Saturday, February 11, 2012

Women of History, Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia lived in Roman Egypt around 370 CE to about 415 CE, and was a noted mathematician and philosopher. She was daughter to the mathematician Theon Alexandricus, who was also a librarian at the library of Alexandria. Hypatia was educated in Athens and Italy, and was a Neoplatonist. Which means that she took her teachings from the mystical philosophy of Plato, she was also schooled by Plotinus who was a Neoplatonist philosopher as well. In around 400 CE, she became head of the Platonist school of Alexandria, where she taught philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and the philosophy of Neoplatonism.

Many people of her time said that she was charismatic and a great teacher. That she would stand next to men and be admired by her great knowledge. At a time in history, when Christianity was slowly taking over, a powerful, and smart woman, was not seen by all as a beneficial thing to their Christian society. Although her students were a very mixed bunch ranging from Pagans, Christians and foreigners who would travel far for her famous teachings. One in particular, Synesius of Cyrene, who later became the Bishop of Ptolemais, is said to have written letters to Hypatia, in which showed great admiration and reverence for her knowledge and her teachings.

Over time, Hypatia's teachings became associated with what the Christians considered to be Pagan. In about 415 CE, while Hypatia was traveling home on her chariot, she was ambushed by a mob of Christians. They continued to attack her, strip her naked as a form of humiliation, and drag her body through the streets to a Christianized temple where they killed her. The reports suggest that the mob of Christians skinned her body with shards of pottery, and then burned her remains. It is obvious that the Christians killed her because they felt threatened by her depth of knowledge and philosophical concepts. Women, to the Christians, were not supposed to be educated and smart, this was seen as a Pagan tradition.

It is said that after this brutal and horrifying event, is essentially when the fall of Alexandria began. Many scholars left after the murder of Hypatia. Maybe for fear of their own lives, or for disgust and sadness at the brutally violent display the Christians performed in order to squash out philosophical ancient knowledge, so they could come into power.

Hypatia was a very notable, smart and powerful woman in her day. A Warrior Woman of her time, and she died for her knowledge because a powerful woman was seen as a threat to the Christians.

Here are some notable quotes by Hypatia:

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all"

"All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final."

I hope you enjoyed learning about one of the many powerful women in history!

For more info on Hypatia, check out Biography of Hypatia and also Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, artist: Charles William Mitchell


  1. I've always found the story of Hypatia inspiring...and if I could travel in time, the great library in Alexandria would be one of my first stops! Thanks for sharing the story :)

  2. Could you please tell me where you found the two quotes from Hypatia? Thanks & blessings!!

  3. Lady Olwen, I just googled "Hypatia Quotes", you get quite a bit :)


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