Hypatia of Alexandria
“”The great era of Greek mathematical science, which began with the birth of a man, finished with the death of a woman.
Hypatia of Alexandria (died A.D. 415) was a mathematician, inventor, and neo-Platonist philosopher of the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The first known female mathematician, she was skinned to death with tiles by a Christian mob in the midst of a dispute between the Roman governor Orestes and the Christian Patriarch Cyril (who was later known as a Church Father, St. Cyril of Alexandria).
At the time of her death she was a lonely remnant of a philosophical school that had been heavily persecuted for over 25 years; her death is listed among the events that ended antiquity and began the Dark Ages.
Her father, Theon, was also a mathematician and philosopher, associated with the Musæum (a pagan temple-cum-philosophical school), and assisted her a good deal in getting her started in her work. She was best known as a teacher, eventually becoming the head of the Alexandrian neo-Platonic school.
She was known for being very eloquent, very virtuous, and very beautiful, easily able to hold her own among men; the Turkish-American rationalist minister M. M. Mangasarian described her thusly:
“”It appears that her beauty, which would have made even a Cleopatra jealous, was as great as her modesty, and both were matched by her eloquence, and all three surpassed by her learning.
She went to some trouble to remain unmarried. It happened at one point that one of her students got the idea that he was in love with her, and told her about it. Hypatia responded by handing him a menstrual rag, saying, "You love this, O youth, and there is nothing beautiful about it." This brought the youth promptly to his senses.
It is not known whether she was present when the Serapeum, Alexandria's center of learning at that time and the last known location of remnants of the Great Library of Alexandria, was destroyed as the result of a street battle between Christians and pagans about the time that pagan rites were outlawed through the Roman Empire in A.D. 391.
The most contemporary record of her death is the Historia Ecclesiastica, written by the church historian Socrates Scholasticus about 25 years after the fact. This chronicle relates that around the time of Hypatia's death, the patriarch Cyril drummed up a large mob, which then proceeded to run Alexandria's Jews out of the city. The Jewish population of Alexandria was quite sizable, and had been there for a very long time; Orestes, dismayed that this large portion of the city's population had been expelled, wrote to the Roman emperor to complain.
Later, at church, Cyril tried to make peace with Orestes by extending a Bible toward him; but Orestes refused to be reconciled. Hypatia was seen by the Christian population as being the cause of the continuing dispute:
“”For as [Hypatia] 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 Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.
Of this heinous act of torture and murder, the journal Free Inquiry commented: "Christian leaders... chopped up her body and burned her limbs, torso, and her very recently detached cranium, flowing with lush locks, plopping all onto their pious bonfire—all this to make sure, I suppose, that not only was she merely dead but really most sincerely dead."
 Academic work
She wrote a number of commentaries on what were then the great works of arithmetic, conics, geometry, and astronomy. She also engaged in astronomical work herself, producing charts of the stars and either independently re-inventing or vastly improving the astrolabe.
She was also the inventor of the hydrometer, a device for measuring the density of fluids based on Archimedes' principle. One of her pupils, Synesius, the bishop of Ptolemais (in modern Libya), commissioned an hydrometer from her at some point in the early fifth century.
 Historical distortions
The story of Hypatia has been continuously subjected to distortions in the retelling.
 Christian distortions
Although Socrates Scholasticus acknowledged Hypatia's "dignity and virtue" and wrote with disapproval of her murder, soon enough figures within the Church were trying to whitewash the behavior of their own people. John of Nikiu, a Coptic Orthodox bishop living two centuries later, wrote approvingly of the murder, stating that Hypatia was an evil witch, guilty of such satanic wiles as using astrolabes and playing music, and that the reader Peter was "a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ."
There is some speculation that another few centuries on, the story was ripped off to be used in the hagiography of St. Catherine of Alexandria, after whom the famous monastery at Mount Sinai is named. This hagiography, in true psychologically projective form, relates the tale of a highly virtuous Christian female philosopher/scientist who is murdered by pagans when she objects to their practice of their rites. The Catholic Church now recognizes that this hagiography is dodgy and has removed St. Catherine of Alexandria from the general calendar.
 Anti-Christian distortions
More recently, there have been some distortions from the other side, also trying to portray her death as something other than a philosopher caught in the crossfire of political bickering. After the Protestant Reformation, some writers used her story as an example of Catholic intolerance, distorting facts so as to lay all the blame on Cyril or on the Church. Still later, in the Romantic era, it was reduced on several occasions to a parable of classical learning vis-à-vis Christian ignorance and anti-intellectualism.
 Misplaced veneration
Ironically, Hypatia, the sharp-minded rational philosopher and scientist, has become an object of veneration for certain New Age woo-peddlers; for example, Pamela Longfellow, alias Ki, has written a book entitled Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandria, part of a trilogy dealing with gnosis of the "feminine divine." Ms. Longfellow, who somehow got the idea that virginity as a virtue was a Christian invention, pitched most of what is known about Hypatia out the window and imagined her as a New Age-style mystic working toward the "deeper truer purpose" of "the transmutation of the spirit." In support of this hypothesis, she provides the evidence that all the chroniclers writing about her were men.
- ↑ Wertheim, Margaret 'Pythagoras' Trousers, God, Physics, and the Gender Wars', Fourth Estate, London, 1997 p37
- ↑ "The Martyrdom of Hypatia," address to the Independent Religious Society, 1915.
- ↑ Hist. eccles. VII.15
- ↑ Paulkovich, Michael (2012). "A Tale of Two Tomes". Free Inquiry 32 (5): 45. http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=index_32. Retrieved 2 Feb 2013.
- ↑ Chronicle of John LXXXIV.87-103
- ↑ Davis, H.T. Alexandria: The Golden City. Illinois: Principia Press, 1957, p.441.
- ↑ Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Catherine of Alexandria
- ↑ "Historical Hypatia"
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