Imagine a time when the greatest mathematician in the world was a woman...who just happened to be the world's leading astrologer as well.
"Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel, the more truth we comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond." Hypatia
Hypatia was the first woman to make an important contribution to the develop of mathematics. Hypatia was born about 355 A.D; she was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria. Nothing is known of her mother. Theon was an important man; not only was he a mathematician, but also a philosopher, astronomer, and a noted astrologer, and, wanting his daughter to be the best she could be, he made sure to educate her in all of these subjects...as well as developing a physical routine to ensure for her a healthy body. A brilliant young woman, soon Hypatia surpassed her father's knowledge.
Hepatia never married; instead she chose to pursue her scholarly endeavors and became a teacher at Alexandria's Neoplatonic School; later she became its director...a remarkable accomplishment for a woman in those days. Her lectures were lively and interesting, and she was loved and admired by all and well respected by many of the officials. Many prominent Christians were among her pupils. One of her most famous students was Synesuis, who was later to become the Bishop of Ptolemais.
But, Hypatia lived at a time when there was conflict between the Pagans on one side and Christians on the other, who were demanding an end to paganism. Hypatia symbolized learning and science which those early Christians identified with paganism. This left her in a very precarious situation. It was only due to her friendship with Synesuis that she was tolerated, but after he died, she was left vulnerable to those who sought to get rid of her. The Archbishop, Cyril, as a fanatic whose mission was to rid the city of all Neoplatonists and Jews...and Hypatia's popularity was greater than Cyril's which made her an adversary who stood in the way of him gaining complete control of the people.
We will never know why Hypatia chose to stay, but she did, and it cost her her life. One day, in 415 A.D., while she was on her way home from teaching, she was surrounded by a mob of zealots, dragged her from her carriage and into a local church were they stripped off her clothes and scraped the skin from her body with sharp objects. Then, they tore her apart...limb by limb and took her body and burned it. There is no evidence that Cyril was involved, but it is believed he ordered the killing...or at least instigated it by inciting the other Christians.
Hypatia was a woman who was born,lived, and died before her time, a woman who had been loved by many for her beauty, wisdom, and compassion. Her murder, at age 60, was an act of hatred, a heinous act, but none of the perpetrators were ever punished...let alone arrested. Her death marked the end of an era, the demise of the last phase of ancient science. Neoplatonism did not survive.
Hypatia lives on forever, though, sitting serenely on the Moon, her crater located near the crater that was named for her father. Her reputation has inspired the imaginations of many writers.
"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than to not think at all."--Hypatia