Hypatia of Alexandria
370 – Mar. 415
by Brother Gerald del Campo
Hypatia was a charismatic educationalist born in Alexandria on 370 AD. She was the daughter of the philosopher Theon, who imparted to his daughter the knowledge of mathematics. Hypatia helped her father compose his eleven part observations on Ptolemy’s Almagest. She is also believed to have helped her father produce a version of Euclid’s Elements which eventually became the foundation for all subsequent editions of Euclid. Hypatia wrote commentaries on Diophantus’s Arithmetica, on Apollonius’s Conics and on the astronomical works of Ptolemy’s. She lectured on mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and mechanics.
She is the earliest woman in recorded history to have made such a profound contribution to the development of mathematics, science and philosophy. Hypatia based her tradition on the teachings of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, and presented these ideas with a greater emphasis on the importance of science than anyone before her. In 400 Hypatia became the head of the Platonist school. Her accomplishments and discoveries far exceeded those of her contemporaries. She was an extraordinary woman, who had cultivated her mind far beyond any other woman. All accounts describe her as extremely dignified and virtuous.
Hypatia taught many prominent Christians, and she was greatly admired by many monks. Even so, some Christians of the time began to associate her with paganism because of her extraordinarily intelligence. Hypatia was soon to become the focus for riots involving Christians and non-Christians alike.
In 412, Cyril, a fanatical Christian became the patriarch of Alexandria. Church and State were about to have a bitter battle that would ultimately end in no less a crime than the murder of Hypatia, and the eventual demise of Alexandria as an enlightened city. Cyril (Later Saint Cyril, ironically) began the persecution of scholars in the city.
Feeling threatened by her superior intellect, a band of fanatical Christian monks seized Hypatia on her way home. She was dragged by a carriage and taken to a church called Caesareum. There, at the church, she was stripped naked, tortured and dismembered. She was then taken piece by piece to a place called Cinaron, there to be burnt.
Other than the references to the titles of her work made by other contemporaries, nothing remains of Hypatia’s work. Some of her developments were a water distilling device, an instrument for measuring water levels, an astrolabe, and a hydrometer to weigh the specific gravity of fluids.