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Women’s History Month: Hypatia

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HypatiaThe times in which Hypatia lived were very violent times, as turmoil between the religious and non-religious was erupting everywhere.  Alexandria was a particular point of interest because of the city’s fame for being a center of knowledge.  At it’s heart stood the Library of Alexandria, a wondrous spectacle and one of the largest libraries in the ancient world.  Alexandria was a place of knowledge in the ancient world.  A place astronomers, philosophers, and mathematicians called home, where they met, exchanged and advanced ideas.  And as such, a place that was a huge threat to religious groups jostling for power in the world.

In this epi-center of information and knowledge, Hypatia stood out among the rest as a brilliant philosopher, gifted mathematician, and astronomer.  As the daughter of a prominent scholar in mathematics and astronomy, she was educated in Athens, and in 400 AD became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, expanding upon her father’s knowledge base into philosophy where she excelled.  Hypatia was greatly admired by men and women alike for her dignity and virtue (she had never married and most likely lead a celibate life).  Her public lectures drew large crowds, and she was a very influential member of the community, lending counsel to many leaders; including Orestes, the prefect (governor) of Alexandria, who regularly sought her counsel.  This friendship would ultimately cost them both their lives.

Orestes would find himself in a bitter dispute with Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria over Jewish dancing exhibits.  When a Christian named “Hierax” mocked the new regulations, Orestes thought he was trying to incite a riot, and ordered him publicly tortured.  Cyril threatened revenge, which only incited the Jews of the city more, prompting them to set a trap in which they slew a good many Christians.  From these incidents grew a rivalry of sorts between the two men, and although Cyril extended his hand several times, Orestes made no effort to settle their differences, an action that many blamed on Hypatia, as his primary counselor.  Some 500 monks made their way to Alexandria from the mountains, and attached themselves to Cyril, allowing him to rid himself of the governor Orestes once and for all, intercepting his chariot and killing him on the spot.

After the death of Orestes, a mob of angry Christians gathered, and blaming Hypatia for the disturbance in the city, kidnapped her on her way home.  After kidnapping her, the mob stripped her, and beat her to death with roofing tiles.  They then tore her body to pieces, burning the remains.  While her end certainly was violent and hard to stomach, it was so much more, marking the beginning of the end for intellectual life in Alexandria.  While it remains one of the lowest moments in the struggle between science and religion, we cannot let that overshadow the fact that she remains one of the most remarkable women of her time and any other.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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