Hypatia

Hypatia Picture

Hypatia, the first woman to challenge the pre-set notions of nature as a mathematical philosopher in the male dominated society of Ancient Greek, was born in 370 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. She was born to Theon, an eminent professor at the University of Alexandria. Theon raised Hypatia as a single parent, and was extremely enamoured with the child’s intelligence and capacity for knowledge. He had extremely elevated hopes of Hypatia, and he began to educate her in the disciplines of arts, science, literature and philosophy. Meanwhile, young Hypatia was also trained in physical activities such as swimming, riding and rowing. Hypatia was a gifted orator, and her skills were enhanced by her father’s insistence upon training her in speech.

Hypatia attended school at Athens, Greece, and the fame of her mathematical prowess began to spread as she neared the completion of her education. Upon her return to Alexandria, Hypatia was requested to accept the position of Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at the University of Alexandria. Hypatia accepted the post and began teaching, her lectures, particularly her discourse on Diophantus’ “Arithmetica”, influenced her disciples and an increasing number of students signed up for her classes. She educated her students on the teachings of Diophantus, exploring the various techniques he developed to formulate solutions to indeterminate problems, and analyzing the symbolism constructed by his theories. She also conducted lectures on the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. Hypatia’s speeches were iconic and extremely rousing, people travelled from far to come and listen to her speak.

Hypatia is credited for several contributions to the discipline of philosophy, however the exact number of her works is unknown as many of them were destroyed during the centuries passed. Nevertheless, her existing work includes her treatise and discourses on “The Conics of Apollonius” and “Amagest”, which include her extremely innovative analysis of Ptolemy’s countless observations of the stars. She also composed an analysis on her father’s work on Euclid’s ‘Elements’. Hypatia intended to use all these writings to aid her disciples in comprehending difficult mathematical concepts. Among Hypatia’s most influential disciples, perhaps Synesius of Cyrene was the most famous, and he also remains a credible source of much information gathered on Hypatia as a result of his letters, where he credits her for “creating an astrolabe and a planesphere”, which were astronomical device, created by Hypatia to be used as instruments for distilling water, for measuring the level of water, and for concluding the specific gravity of liquids. Unfortunately, very few of these instruments constructed by Hypatia survived the ages.

Hypatia belonged to the Pagan school of Greek ideology, whose beliefs were in constant strife with the dominant religion of Christianity. The Neo-Platonists were regarded as heretics because, according to the Christians, they disputed and corrupted the thoughts of religious people. In 412, Hypatia’s teachings and avowed dedication to Paganism began attracting criticism and hatred from the dominant Christians. The same year, Cyril took over as the patriarch of Egypt and he began embroiling Hypatia into a conspiracy by encouraging the masses to believe that Hypatia’s relationship with the prefect of Egypt, Orestes, was the reason for the disputes in Egypt. This enraged the people, and in March 415, Cyril began organising a mob of religious fanatics and extremists, and convinced them to believe that Hypatia’s death was the only way to bring peace and stability back to Egypt. Hence, on her way back from the university, Hypatia was chased by an angry mob. They caught up with her, pulled Hypatia out of her chariot and proceeded to strip her naked. She was hauled around, beaten, stoned, and then dragged to the church where she was butchered to tiny pieces and put to fire.

Her brutal murder continues to haunt philosophers and free thinkers all over the world to this day. Hypatia’s remarkable intelligent and timeless wisdom has benefited the world immensely, and she will always remain the first female to have revolutionized the field of mathematical philosophy.


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