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451. The martyrdom of the pagan philosopher Hypatia. Alexandria, 415 A.D. (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History VII.15, Migne, PG vol. 67, col. 768-9; Suda, s.v. Hypatia, Y166 I.4 644-5 Adler=Damascius fr. 163-4 Zintzen) [1]

There was a woman in Alexandria named Hypatia. She was the daughter of the philosopher Theon. She had progressed so far in her education, that she surpassed by far the philosophers of her time, and took over the Neo-platonic school that derived from Plotinus, and set forth every philosophical approach to those who wanted to learn them. Accordingly people from all over who wanted to study philosophy rushed to her side. Because of the dignified reputation that derived from her education, she began (with due modesty) to address even the rulers. And she had no hesitation about being in the company of men, since they all respected her more because of her extraordinary chastity.

Then she became the subject of envy. Because she was frequently in the company of Orestes, people in the church began to slander her, as if that were what was preventing Orestes from making friends with the bishop. Some hot-headed men who agreed with this, who were led by a certain Peter the Reader, were on the lookout for the woman when she returned to her house from wherever she had been. They threw her out of her carriage, and dragged her to the church known as Caesarion. They tore off her clothing, and killed her with potsherds. When they had torn her apart limb from limb, they took the pieces of her body to the place called Cinaron, and burned them.

This act did no small amount of damage to Cyril and to the Church at Alexandria. For murder and fighting, and everything of that sort, are totally alien to those who believe in Christ. These events took place after Cyril had been bishop for four years, and Theodosius for ten [ca. A.D. 415], in the month of March, during Lent.

Hypatia: daughter of Theon the geometrician, the Alexandrian philosopher; she was also a philosopher herself and widely known. She was the wife of Isidorus the philosopher. Her prime occurred when Arcadius was on the throne. She wrote a commentary on Diophantus, the astronomer Kanon, and a commentary on the Conic Sections of Apollonius. She herself was torn to shreds by the Alexandrians, and her savaged remains scattered throughout the city. She suffered this fate because of envy and her extraordinary learning, and particularly because of what she knew about astronomy. Some say that she was killed by Cyril, others say that she died because of the violence and disorder characteristic of the Alexandrians. For they did this also to many of their own bishops, for example, George and Proterius.

About Hypatia the philosopher. An illustration of how disorderly the Alexandrians are. She was born and raised and educated in Alexandria. She inherited her father's extraordinarily distinguished nature, and was not satisfied with the training in mathematics that she received from her father, but turned to other learning also in a distinguished way. Although she was a woman she put on a man's cloak and made her way into the centre of the city and gave to those who wanted to listen public lectures about Plato or Aristotle or about some other philosophers. In addition to her teaching she also excelled in the practical arts, being just and chaste, she remained a virgin, though she was so beautiful to look at that one of her pupils fell in love with her. When he was no longer able to control his passion, he let her know how he felt about her. The uneducated stories have it that Hypatia told him to cure his disease through the study of the arts. But the truth is that he had long since given up on culture; instead, she brought in one of those women's rags and threw it at him, revealing her unclean nature, and said to him, "This is what you are in love with, young man, and not with the Beautiful," and in shame and wonder at this ugly display his soul was converted and he became more chaste.

That (according to this account) is what Hypatia was like, skilled in debate and dialectic, intelligent in her conduct and politically adept. The other citizens understandably were fond of her and accorded her the greatest respect, and the current magistrates of the town always went first to her, as used to happen also in Athens. For even though the practice had died out, the name of philosophy was still seemed distinguished and impressive to the people who had primary charge of the city. It then happened that the man charge of the opposing sect, Cyril, passed by Hypatia's house and saw a large crowd in front of the door, consisting of both men and horses, some arriving, some leaving, and some waiting there, He asked what the gathering was, and why there was commotion in front of the house, and learned from his followers that the philosopher Hypatia was giving a lecture and that this was her house. And when he learned this he was very upset and soon planned her murder, the most unholy of all murders. As she was going out to lecture, as was her custom, a group of bestial men attacked her, true ruffians, who had no respect for god and no concern for men's indignation; they killed the philosopher and brought the greatest pollution and disgrace on their fatherland ... Return to the top


Notes:

1. Discussion and bibliography in Lefkowitz, 1986, 107-12.