Library of Alexandria: Who was Hypatia?

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time.

The teacher Hypatia was born in 355 CE, the daughter of a notable mathematician Theon. She is considered one of the greatest female philosophers of Alexandria who taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. Hypatia lived in Alexandria at the decline the city’s intellectual and academic greatness just before its demise brought about by complete and total destruction of former monuments.

Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions.

Hypatia travelled to study in Athens and Rome before she took her position as the head of the Platonist School in Alexandria. She relayed the teachings of philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was considered by the people of Alexandria as a woman of grace, beauty and modesty. Hypatia was eloquent in speech, able to clarify complex subjects with ease and held a respectable position amidst her male counterparts in an increasingly patriarchal society.

On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.”

Theon and his daughter Hypatia worked to reformulate Euclides’ “Elements” a foundational textbook still used in mathematics today. Hypatia charted the celestial bodies and invented the hydrometer—a tool used to measure the relative density and gravity of liquids.


Though, it is said that some became envious of her use of the astrolabe in public.

Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she 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.”

Although the city of Alexandria was founded on a principle of religious freedom, in later years the rising Roman power threatened the fundamental ideals of the city. Hypatia was a pagan, yet the Romans spread a religion of “faith”, which was threatened by Hypatia’s pagan beliefs and ideas of rationalism. Despite the fact that her students were pagans, Christians and people of all religions, Hypatia was seen as a threat to this new rising religion taking hold in Alexandria.

In the year 391 CE, the Christian emperor Theodosius I ordered for the destruction of pagan temples. Hypatia was opposed to the authority of an idea of “faith” and continued to defend traditional ideas of Greek rationality.


By the year 412 CE Theophilus died and Cyril (his nephew) took his place as patriarch of Alexandria. Cyril who would later be named the “father of the Christine doctrine of the Trinity” saw Hypatia as the largest threat to this new religion.

In March of 415 CE, a Christian mob (possibly Nitrian Monks) led by Peter (the Reader) hunted down and killed Hypatia in her great crumbling city of Alexandria.

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 Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her by scraping her skin off with tiles and bits of shell. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.”

Despite the atrocious acts committed by the church of Alexandria, there was no retaliation for the gruesome murder of Hypatia—a well-respected woman of reason.

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. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril’s episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius [AD 415].

After the death of Hypatia, many remaining scholars fled to Athens and the Dark Ages took hold across Europe. The Intellectual Light of Alexandria was extinguished, as Hypatia’s death marked the end of Hellenistic thought.

both skillful and eloquent in words and prudent and civil in deeds. The rest of the city loved and honored her exceptionally….So then once it happened that Cyril who was bishop of the opposing faction, passing by the house of Hypatia, saw that there was a great pushing and shoving against the doors, ‘of men and horses together,’ some approaching, some departing, and some standing by. When he asked what crowd this was and what the tumult at the house was, he heard from those who followed that the philosopher Hypatia was now speaking and that it was her house. When he learned this, his soul was bitten with envy, so that he immediately plotted her death, a most unholy of all deaths. For as she came out as usual many close-packed ferocious men, truly despicable, fearing neither the eye of the gods nor the vengeance of men, killed the philosopher, inflicting this very great pollution and shame on their homeland.”

She was torn to pieces by the Alexandrians, and her body was violated and scattered over the whole city. She suffered this because of envy and her exceptional wisdom, especially in regard to astronomy” The Suda (Y166).


Stefan Geens, SBoyd, Viewminder

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