Seen by many as the mother of the feminist movement, Hypatia was a mathematical genius, political influencer, and philosopher in a time when men dominated the world. Though brutally murdered, she is a symbol of the enduring power and influence that all women are capable of having in this world. So read on to read 25 facts about Hypatia.
Fact 1: Born between the years 350–370 AD, Hypatia she lived over 1400 years ago. Historians aren’t entirely sure of her exact date of birth as there is conflicting information available. Richard Hoche, a German classical Scholar, has inferred the date of 370 from a tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia. However, Robert Penella, a professor of classics, argues that her age was recorded by Greek chronicler John Malalas, which places her Birth year 20 years earlier in 350 AD
Fact 2: She lived in Alexandria, Egypt which is found in the northern part of the country on the Nile Delta which spans out into the Mediterranean sea. At the time of her life, large swaths of Egypt, including Alexandria, were occupied by the Eastern Roman Empire, better known as Byzantine Empire
Fact 3: She was a prominent teacher at the time specializing in Philosophy and Astronomy. She used astronomy as a gateway to share her incredible mathematical skills with the world.
Fact 4: Hypatia is the first female mathematician whose life and history are well recorded. It is well known that she was extremely well respected by what was at the time a male-dominated academic world.
Fact 5: She was a Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician. Now, I know what you thinking. What is a Hellenistic Neoplatonist anyway? Well, it’s a brand of philosophy based on Plato’s philosophical thinking based in a time of philosophy born from the time of Aristotle, another Greek philosopher.
Fact 6: A number of modern scholars believe Hypatia edited the surviving text of Ptolemy’s Almagest. Ptolemy was an ancient greek Mathematician, Astronomer, and Geographer. And his book, the Almagest, is an astronomical paper exploring the motions of the Sun, stars, and then known planets.
Fact 7: The date of Hypatia’s death is better known than her birth. She died in the month of March in 415 AD. Since we know she was born between the years of 370 AD and 350 AD, her age at death was between 45-65 years old. Also, unfortunately, she didn’t have the best of ends… She was rather brutally murdered. More on that later!
Fact 8: Theon of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, was Hypatia’s father. At the time of his life, he was seen as a senior scholar in mathematics. But history hasn’t treated him too kindly. Modern, mathematicians believe his work to be unoriginal, and even trivial. Ouch!
Fact 9: Hypatia was also good with her hands and often built many contraptions such as astrolabes and hydrometers. An astrolabe is a mechanical device that helps a user work out the position of the stars. Hydrometers are used to determine the relative density of different liquids. It’s worth noting that, even though Hypatia was great at building these contraptions, she didn’t invent them.
Fact 10: She was a pagan which was an ancient Greek religion. Traditionally Pagans and Christians did not get on well together. However, Hypatia’s heightened view of the world made her very tolerant of those different from her, even Christians. She even taught Christians in her classes.
Fact 11: Due to a number of factors including her intellect and charisma, Hypatia carved out a place for herself among the elite of Alexandria’s politicians. During the course of this political journey, she acquired a great deal of influence and respect from her mostly male counterparts.
Fact 12: Orestes, a Roman governor who went on to become the Roman prefect of Alexandria, was advised by Hypatia on many occasions. Her counsel was sought with particular vigor when Orestes clashed in a political feud with the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril.
Fact 13: In March 415 AD, Hypatia was murdered, rather brutally, by a group of Christians led by a lector, a reader of religious scripture, named Peter. She was murdered because the Christians believed that she deliberately stopped Orestes forming a peace with Cyril.
Fact 14: The world was utterly shocked by the murder of Hypatia and she became a worldwide martyr for philosophy as fast as song and word could carry her name. It led to many peoples across the world rising up against Christian oppression.
Fact 15: It is believed that Christians used the image and idea of Hypatia to create the legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria. So instead of being known as a woman murdered by Christian thugs, she was a savior of Christians throughout Egypt. What a way to rewrite history!
Fact 16: In the twentieth century, the idea and image of Hypatia, a woman who stood strong in the face of a world dominated by men, was used as a banner call for women’s rights and the feminist movement.
Fact 17: In 1853, Charles Kingsley, a professor, social reformer, poet, and novelist wrote a romanticized book about Hypatia simply called Hypatia. The book is known for having strong anti-catholic tones.
Fact 18: Hypatias Death is often associated with the destruction of the great LIbrary of Alexandra, the largest library of the ancient world that housed over 100,000 books at its hight. However, Hypatia’s death and her entire life had no direct connection to the grand Alexandrian library as it was completely destroyed between 100-200 years before Hypatia was born.
Fact 19: There is no known record of Hypatia’s mother.
Fact 20: There is evidence to suggest that Hypatia had a brother. Theon, Hypatia’s father, dedicated one of his commentaries to somebody called Epiphanius. Theon uses the introduction, “My dear son”. However, Theon used the word “Teknon” for the word son. But teknon has multiple meanings and can also vaguely mean “strong paternal feelings”.
Fact 21: Hypatia’s intellectual and political golden years came about during the reign of Arcadius. This is no surprise as Acradius was known to be easily influenced by women.
Fact 22: Historians believe Cyril, the then leader of Alexandria, ordered the death of Hypatia and assembled the mob that eventually murdered her. However, there is no direct evidence to support this claim.
Fact 23: Though Hypatia was often described as a genius, most historians agree that she was more of a teacher and commentator, preferring to build upon the works of other mathematicians, scholars, and philosophers instead of creating innovative new ideas of her own.
Fact 24: Hypatia is known for writing multiple commentaries on other scholars’ work including a commentary on Apollonius of Perga’s conic sections and Diophantus Arithmetica.
Fact 25: Actress Rachel Weisz played Hypatia in a highly dramatized version of Hypatia’s final decade in the 2009 film Agora.
Title Image Credit
This fictional portrait of Hypatia by Jules Maurice Gaspard, originally the illustration for Elbert Hubbard’s 1908 fictional biography, has now become, by far, the most iconic and widely reproduced image of her.