Beauty and brains was Hypatia – the last Alexandrian scholar at the ancient University of Alexandria. To live, is to remain an inspiration, and to die, is to become a legend: Hypatia achieved both, etched into the lives and hearts she touched with her excellence. Today, she lives on with equal renown.
Born and raised in Alexandria in 370 AD, Hypatia was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria, a well-known mathematician and astronomer, and the last attested member of the Alexandrian Museum. Little is known about Hypatia’s personal life, but as far as her legacy stands, she was a leading thinker during her time.
Hypatia was a popular figure in Alexandria, an ever-beautiful woman renowned for her intelligence and charisma.
During her time, Hypatia was the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer. Tutored by her father, she excelled in her specialties, though alongside her fervor for science, Hypatia was a Hellenistic Neoptalantist philosopher and a lover for teaching. She pursued teaching, and eventually, became the head of a Platonist school in Alexandria in 400 AD.
“There was a woman in 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. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from far distances, to receive her instructions,” explained Chiristian historiographer, Socrates Scholastricus in Eclessetiascal History.
Her fame as a scholar transcended the borders of Alexandria; she became a popular teacher and philosophical lecturer in ancient Alexandria’s University, where she taught and mentored many loyal students, including some of the greatest Pagan and Christian minds in history, such as Oresetes, the Imperial Perfect of Alexandria, who later became her close friend.
She became a role model for students all over the world, including those from the Roman Empire who traveled exclusively to attend her lectures. In addition to being a teacher, Hypatia also had encyclopedic knowledge in syntax and rhetoric – making her a well-rounded, brilliant individual.
During her career, she authored several books and essays, including commentaries on Astronomical Canon and the thirteen-volume commentary on Arithmetica by the Algebra pioneer, Diophantus.
Though her popularity soon gained her enmity from the Cyril of Alexandria, the fiery and oftentimes violent patriarch of the city. Unfortunately, she fell victim to his wrath.
During the early 5th century, Christianity was rising and growing, hence, Christians in Alexandria were moved to strike back at their pagan adversaries.
Hypatia’s legacy was brought to an end when she was murdered under accusations of paganism, and engaging in satanic practices. In 415 AD, she was dragged from her chariot by a mob consisting largely of Christians monks, where she was beaten to death, and burned.
She became a “martyr for philosophy.”
“Hypatia was a person who divided society into two parts, those who regarded her as an oracle of light, and those who looked upon her as an emissary of darkness,” explained American writer Elbert Hubbard in the book The Great Teachers.
A tragic character, Hypatia’s influence remains plastered in every Alexandrian corner – remembered as the first female mathematician, a brilliant scholar, and an impeccable teacher – a legacy that transcended the Mediterranean.