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Are seriously lacking in joy. I love my project, but I’m finding it rather difficult to actually write something.

So I’m going to do some now, but here’s what I have on Hypatia for my Literature Review – she was amazing and her story is devastating…

One woman who is particularly recognised for her contributions to science, mathematics and philosophy, Hypatia of Alexandria, lived in the 300s AD. In fact, it has been claimed by some that Hypatia was the ‘first woman to make a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics’[1], yet this is questionable. It may be more prudent to say that Hypatia was the “first of whom we have reasonably detailed and reliable information” She was also apparently “until the 18th century quite unmatched, and still the only woman of whom it can be claimed that she was absolutely pre-eminent in the mathematical world of her day”. For as well as being incredibly talented in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, Hypatia was a strong public speaker who drew people from “other cities to study and learn from her” [2]. Her abilities were renowned, and were reflected in her success as Head of the University of Alexandria and in being credited for the invention of the astrolabe[3]. Yet her abilities did not sit well with the Church, which was beginning to dominate society. It was claimed that Hypatia ‘beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles’[4], and she was blamed for conflict between Cyril, the Christian bishop of Alexandria, and the prefect Orestes whom she had befriended. Indeed, it was this conflict that led to her death, as in response to the belief that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop, some men ‘waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.’[5] The exact details of the murder of Hypatia are still uncertain, perhaps due to the attempts to cover up what happened, yet all accounts seem clear that Hypatia was dragged to a church, stripped, beaten to death and then burnt. And so this renowned female scientist was crushed by the patriarchal power of the Church, and is remembered by few despite her achievements.

[1] Ginny Adair, – This is a secondary source, written by a student of AgnesScott College, founded in 1889, a private liberal arts college for women in Decatur, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. While it is very informative, and her references show her to have done a great deal of research into Hypatia, it is possible that she may be slightly biased. Her description of Hypatia’s life may be more emotive than strictly factual, especially in the description of her death, equally her status (as a student) may suggest less reliability, as she would have less experience. Yet her description is very concise and well informed, and I believe this to be a reliable source.

[2] (accessed: 5th January), From the transcript of Dr Michael Deakin’s talk on Ockham’s Razor on Sunday, 3rd August, 1997, a radio programme originally only aired in Australia. Dr Deakin was from Monash University in Australia, and had spent 6 years researching Hypatia, so is a reliable source.

[3] Margaret Alic, “Hypatia’s Heritage”, pub 1986 (reprinted 1990, 2001)

[4] (accessed: 5th January) – John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103, early 600s AD. A strong Christian, his Chronicles were powerfully emotive and extremely biased, as seen in his attitude to the death of Hypatia – very matter of fact, and ending with the words of the ‘people’ who named Cyril ‘the new Theophilus”; for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city’. It is unclear where the Bishop of Nikiu’s information originated, and he describes scenes of violence from the Jews towards the Christians that do not appear to be recorded elsewhere, so his reliability is very questionable. His Chronicles may indeed be seen merely as religious propaganda, however elements of his writing on Hypatia correlate with other sources, suggesting that truth can be found within the bias.

[5] (accessed: 6th January) – Socrates Scholasticus, from his Ecclesiastical History(Book VII). Socrates was born c.379 AD, so his Ecclesiastical History is a primary source. Despite the obvious religious context, as a ‘Church Father’, Scholasticus presents a level, apparently fair account of Hypatia’s life and murder.


Sorry for the highlightyness of some bits, copy-pasting didn’t work all that well. Right…back to the lesson! And all of it’s writer’s block fun…

And on that note – adieu.


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