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They then tore her body apart and burned it. Who was this woman and what was her crime? Hypatia was one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria and one of the first women to study and teach mathematics, astronomy Women in alexandria egypt philosophy. Though she is remembered more for her violent death, her dramatic life is a fascinating lens through which we may view the plight of science in an era of religious and sectarian conflict.
Founded by Alexander the Great in B. At its heart was the museum, a type of university, whose collection of more than a half-million scrolls was housed in the library of Alexandria. Alexandria underwent a slow decline beginning in 48 B. It was then rebuilt. Bywhen the Roman Empire split and Alexandria became part of the eastern half, the city was beset by fighting among Christians, Jews and pagans.
The last remnants likely disappeared, along with the museum, inwhen the archbishop Theophilus acted on orders from the Roman emperor to destroy all pagan temples. Theophilus tore down the temple of Serapis, which may have housed the last scrolls, and built a church on the site. Theon taught mathematics and astronomy to his daughter, and she collaborated on Women in alexandria egypt of his commentaries. She was a mathematician and astronomer in her own right, writing commentaries of her own and teaching a succession of students from her home. Letters from one of these students, Synesius, indicate that these lessons included how to de an astrolabe, a kind of portable astronomical calculator that would be used until the 19th century.
Her student Synesius would become a bishop in the Christian church and incorporate Neoplatonic principles into the doctrine of the Trinity.
Her public lectures were popular and drew crowds. Her Women in alexandria egypt with him would eventually lead to her death. One of his first actions was to close and plunder the churches belonging to the Novatian Christian sect. With Cyril the head of the main religious body of the city and Orestes in charge of the civil government, a fight began over who controlled Alexandria.
Orestes was a Christian, but he did not want to cede power to the church. The struggle for power reached its peak following a massacre of Christians by Jewish extremists, when Cyril led a crowd that expelled all Jews from the city and looted their homes and temples.
Orestes protested to the Roman government in Constantinople. Hypatia, however, was an easier target. She was a pagan who publicly Women in alexandria egypt about a non-Christian philosophy, Neoplatonism, and she was less likely to be protected by guards than the now-prepared Orestes. A rumor spread that she was preventing Orestes and Cyril from settling their differences.
From there, Peter the Lector and his mob took action and Hypatia met her tragic end. Meanwhile, Hypatia has become a symbol for feminists, a martyr to pagans and atheists and a character in fiction. Voltaire used her to condemn the church and religion. The English clergyman Charles Kingsley made her the subject of a mid-Victorian romance. And she is the heroine, played by Rachel Weisz, in the Spanish movie Agorawhich will be released later this year in the United States. The film tells the fictional story of Hypatia as she struggles to save the library from Christian zealots.
Neither paganism nor scholarship died in Alexandria with Hypatia, but they certainly took a blow. She may have been a victim of religious fanaticism, but Hypatia remains an inspiration even in modern times. Continue or Give a Gift. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History. Science Age of Humans. Future of Space Exploration. Human Behavior.
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Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria’s Great Female Scholar