated world

She returned to Egypt and Alexandria and became head of a school in the Library of Alexandria in the year 400 AD. It is not certain, but her father’s role as Head Librarian of the Library might have ended by this time, though he was still alive. He died in 405 AD. At this time Christianity was spreading all over the Roman Empire and Rome’s Christian Emperor Theodosius was bending to the will of the large Christian fractions that had become very fundamentalist in this time. It is believed he may have terminated the Chief Librarian position on advice of the Bishop of Alexandria in the 390s AD decade.

Hypatia was not a Christian. She loved the study of science, maths and philosophy – much of which could not find common ground with strict Christian doctrines that were evolving after centuries of persecution. The wheel had turned full circle for the Christian followers of the martyred Jesus Christ and the enthusiasm of this growing religion was finding interpretations of witchcraft and anti-Christian teachings in many things.

Hypatia had become an outspoken woman who attracted students from far and wide to Alexandria – many of them wanting to be schooled by the great teacher of mathematics and philosophy. She had written a number of works and was recognised throughout the Roman Empire as a great patron of learning.

She was never married and one rumour alleges that she refused one proposal of marriage by showing menstrual rags inciting that there was nothing beautiful concerning carnal desire. There is also a stereotype image of Hypatia being a beautiful woman that could excite passions of the man looking at her. I’m not sure if this is true, but she did have many learned friends who sought her company. One was the Roman Prefect of Alexandria called Orestes.

The Patriarch of Alexandria was named Cyril. He was a Bishop who believed that Hypatia’s outspoken ways and teachings were detrimental to Christianity, the new religion that Rome had succumb too, and did not like the favourable attention that Hypatia received from Orestes. She was admired as a great academic of the time and her company was sought by the higher classes of society.

Hypatia did not take these objections of Bishop Cyril seriously and continued to go about her business with no care for the Christian religion – not seeing herself as a threat to it. Her ways were unlike that of most ladies. She wore the clothes of a tutor and not those of a woman befitting her class and rank. She also moved about Alexandria by herself, steering her own chariot.

One day, in the year 415 AD, she was on an outing riding her chariot when a mob of angry Nitrian Christian Monks had been incited to set upon her. They dragged her from her chariot and stripped her naked in a frenzy of religious violence. She was beaten to death and taken before a Christian temple where her dead body was mutilated by pot shards and tiles from the steps. These fragments were used to dismember her corpse before her remains were burnt. There are other sources that say Bishop Cyril’s bodyguards killed her.

She had done so many good works within the schooling of Astronomy, Platonism and Mathematics that inspired many learned people, but her life was taken in a tidal wave of religious bigotry. First the Christian fanatics took her life but then her actual written works were destroyed in 642 AD when Muslim Arabs set fire to the Library of Alexandria. If anyone was a victim of relgious intolerance, Hypatia most certainly was.

Later some Christians would revere her, though I don’t think Hypatia would have appreciated this, though some did still vilify her in later centuries.

(A movie has been made. It is called Agora and it is about Hypatia)


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