Writings About Hypatia


This is a long read, and to understand it you probably need to know that Theon was Hypatias father. Hypatia was a “philosopher” which in her day meant a follower of the sciences of her day. In her day the separation between science and mysticism was contentious and overlapped in many areas. She was not a philosopher in our modern sense of the word, more of a scientist – spiritualist overlap.

Some of the people involved include Synesius of Cyrene who was the Christian bishop of the city of Ptolemais, Bishop Cyril was the Christian bishop of Alexandria, and Orestes was the Prefect of Alexandria (The head of the Greek political machine in Alexandria).

If you are reading these in the order they appear in the menu and get lost, continuing on to Why Hypatia and then coming back may make it clearer.

English translations of first source writings to and about Hypatia

Writings About Hypatia
| By Bruce Williams

For those of you interested in a more detailed history of Hypatia I would recommend the book by Michael A. Deakin – “Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr” Prometheus Books. He goes into much more detail about the attempt to derive what of her fathers writings she was involved in as well as others writings. There are no known writings of hers that were not burned when the Christians destroyed the libraries in Alexandria (there were at least 2 libraries, the Royal Library and the Serapeum, both burned down during the purges of “pagan” writings.)

English Translations of Known writings about Hypatia:

A brief overview of the Primary Sources of what we know about Hypatia.

Birth of Hypatia – 355CE? (Not well established)
Education and Writings
375CE to 405CE – Theon’s Inscription, Book III of his Commentary on Ptolemy’s Almagest
Letters Of Synesius
11 – Early 398CE
10 – Aug 399CE
7 – Late 404CE
9 – May 405CE
6 – May 405CE
4 – 405 or 406CE
8 – Oct 23, 407CE
5 – Early 413CE
3 – “
2 – “
1 – “
Death of Hyperia – 414CE (59Yr old? Actual birth date not well established)
+16 to +26Yr Philostorgius’s Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber VIII, § B ?’
+26Yr to +36Yr The Writings of SOCRATES SCHOLASTICUS
+86 to +150Yr The Chronicle of John Malalas, Book 14, § 12
+276Yr The Chronicle of John Of Nikiu
+496 to +501Yr Theophanes’ Chronographia § 71
+586 to +686Yr DAMASCIUS

Birth of Hypatia – 355CE? (Not well established)

Between 375CE and 405CE
Theon’s Inscription, Book III of his Commentary on Ptolemy’s Almagest
“Theon of Alexandria’s commentary on the third [book] of the Mathematical Syntaxis of Ptolemy, the edition having been prepared by the philosopher, my daughter Hypatia.”2

Early 398CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To Herculian (an excerpt)
[Herculian was a close friend and fellow student of Synesius. This letter is a lengthy protestation of friendship and of mutual dedication to philosophy. It contains the following passage.]

“. . . We have seen with our eyes, we have heard with our ears the lady [Hypatia] who legitimately presides over the mysteries of philosophy. And if human interests join those who share them in a bond of union, so a divine law demands of us who are united in mind, which is the best part of us, to honor each other’s qualities. . .”2

August 399CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To His Brother (an excerpt)
[The burden of this letter is his disappointment with Athens. He ends by comparing it unfavorably with Alexandria.] . . .

“To-day Egypt has received and cherishes the fruitful wisdom of Hypatia. Athens was aforetime the dwelling-place of the wise: to-day the bee-keepers alone bring it honor. Such is the case of that pair of sophists in Plutarch who draw the young people to the lecture room—not by fame of their eloquence, but by pots of honey from Hymettus.”2

Late 404CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
“To the Philosopher (Hypatia) I have brought out two books this year. One of them as I was moved thereto by God Himself, the other because of the slander of men. Some of those who wear the white or dark mantle have maintained that I am faithless to philosophy, apparently because I profess grace and harmony of style, and because I venture to say something concerning Homer and concerning the figures of the rhetoricians. In the eyes of such persons one must hate literature in order to be a philosopher, and must occupy himself with divine matters only. No doubt these men alone have become spectators of the knowable. This privilege is unlawful for me, for I spend some of my leisure in purifying my tongue and sweeteningmy wit. The thing which urged them to condemn me, on the charge that I am fit only for trifling, is the fact that my Cynegetics disappeared from my house, how I know not, and that they have been received with great enthusiasm by certain young men who make a cult of Atticisms and graceful periods. Moreover, some poetical attempts of mine have seemed to them to be the work of an artist who reproduces the antique, as we are wont to say in speaking of statues. There are certain men among my critics whose effrontery is only surpassed by their ignorance, and these are the readiest of all to spin out discussions concerning God. Whenever you meet them, you have to listen to their babble about inconclusive syllogisms. They pour a torrent of phrases over those who stand in no need of them, in which I suppose they find their own profit. The public teachers that one sees in our cities, come from this class. It is the very Horn of Amalthea which they think themselves entitled to use. You will, I think, recognize this easy-going tribe, which miscalls nobility of purpose. They wish me to become their pupil; they say that in a short time they will make me all-daring in questions of divinity, and that I shall be able to declaim day and night without stopping. The rest, who have more taste, are, as sophists, much more unfortunate than these. They would like to be famous in the same way, but fortunately for them they are incapable even of this. You know some who, despoiled at the office of the tax collector, or urged thereto by some one calamity, have become philosophers in the middle of their lives. Their philosophy consists in a very simple formula, that of calling God to witness, as Plato did, whenever they deny anything or whenever they assert anything. A shadow would surpass these men in uttering anything to the point; but their pretensions are extraordinary. Oh, what proudly arched brows! They support the heads with the hand. They assume a more solemn countenance than the statues of Xenocrates. They are even resolved to shackle us with a law that is altogether to their advantage; to wit, that no one shall be in open possession of any knowledge of the good.

They esteem it an exposure of themselves if any one, deemed a philosopher, knows how to speak, for they think to hide behind a veil of simulation and to appear to be quite full of wisdom within. These are the two types of men who have falsely charged me with occupying myself in trivial pursuits, one of them because I do not talk the same sort of nonsense as they do, the other because I do not keep my mouth shut, and do not keep the ‘bull on my tongue’ as they do. Against these was my treatise composed, and it deals with the loquacity of one school and the silence of the other. Although it is to the latter in particular that it is addressed, namely to the speechless and envious men in question (doyou not think with some comeliness of form?), none the less it has found means of dragging in those other men also, and it aims at being not less an exhibition than an encomium of great learning. Nor did I abjure their charges, but for their still greater discomfiture I have even courted them.

Next, passing to the choice of a life, the work praises that of philosophy as being the most philosophic of choices; and what sort of choice it must be regarded, learn from the book itself. Finally, it defends my library also, which some men have accused, on the ground that it conceals unrevised copies. The spiteful fellows have not kept their hands even off things like these. If each thing is in its proper place; and all things have been handled in season; if the motives behind each part of the undertaking are just; if it has been divided into a number of chapters in the manner of that divine work The Phaedrus, in which Plato discusses the various types of the beautiful; if all the arguments have been devised to converge on the one end proposed; if, moreover, conviction has anywhere quietly come to the support of the flatness of the narrative, and if out of conviction demonstration has resulted, as happens in such cases, and if one thing follows from another logically, these results must be gifts of nature and art.

He who is not undisciplined to discover even a certain divine countenance hidden under a coarser model, like that of Aphrodite, those Graces, and such charming divinities as the Athenian artists concealed within sculptured figures of a Silenus or a Satyr, that man, at all events, will apprehend all that my book has unveiled of the mystic dogmas. But the meanings of these will easily escape others because of their semblance of redundancy, and their appearance of being thrown into the narrative too much by chance, and as it might seem roughly. Epileptics are the only people who feel the cold influences of the moon. On the other hand only those receive the flashes of the emanations of the intellect, for whom in the full health of the mind’s eye God kindles a light akin to his own, that light which is the cause of knowledge to the intellectual, and to knowable things the cause of their being known. In the same way, ordinary light connects sight with color. But remove this light, and its power to discern is ineffective.

Concerning all this I shall await your decision. If you decree that I ought to publish my book, I will dedicate it to orators and philosophers together. The first it will please, and to the others it will be useful, provided of course that it is not rejected by you, who are really able to pass judgment. If it does not seem to you worthy of Greek ears, if, like Aristotle, you prize truth more than friendship, a close and profound darkness will overshadow it, and mankind will never hear it mentioned.

So much for this matter. The other workGod ordained and He gave His sanction to it, and it has been set up as a thank-offering to the imaginative faculties. It contains an inquiry into the whole imaginative soul, and into some other points which have not yet been handled by any Greek philosopher. But why should one dilate on this? This work was completed, the whole of it, in a single night, or rather, at the end of a night, one which also brought the vision enjoining me to write it. There are two or three passages in the book in which it seemed to me that I was some other person, and that I was one listening to myself amongst others who were present. Even now this work, as often as I go over it, produces a marvellous effect upon me, and a certain divine voice envelops me as in poetry. Whether this my experience is not unique, or may happen to another, on all this you will enlighten me, for after myself you will be the first of the Greeks to have access to the work. The books that I am sending you have not yet been published, and in order that the number may be complete, I am sending you also my essay concerning the Gift. This was produced long ago in my ambassadorial period. It was addressed to a man who had great influence with the emperor, and Pentapolis profited somewhat from the essay, and also from the gift.”2

May 405CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To Olympius (an excerpt)
“[This is a reply which begins by acknowledging receipt of a long-delayed letter. It suggests new arrangements for delivery and goes on to describe the difficult situation in which he is placed, fearing the hostility of a besieging army. Only a short passage is relevant here.]
. . . I shall . . . arrange things differently in future, and entrust [my letters] to Peter alone. I think Peter will bring on this letter through the agency of the sacred hand, for I am sending it from Pentapolis to our common teacher [Hypatia]. She will choose the man by whom she wishes it to be conveyed, and her choice, I am sure, will fall upon the most trusted messenger. . . .”2

May 405CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“Even though there shall be utter forgetfulness of the dead in Hades ‘even there shall I remember thee,’ my dear Hypatia. I am encompassed by the sufferings of my city, and disgusted with her, for I daily see the enemy forces, and men slaughtered like victims on an altar. I am breathing an air tainted by the decay of dead bodies. I am waiting to undergo myself the same lot that has befallen so many others, for how can one keep any hope, when the sky is obscured by the shadow of birds of prey? Yet even under these conditions I love the country. Why then do I suffer? Because I am a Libyan, because I was born here, and it is here that I see the honoured tombs of my ancestors. On your account alone I think I should be capable of overlooking my city, and changing my abode, if ever I had the chance of doing so.”2

405 or 406CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“I seemed destined to play the part of an echo. Whatever sounds I catch, these I repeat. I now pass on to you the praises of the marvellous Alexander. . . .”2

Oct 23, 407CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To His Brother (an excerpt)
“[The letter, a long one, describes a voyage beset by storm and resulting in shipwreck. Only its conclusion is here relevant.]
. . . Farewell; give my kindest messages to your son Dioscorus and to his mother and grandmother, both of whom I love and look upon as though they were my own sisters. Salute for me the most holy and revered philosopher [Hypatia], and give my homage also to the company of the blessed who delight in her oracular utterance. Above all to the worthy and holy Theotecnus, and my friend, Athanasius. As to our most sympathetic Gaius, I well know that you, like myself, regard him as a member of our family. Do not forget to remember me to them, as also to Theodosius, who is not merely a grammarian of the first order, but one who, if he really be a diviner, has certainly succeeded in deceiving us. He surely must have foreseen the incidents of this voyage, for he finally gave up his desire to come with me. However, that is a matter that does not signify. I love and embrace him. As for you, may you never trust yourself at sea, or at least, if you really must do so, let it not be at the end of a month.”2

Early 413CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“Even if Fortune is unable to take everything away from me, at least she wants to take away everything that she can, she who has ‘bereft me of my excellent sons’. But she can never take away from me the choice of the best, and the power to come to the help of the oppressed, for never may she prevail to changemy heart! I abhor iniquity: for one may, and I would fain prevent it, but this also is one of those things which were taken from me; this went even before my children.

‘Aforetime the Milesians were men of might.’ There was a time when I, too, was of some use to my friends. You yourself called me the providence of others. All respect which was accorded to me by the mighty of this earth I employed solely to help others. The great were merely my instruments. But now, alas, I am deserted and abandoned by all, unless you have some power to help. I account you as the only good thing that remains inviolate, along with virtue. You always have power, and long may you have it and make good use of that power. I recommend to your care Nicaeus and Philolaus, two excellent young men united by the bond of relationship. In order that they may come again into possession of their own property, try to get support for them from all your friends, whether private individuals or magistrates.”2

Early 413CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“I am dictating this letter to you from my bed, but may you receive it in good health, mother, sister, teacher, and withal benefactress, and whatsoever is honored in name and deed. For me bodily weakness has followed in the wake of mental suffering. The remembrance of my departed children is consuming my forces, little by little. Only so long should Synesius have lived as he was still without experience of the evils of life. It is as if a torrent long pent up had burst upon me in full volume, and as if the sweetness of life had vanished. May I either cease to live, or cease to think of the tomb of my sons! But may you preserve your health and give my salutations to your happy comrades in turn, beginning with father Theotecnus and brother Athanasius, and so to all! And if anyone has been added to these, so long as he is dear to you, I must owe him gratitude because he is dear to you, and to that man give my greetings as to my own dearest friend. If any of my affairs interests you, you do well, and if any of them does not so interest you, neither does it me.”2

Early 413CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“I am in such evil fortune that I need a hydroscope. See that one is cast in brass for me and put together. The instrument in question is a cylindrical tube, which has the shape of a flute and is about the same size. It has notches in a perpendicular line, by means of which we are able to test the weight of the waters. A cone forms a lid at one of the extremities, closely fitted to the tube. The cone and the tube have one base only. This is called the baryllium. Whenever you place the tube in water, it remains erect. You can then count the notches at your ease, and in this way ascertain the weight of the water.”2

Early 413CE
Letter from Synesius of Cyrene
To the Philosopher (Hypatia)
“I salute you, and I beg of you to salute your most happy comrades for me, august Mistress. I have long been reproaching you that I am not deemed worthy of a letter, but now I know that I am despised by you all for no wrongdoing on my part, but because I am unfortunate in many things, in as many as a man can be. If I could only have had letters from you and learnt how you were all faring—I am sure you are happy and enjoying good fortune—I should have been relieved, in that case, of half my own trouble, in rejoicing at your happiness. But now your silence has been added to the sum of my sorrows. I have lost my children, my friends, and the goodwill of everyone. The greatest loss of all, however, is the absence of your divine spirit. I had hoped that this would always remain to me, to conquer both the caprices of fortune and the evil turns of fate.”2

Death of Hypatia – 414CE

(+16 to +26Yr) 430CE-440CE
From Philostorgius’s Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber VIII, § B ?’
“Well does he [Philostorgius] say that Hypatia the daughter of Theon was taught mathematics by her father, but reached an excellence far above her teacher, especially in astronomy, and that she instructed many [pupils] in mathematical studies. However, the ungodly man states that she was torn to pieces by the homöousians [orthodox Christians] during the reign of Theodosius the Younger.”2

(+26 to 36Yr) 440-450CE
SOCRATES SCHOLASTICUS
The Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, Chapter XIII

“Conflict between the Christians and Jews at Alexandria: and breach between the Bishop Cyril and the Prefect Orestes.

About this time it happened that the Jewish inhabitants were driven out of Alexandria by Cyril the bishop on the following account. The Alexandrian public is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed. It happened on the present occasion that a disturbance arose among the populace, not from a cause of serious importance, but out of an evil that has become very popular in almost all cities, viz. a fondness for dancing exhibitions. In consequence of the Jews being disengaged from business on the Sabbath, and spending their time, not in hearing the Law, but in theatrical amusements, dancers usually collect great crowds on that day, and disorder is almost invariably produced. And although this was in some degree controlled by the governor of Alexandria, nevertheless the Jews continued opposing these measures. And although they are always hostile towards the Christians they were roused to still greater opposition against them on account of the dancers. When therefore Orestes the prefect was publishing an edict—for so they are accustomed to call public notices—in the theater for the regulation of the shows, some of Cyril’s party were present to learn the nature of the orders about to be issued. There was among them a certain Hierax, a teacher of the rudimental branches of literature, and one who was a very enthusiastic listener of the bishop Cyril’s sermons, and made himself conspicuous by his forwardness in applauding. When the Jews observed this person in the theatre, they immediately cried out that he had come there for no other purpose than to incite sedition among the people. Now Orestes had long regarded with jealousy the growing power of the bishops, because they encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities appointed by the emperor, especially as Cyril wished to set spies over his proceedings; he therefore ordered Hierax to be seized, and publicly subjected him to the torture in the theatre. Cyril, on being informed of this, sent for the principal Jews, and threatened them with the utmost severities unless they desisted from their molestation of the Christians. The Jewish populace on hearing these menaces, instead of suppressing their violence, only became more furious, and were led to form conspiracies for the destruction of the Christians; one of these was of so desperate a character as to cause their entire expulsion from Alexandria; this I shall now describe. Having agreed that each of them should wear a ring on his finger made of the bark of a palm branch, for the sake of mutual recognition, they determined to make a nightly attack on the Christians. They therefore sent persons into the streets to raise an outcry that the church named after Alexander was on fire. Thus many Christians on hearing this ran out, some from one direction and some from another, in great anxiety to save their church. The Jews immediately fell upon and slew them; readily distinguishing each other by their rings. At daybreak the authors of this atrocity could not be concealed: and Cyril, accompanied by an immense crowd of people, going to their synagogues—for they so call their house of prayer—took them away from them, and drove the Jews out of the city, permitting the multitude to plunder their goods. Thus the Jews who had inhabited the city from the time of Alexander the Macedonian were expelled from it, stripped of all they possessed, and dispersed some in one direction and some in another. [One of them, a physician named Adamantus, fled to Atticus bishop of Constantinople, and professing Christianity, some time afterwards returned to Alexandria and fixed his residence there.] But Orestes the governor of Alexandria was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population; he therefore at once communicated the whole affair to the emperor. Cyril also wrote to him, describing the outrageous conduct of the Jews; and in the meanwhile sent persons to Orestes who should mediate concerning a reconciliation: for this the people had urged him to do. And when Orestes refused to listen to friendly advances, Cyril extended toward him the book of gospels, believing that respect for religion would induce him to lay aside his resentment. When, however, even this had no pacific effect on the prefect, but he persisted in implacable hostility against the bishop, the following event afterwards occurred.

2. Ibid ., Chapter XIV
The Monks of Nitria come down and raise a Sedition against the Prefect of Alexandria.
Some of the monks inhabiting the mountains of Nitria, of a very fiery disposition, whom Theophilus some time before had unjustly armed against Dioscorus and his brethren, being again transported with an ardent zeal, resolved to fight in behalf of Cyril. About five hundred of them therefore quitting their monasteries, came into the city; and meeting the prefect in his chariot, they called him a pagan idolater, and applied to him many abusive epithets. He supposing this to be a snare laid for him by Cyril, exclaimed that he was a Christian, and had been baptized by Atticus the bishop at Constantinople. As they gave but little heed to his protestations, and a certain one of them named Ammonius threw a stone at Orestes which struck him in the head, and covered him with blood that flowed from the wound, all the guards with a few exceptions fled, plunging into the crowd, some in one direction and some in another, fearing to be stoned to death. Meanwhile the populace of Alexandria ran to the rescue of the governor, and put the rest of the monks to flight; but having secured Ammonius they delivered him up to the prefect. He immediately put him publicly to the torture, which was inflicted with such severity that he died under the effects of it: and not long after he [Orestes] gave an account to the emperors of what had taken place. Cyril on the other hand forwarded his statement of the matter to the emperor: and causing the body of Ammonius to be deposited in a certain church, he gave him the new appelation of Thaumasius [the admirable], ordering him to be enrolled among the martyrs, and eulogizing his magnanimity in church as that of one who had fallen in a conflict in defence of piety. But the more sober-minded, although Christians, did not accept Cyril’s prejudiced estimation of him; for they well knew that he had suffered the punishment due to his rashness, and that he had not lost his life under the torture because he would not deny Christ. And Cyril himself being conscious of this, suffered the recollection of the circumstance to be gradually obliterated by silence. But the animosity between Cyril and Orestes did not by any means subside at this point, but was [kindled] afresh by an occurrence similar to the preceding.

3. Ibid ., Chapter XV
Of Hypatia the Female Philosopher.
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. 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. On account of her 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 the 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. 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. 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 named Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with [roofing] tiles [or oyster-shells]. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. The affair brought not the least [i.e., considerable] opprobrium, not only on Cyril, but also on the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be further 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.”2

(+86 to +150Yr) 500CE-630CE
From The Chronicle of John Malalas, Book 14, § 12
“At that time, the Alexandrians, given free rein by their bishop, seized and burnt on a pyre of brushwood Hypatia the famous philosopher, who had a great reputation and who was an old woman.”2

(+276Yr) 690CE
From The Chronicle of John Of Nikiu

The Chronicle of John of Nikiu, Chapter LXXXIV, §§ 87-103

“And in those days there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through [her] satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honored her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic. And he ceased attending church as had been his custom. [But he went once under circumstances of danger.] And he not only did this, but he drew many believers to her, and he himself received the unbelievers at his house. And on a certain day when they were making merry over a theatrical exhibition connected with [dancers], the governor of the city [and he] published [an edict] [regarding] the public exhibitions in the city of Alexandria: and all the inhabitants of the city had assembled there [in the theatre]. Now Cyril, who had been appointed patriarch after Theophilus, was eager to gain exact intelligence regarding this edict. And there was a man named Hierax, a Christian possessing understanding and intelligence, who used to mock the pagans but was a devoted adherent of the illustrious Father the patriarch and was obedient to his monitions. He was also well versed in the Christian faith. [Now this man attended the theatre to learn the nature of this edict.] But when the Jews saw him in the theatre they cried out and said: ‘This man has not come with any good purpose, but only to provoke an uproar.’ And Orestes the prefect was displeased with the children of the holy church, and had Hierax seized and subjected to punishment publicly in the theatre, although he was wholly guiltless. And Cyril was wroth with the governor of the city for so doing, and likewise for his putting to death an illustrious monk of the convent of Pernôdj [Nitria] named Ammonius, and other monks [also]. And when the [patriarch] of the city heard this, he sent word to the Jews as follows: ‘Cease your hostilities against the Christians.’ But they refused to hearken to what they heard; for they gloried in the support of the prefect who was with them, and so they added outrage to outrage and plotted a massacre through a treacherous device. And they posted beside them at night in all the streets of the city certain men, while others cried out and said: ‘The church of the apostolic Athanasius is on fire: come to its succor, all ye Christians.’ And the Christians on hearing their cry came forth quite ignorant of the treachery of the Jews. And when the Christians came forth, the Jews arose and wickedly massacred the Christians and shed the blood of many, guiltless though they were. And in the morning, when the surviving Christians heard of the wicked deed which the Jews had wrought, they betook themselves to the patriarch. And the Christians mustered all together and went and marched in wrath to the synagogues of the Jews and took possession of them, and purified them and converted them into churches. [And one of them they named after the name of S. George.] And as for the Jewish assassins they expelled them from the city, and pillaged all their possessions and drove them forth wholly despoiled, and Orestes the prefect was unable to render them any help. And thereafter a multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the magistrate—now this Peter was a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ—and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learned the place where she was they proceeded to her and found her seated on a [lofty] chair; and having made her descend they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tare off her clothing and dragged her [till they brought her] through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire. And all the people surrounded the patriarch Cyril and named him ‘the new Theophilus’; for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city.”2

(+496 to +501Yr) 810CE-815CE
Excerpt from Theophanes’ Chronographia § 71
“In this year [406 CE], some people brought about the death, the violent death, of Hypatia, the daughter of Theon the philosopher, and herself given to philosophical endeavors.”2

(+586 to +686Yr) 1000CE-1100CE
“DAMASCIUS

1. The Suda entry on Hypatia

HYPATIA

The daughter of Theon the geometer, a philosopher of Alexandria, and herself a philosopher and well known to many people. Wife of the philosopher Isidorus. Flourished in the time of the emperor Arcadius. She wrote a commentary on Diophantus, [one on] the Canon of Astronomy, and a commentary on the Conics of Apollonius. She was torn to pieces by the Alexandrians, and her body was mutilated, and scattered through all the city. This she suffered because of spite for her outstanding wisdom especially in matters of astronomy; according to some at the hands of Cyril, to others because of the innate unruliness and rebelliousness of the Alexandrians. For they also did this to many of the bishops among them; look at Georgius and Proterion.

About Hypatia the philosopher; proof of the factiousness of the Alexandrians.

She was born, raised, and educated in Alexandria. In nature more noble than her father, she was not satisfied with her education in mathematics by her father but also gained knowledge of philosophy the other not ignoble [study]. Donning the robe of a scholar, the lady made appearances around the center of the city, expounding in public to those willing to listen on Plato or Aristotle or any other philosopher.

In teaching also she achieved the peak of excellence, and though naturally modest and fair-minded, she remained unwed, and she was so exceedingly beautiful and fair of form that one of her colleagues fell in love with her. And he could not control his passion, but made his affections obvious to her. Some uninformed stories say that Hypatia cured him of his sickness with music, but the truth long ago reported that tales of music were nonsense, and that bringing out one of her feminine napkins she thrust [or threw] it at him; and having displayed the evidence of her unclean nature said: “It is this you love, young man, not beauty”; and he, put off by shame and horror at this unseemly display, disposed his heart more temperately.

This was Hypatia’s style: in speech articulate and logical, in her actions prudent and public-spirited, and the rest of the city gave her suitable welcome and accorded her special respect. The archons handling the affairs of the city would always go to see her first, as continued to happen also at Athens. For if the practice of philosophy had declined, still its reputation was seen to be revered and respected by those managing the most important affairs of the state.

Now once it happened that Cyril, who was bishop of the opposing religious sect, was passing Hypatia’s house, and saw that there was a great crush around the doors, “a confusion of men and horses,” of people coming and going, and others standing about. And when he asked what the crowd was, and why there was a commotion at the house, he heard from his attendants that Hypatia the philosopher was now going to address them, and that this was her house. When he learned this, he was so outraged that he swiftly plotted her death, the most unholy of all deaths. When she came forward as usual, a large mob of brutal men, so truly wicked, “aware neither of the retribution of the gods nor the revenge of men,” laid hold of the philosopher and slew her, bringing on their land this most extreme shame and disgrace. The emperor would have been angered about this if [Anthemius] had not been bribed. And he took the price for her injuries and assumed them upon himself and his house and his children, and his descendant paid the penalty.

The memory of this event still preserved among the Alexandrians focussed the honor and esteem of the Alexandrians for Isidorus; with such fear hanging over them yet everyone was eager to be often in his company and listen to the words of moderation from his lips. And since so many of the rhetoricians were in charge of discussions or poetic studies they welcomed the large circle of the philosopher. For even if he was not expert in such things, he had something to add to the other (woman) philosopher in preciseness, and to them something more thorough in their own techniques. In other areas he was intensively questioned and on the speeches and poems offered would give a decision which differed from the others. Hence in the lecture rooms at a lecture in logic he had little praise for those giving a demonstration and his praise was quite restrained; yet it was appropriate and in accordance with the rules.

Thus practically the whole lecture room had the help of his criticism as a means of assessing those speaking as better or worse. Of those in my time I know three men of discernment able to judge things spoken without meter. For the same person it is agreed may be a critic of poetry and prose. I consider that the same person would be a craftsman in both; only if practice in each were equal and with equal keenness. I do not say that Isidorus was one of these; he did not nearly come up to the three. And the critics were Agapius, Severianus, and Nomus. Nomus was our contemporary.

2. Hesychius’s Onomatologus

HYPATIA

The daughter of Theon the geometer, a philosopher of Alexandria, and herself a philosopher and well known to many people. Wife of the philosopher Isidorus. Flourished in the time of the emperor Arcadius. She wrote a commentary on Diophantus, the Canon of Astronomy, and a commentary on the Conics of Apollonius. [She was torn to pieces by the Alexandrians, and her body was mutilated, and scattered through all the city. This she suffered because of spite for her outstanding wisdom especially in matters of astronomy; according to some at the hands of Cyril, to others because of the innate unruliness and rebelliousness of the Alexandrians. For they also did this to many of the bishops among them; look at Georgius and Proterion.]

3. Damascius’s Life of Isidorus (first excerpt)

Epiphanius and Euprepius both came from Alexandria and were adepts in the cultic rituals of the Alexandrians. The so-called Persian mysteries were conducted by Euprepius, those of Osiris by Epiphanius; and not these alone but also those of the god worshipped as Aion. (What sort of a god this was I could in fact now say, but I do not at present wish to reveal.) So Epiphanius also celebrated the worship of this god. These men, moreover, no longer lived under the old dispensation, but clearly already belonged to the generation following immediately upon it, although they still retained contact with the former. Urged by these therefore, they showed their contemporaries the path to great blessings, by proclaiming with great fanfare, inter alia, the stories people tell of the past.

People told a story, characteristic of life in Alexandria, both religious and secular. . . .

[The heroine of this story was Hypatia.]

This woman was born, raised and educated in Alexandria. Moreover, since she was by nature of a more noble disposition than her father, she was not content with the mathematical education she was able to receive from her father’s hand. She was further led by her noble enthusiasm into the other branches of philosophy. Though a woman, she assumed the scholar’s mantle and made excursions through the center of the city. She explained, by public demand and to those willing to listen, Plato or Aristotle or any other philosopher. Furthermore and apart from her teaching skill she attained to eminence in the practice of virtue. She was honest and chaste and throughout her life remained a virgin. And yet she was very beautiful and well-proportioned.

As a result, even one of her pupils fell in love with her. Nor was he able to control his feelings, but on the contrary allowed even her to notice his passion. Although nowadays, uninformed reports relate that it was by means of music that Hypatia cured his illness, the real truth is otherwise. For musical knowledge (of this kind) had by then already long since been lost. But rather, producing a bloodstained menstrual napkin, she pointed to this evidence of the unclean nature of procreation and said, “In truth, this is the focus of your yearning, young man, but it is nothing beautiful!”

The Alexandrians referred to the napkins used in female hygiene as phylakeia (shieldcloths). . . .

[These shield-cloths had earlier also played a role in the preservation of virginity. They had besides a related use in the marriage ceremony: ]

For the wedding was not valid unless the priests of the goddess had personally signed the marriage certificate. . . .

So he (the young man), seized with shame and horror at the unseemly display, was brought to a change of heart and a return to chastity. . . .

Hypatia’s style was like this: she was not only well-versed in rhetoric and in dialectic, but she was as well wise in practical affairs and motivated by civic-mindedness. Thus she came to be widely and deeply trusted throughout the city, accorded welcome and addressed with honor. Furthermore, when an archon was elected to office, his first call was to her, just as was also the practice in Athens. So although nowadays those charged with the governance of the city have abandoned the practical application of philosophy, back then its name still had a great and wonderful cachet. Now the following event took place.

Cyril, the bishop of the [. . . ] opposite sect, was passing Hypatia’s house and noticed a hubbub at the door, “a confusion of horses and of men,” some coming, others going, and yet others standing and waiting. He asked what was the meaning of the gathering and why there was a commotion at the house. Then he heard from his attendants that they were there to greet the philosopher Hypatia and that this house was hers. This information gave his heart such a prick that he at once plotted her murder, the most unholy of all murders. So next time when, following her usual custom, she appeared on the street, a mob of brutal men at once rushed at her—truly wicked men “fearing neither the revenge of the gods nor the judgment of men”—and killed the philosopher. . . .
And while she was still feebly twitching, they beat her eyes out. . . .

As a result they laid upon the city the heaviest blood-guilt and the greatest disgrace and the emperor would have been angry about it [. . . and would surely have punished the perpetrators severely. . . ] had not Aidesius been bribed. He thus to be sure allowed the murder to go unpunished, but in doing so assumed the guilt upon himself and on his descendants to come and his descendant had to pay the price. . . .

4. Damascius’s Life of Isidorus (second excerpt)

[Isidorus followed in Hypatia’s footsteps even though she met such a dreadful fate.]

The memory of this event was still preserved among the Alexandrians; however it only marginally affected their esteem for Isidorus and their regard for him. Despite the very real fear hanging over them, they nonetheless continued, everyone in frequent contact with him and, whenever they had the chance, listening to the words of wisdom that issued from his mouth. . . .

[Thus Isidorus ended up winning for himself a popular respect as great as, nay even greater than, that for Hypatia.]

There was a very great difference between Isidorus and Hypatia, not simply insofar as she was merely a woman while he was a man, but also insofar as she was expert mainly in geometry while he was a true philosopher.”2

1. “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College, Claremont, California: Sociology Compass 3/6 (2009): 949–971, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x

2. Deakin, Michael A. B. (2007-07-17). Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr. Prometheus Books – A. Kindle Edition.


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