Mathematician and Philosopher
370 – 416 B.C.
Hypatia of Alexandria, a mathematician and philosopher, one of the most eminent women teachers of antiquity, and one of the ablest of the later Greeks who preached the pagan philosophy. Her father, Theon, was a distinguished scholar of the tie, but the daughter, Suidas says, surpassed her father in ability. In spite of her remarkable position, few passages relating to her survive, but they uniformly ascribe her an exceptional distinction for culture and influence no less than beauty and virtue. Her great eloquence, combined with her intellectual gifts, attracted to her classroom a large number of pupils. Among these was Synesius, afterwards bishop of Ptolemais, several of whose letters to her, full of chivalrous admiration and reverence, are still extant.
She wrote a number of important books, but they have not survived.
The story of this eminent woman forms the basis of the well-known historical romance Hypatia, by Charles Kingsley, in which the author thus describes her person and her philosophy: “In the light arm-chair, reading a manuscript which lay on the table, sat a woman, of some five and twenty years, dressed in a simple snow-white Ionic robe, entirely without ornament, except the two narrow purple stripes down the front, which marked her rank as a Roman citizen, the gold-embroidered shoes upon her feet, the gold-embroidered shoes upon her feet, and the gold net, which looped back, from her forehead to her neck, hair the color and gloss of which were hardly distinguishable from that of the metal itself, such as Athene herself might have envied for tint, and mass, and ripple, while her features, arms and hands were of the severest and grandest type of old Greek beauty.
“She has lifted her eyes off her manuscript, and is talking to herself. Listen!
“‘Yes. The statues are broken. The libraries are plundered. The alcoves are silent. The oracles are dumb. And yet – who says a that the old faith of heroes and sages is dead? The beautiful can never die. If the gods have deserted their oracles, they have not deserted the souls who aspire to them. If they have ceased to guide nations, they have not ceased to speak to their own elect. If they have not ceased to speak to their own elect. If they have cast off the vulgar, they have not cast off Hypatia.
“Ay. To believe in the old creeds, while everyone else is dropping away from them. To believe in spite of disappointments. To hope against hope. To show oneself superior by the herd, by seeing boundless depths of living glory in myths which have become dark and dead to them. To struggle to the last against the new superstitions of a rotting age, for the faith of my forefathers, for the old gods, the old heroes, the old sages who gauged the mysteries of heaven and earth – and perhaps to conquer – at least to have my reward! To be welcomed into the celestial ranks of the heroic – to rise to immortal gods, to the ineffable powers, onward, upward ever, through ages and through eternities, till I find my home at last, and vanish in the glories of the Nameless and the Absolute One!'”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.