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HYPATIA of Alexandria (c. 355 CE – 415 CE)
Hypatia of Alexandria is the earliest woman philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician whose legacy has survived. Her teaching attracted students from wealthy and influential families, including the future bishop Synesius of Cyrene, whose letters “To the Philosopher” are some of our few primary sources about Hypatia.
She succeeded her father, the Greek mathematician Theon, as head of his Neoplatonist school.
After living and teaching peacefully amidst dangerous religious conflict, Hypatia drew the ire of enemies who resented the accomplishment of a woman – and hated that a “pagan” had become the era’s preeminent astronomer and mathematician.
Math is hard.
Bishop Cyril of Alexandria needed only to spread slanderous rumors to provide sufficient pretext for the parabalani – a violent militia of Christian monks – to savagely torture and murder an unarmed scholar. Some say they hacked her to death with clay roofing tiles; some say they wielded oyster shells. Either way, the cowards were satisfied they had silenced her.
Following this atrocity, Hypatia’s work was disparaged and her writings were “lost.”
Hypatia is not forgotten.
The ancient philosopher and astronomer is memorialized on Earth (presolar meteorite fragment “Hypatia” stone), on the Moon (Hypatia crater, Rimae Hypatia), and in the heavens (main-belt asteroid 238 Hypatia).
Synesius of Cyrene Drags Athens in a Letter to his Brother
…may the accursed ship-captain perish who brought me here! Athens has no longer anything sublime except the country’s famous names! Just as in the case of a victim burnt in the sacrificial fire, there remains nothing but the skin to help us to reconstruct a creature that was once alive – so ever since philosophy left these precincts, there is nothing for the tourist to admit except the Academy, the Lyceum, and – by Zeus! – the Decorated Porch which has given its name to the philosophy of Chrysippus.
Today Egypt has received and cherishes the fruitful wisdom of Hypatia. Athens used to be the dwelling place of the wise: today the beekeepers alone bring it honor.
Rose water and a mineralic, star-dappled blend of white musk, crystalline amber, and sweet oud.