Tripti Joshi (Editor)


Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Era  Ancient philosophy
Influenced  Synesius
Region  Western philosophy
Schools of thought  Neoplatonism
Name  Hypatia Hypatia
Parents  Theon of Alexandria
Role  Mathematician

Hypatia igniteglobalfundforwomenorgsitesdefaultfiles
Born  c. AD 351–370Alexandria
Died  March 8, 415 AD, Alexandria, Egypt
Influenced by  Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus
Similar People  Cyril of Alexandria, Alejandro Amenabar, Theon of Alexandria, Rachel Weisz, Plato

Main interests  MathematicsAstronomy

Hypatia of alexandria

Hypatia (; ; Greek: Ὑπατία Hupatía; born c. 350–370; died 415 AD), often called Hypatia of Alexandria, was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Eastern Roman Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.


Hypatia Hypatia

A pagan, Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob known as the Parabalani after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the Prefect, Orestes, and the bishop, Cyril of Alexandria.

Hypatia Hypatia Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Hypatia of alexandria circles and ellipses


Hypatia Jingreed39s Musings from Thailand Hypatia and the Library

The mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was the only daughter of the mathematician Theon of Alexandria (c. 335–c. 405 AD). Her exact year of birth is still under debate, though she was probably born sometime between 350 and 360. She was educated in Athens. Around 400, she became head of the Neoplatonist School in Alexandria, where she imparted the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle to students, including pagans, Christians, and foreigners.

Hypatia FileAlfred Seifert Hypatiajpg Wikimedia Commons

Although contemporary fifth-century sources identify Hypatia of Alexandria as a practitioner and teacher of the philosophy of Plato and Plotinus, two hundred years later, the seventh-century Egyptian Coptic bishop John of Nikiû identified her as a Hellenistic pagan, claiming that "she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles". However, not all Christians were as hostile towards her: some Christians even used Hypatia as symbolic of Virtue. The contemporary Christian historian Socrates of Constantinople described her in his Ecclesiastical History:

Hypatia Hypatia

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

Hypatia corresponded with former pupil Synesius, who was tutored by her in the philosophical school of Platonism and later became bishop of Ptolemais (now in eastern Libya) in 410, an exponent of Trinitarianism. Together with the references by the pagan philosopher Damascius, these are the extant records left by Hypatia's pupils at the Platonist school of Alexandria.


Hypatia was murdered during an episode of city-wide anger stemming from a feud between Orestes, the prefect of Alexandria, and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria.

Her death is symbolic for some historians. For example, Kathleen Wider proposes that the murder of Hypatia marked the end of Classical antiquity, and Stephen Greenblatt observes that her murder "effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life". On the other hand, Christian Wildberg notes that Hellenistic philosophy continued to flourish in the 5th and 6th centuries, and perhaps until the age of Justinian I.

Scholasticus' account

Of the many accounts of Hypatia's death, the most complete is the one written around 415 by Socrates Scholasticus and included in the Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History).

According to this account, in 415 a feud began over Jewish dancing exhibitions in Alexandria, which attracted large crowds and were commonly prone to civil disorder of varying degrees. Orestes, the Roman governor of Alexandria, and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, engaged in a bitter feud in which Hypatia eventually became a main point of contention. Orestes published an edict that outlined new regulations for such gatherings, and crowds gathered to read the edict shortly after it was posted in the city's theater. The edict angered Christians as well as Jews. At one such gathering, Hierax, a devout Christian follower of Cyril, read the edict and applauded the new regulations. Many people felt that Hierax was attempting to incite the crowd into sedition. Orestes reacted swiftly and violently out of what Scholasticus suspected was "jealousy [of] the growing power of the bishops…[which] encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities". He ordered Hierax to be seized and tortured publicly in the theater.

Hearing of Hierax's severe and public punishment, Cyril threatened to retaliate against the Jews of Alexandria with "the utmost severities" if the harassment of Christians did not cease immediately. In response to Cyril's threat, the Jews of Alexandria grew even more furious, eventually resorting to violence against the Christians.

Socrates of Constantinople's account says that the Jews had plotted to flush out the Christians at night by running through the streets claiming that the Church of Alexander was on fire. Christians had then responded to what they believed was their church burning down, and "the Jews immediately fell upon and slew them," using rings to recognize one another in the dark and killing everyone else in sight. According to the accusation, the Jews of Alexandria could not hide their guilt when the morning came, and Cyril, along with many of his followers, took to the city's synagogues in search of the perpetrators of the massacre.

Cyril rounded up all the Jews in Alexandria, then ordered them to be stripped of all possessions, banished them from Alexandria, and allowed their goods to be pillaged by the remaining citizens of Alexandria. Overlooking the supposed massacre of the night before, "Orestes [...] was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population." The feud between Cyril and Orestes intensified because of these things, and both men wrote to the emperor regarding the situation. Eventually, Cyril attempted to reach out to Orestes through several peace overtures, including attempted mediation. When that failed, he made an appeal to Orestes's allegiances as a Christian Roman, showing the Gospels to him. Nevertheless, Orestes remained unmoved by such gestures.

Meanwhile, approximately 500 monks resided in the mountains of Nitria who were "of a very fiery disposition". They heard of the ongoing feud between the Governor and Bishop and descended into Alexandria armed and prepared to fight alongside Cyril. Upon their arrival, the monks intercepted Orestes's chariot and proceeded to bombard and harass him, calling him a pagan idolater. In response to such allegations, Orestes countered that he was actually a Christian and had even been baptized by Atticus, the Bishop of Constantinople. The monks paid little attention to Orestes's claims of Christianity, and one of the monks named Ammonius struck Orestes in the head with a rock, causing him to bleed profusely. At this point, Orestes's guards fled in fear, but a nearby crowd of Alexandrians came to his aid. Ammonius was subsequently captured and ordered to be tortured for his actions, during which he died.

Following the death of Ammonius, Cyril ordered that he henceforth be remembered as a martyr. Such a proclamation did not sit well with "sober-minded" Christians, as Scholasticus pointed out, seeing that he "suffered the punishment due to his rashness he would not deny Christ". This fact, according to Scholasticus, became apparent to Cyril through general lack of enthusiasm for Ammonius's case for martyrdom.

Scholasticus then introduces Hypatia, the female philosopher of Alexandria and the woman who became a target of the Christian anger that was inflamed during the feud. She was the daughter of Theon and a teacher trained in the philosophical schools of Plato and Plotinus. She was admired by most for her dignity and virtue. Scholasticus writes that Hypatia ultimately fell "victim to the political jealousy which at the time prevailed". Orestes was known to seek her counsel, and a rumor spread among the Christian community of Alexandria blaming her for Orestes's unwillingness to reconcile with Cyril. A mob of Christians gathered, led by a reader (i.e., a minor cleric) named Peter, whom Scholasticus calls a fanatic. They kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the "Church called Caesareum. They then completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles." Socrates Scholasticus was interpreted as saying that, while she was still alive, Hypatia's flesh was torn off ὀστράκοις, which literally means "with or by oyster shells, potsherds or roof tiles". Afterward, the men proceeded to mutilate her and, finally, burn her limbs. News of Hypatia's murder provoked great public denouncement, not only against Cyril but against the whole Alexandrian Christian community. Socrates closes with a lament: "Surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort."

The account given in the Chronicle of John of Nikiû

Hypatia's death is also told in another source, The Chronicle, written by John of Nikiû in Egypt around 650. This account demonizes Hypatia and Orestes directly, while validating all Christians involved in the events John describes. The Chronicle is more biased on the matter of the historical feud, omitting several points of the narrative that are included in Socrates' account.

John, who lived several hundred years after the events he describes, writes bitterly of Hypatia, claiming that "she beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles". Orestes, who John writes was himself a victim of Hypatia's demonic charm, regularly honored her and abandoned the Christian Church in order to follow her teachings more closely. Moreover, the bishop claimed that Orestes himself persuaded others to leave the Church in favor of Hypatia's philosophical teachings and went as far as to host such "unbelievers" at his house.

One day, Orestes published an edict "regarding public exhibitions in the city of Alexandria" and all citizens gathered to read the edict. Cyril, curious to see why the edict caused such an uproar, sent Hierax, a "Christian possessing understanding and intelligence", who, although opposed to paganism, did as Cyril asked and went to learn the nature of Orestes's edict. Meanwhile, the Jews who gathered in anger over the edict believed that Hierax had come only for the sake of provocation (which, according to Socrates’ text, was Hierax's intent). Upon this assumption, Orestes had Hierax punished for a crime for which "he was wholly guiltless".

For the punishment and torture of Hierax, as well as the death of several monks, including Ammonius, Cyril grew increasingly furious with Orestes. Cyril then warned the Jews against any further harm upon the Christians. However, with the support of Orestes, the Jews felt confident in defying Cyril's authority, and so one night ran through the streets proclaiming: "The church of the apostolic Athanasius (Alexander) is on fire: come to its succour, all ye Christians." The Christians responded to the alarms only to be slaughtered by the Jews in a coordinated ambush.

The next morning, all remaining Christians of the town came to Cyril with news of the massacre, after which Cyril marched with them to purge the Jews from Alexandria. In so doing, Cyril allowed the pillaging of their possessions, and soon after purified all the synagogues in the city and made them into Churches. In the expulsion of the Jews, Orestes was unable to offer them any assistance.

Shortly thereafter, a group of Christians, under Peter the magistrate, went looking for Hypatia, the "pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments". They found her sitting in a chair, at which point they seized and brought her to "the great church, named Caesarion", where they proceeded to rip the clothes off her body. Then they dragged her through the streets of Alexandria until she died and burned her remains. John's description of Hypatia's death also differs from that of Socrates. Following the death of Hypatia, Bishop Cyril was named "the new Theophilus". With the death of Hypatia, John writes, the Christians had expelled the last remnant of pagan idolatry.


No written work widely recognized by scholars as Hypatia's own has survived to the present time. Many of the works commonly attributed to her are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus. This kind of authorial uncertainty is typical for female philosophers in antiquity.

A partial list of Hypatia's works as mentioned by other antique and medieval authors or as posited by modern authors:

  • A commentary on the 13-volume Arithmetica by Diophantus.
  • A commentary on the Conics of Apollonius of Perga.
  • Edited the existing version of Ptolemy's Almagest. "Until recently scholars thought that Hypatia revised Theon's commentary on Almagest. The view was based on the title of the commentary on the third book of Almagest, which read: "Commentary by Theon of Alexandria on Book III of Ptolemy's Almagest, edition revised by my daughter Hypatia, the philosopher." Cameron, who analyzed Theon's titles for other books of Almagest and for other scholarly texts of late antiquity, concludes that Hypatia corrected not her father's commentary but the text of Almagest itself. Thus, the extant text of Almagest could have been prepared, at least partly, by Hypatia".
  • Edited her father's commentary on Euclid's Elements.
  • She wrote a text "The Astronomical Canon". (Either a new edition of Ptolemy's Handy Tables or commentary on the aforementioned Almagest.)
  • Her contributions to technology are reputed to include the invention of the hydrometer, used to determine the relative density (or specific gravity) of liquids. However, the hydrometer was invented before Hypatia, and already known in her time. Some say that this is a textual misinterpretation of the original Greek, which mentions a hydroscopium (ὑδροσκοπίον) - a clock that works with water and gears, similar to the Antikythera mechanism.

    Her student Synesius, bishop of Cyrene, wrote a letter describing his construction of an astrolabe. Earlier astrolabes predate that of Synesius by at least a century, and Hypatia's father had gained fame for his treatise on the subject. However, Synesius claimed that his was an improved model. Synesius also sent Hypatia a letter describing a hydrometer, and requesting her to have one constructed for him.


    In 1995 Maria Dzielska wrote a biography of Hypatia based on current scholarship. Her Hypatia of Alexandria presents historical sources and contextual information as well as ideas for how legends associated with Hypatia arose.

    Hypatia has been considered a universal genius, as described in MacDonald and Weldon's history of civilization.

    Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr (2007) is a brief (231 page) biography by Michael Deakin, with a focus on her mathematical research.

    Ari Belenkiy describes Hypatia's astronomical work as pivotal for the politics of the region, focusing on controversies related to observations of the equinox and the timing of festivals, ultimately serving to highlight errors in Ptolemy's work and the need for independent observation. In two consecutive works (2010, 2016) Belenkiy proposed an astronomical-calendrical paradigm for Hypatia's murder. Comparing two principal sources on Hypatia, of Socrates Scholasticus and Philostorgius, Belenkiy suggests that Hypatia carried equinoctial observations in 414-415 , initiated on the request of governor Orestes, which could be the litmus test of who was right in the conflicts over the Easter day in 414 waged by Cyril, the Bishop of the Alexandrian Church, with the local Jewish and Novatian communities. Hypatia's success in establishing the correct day of the vernal equinox could undermine the Alexandrian Church's authority in the timing of Easter, as it used equinoctial computations based on Ptolemy's Syntaxis (Almagest). Perhaps fearing the test will lead to undesired consequences, a gang of Cyril's followers are reported (by Socrates Scholasticus) to have ambushed and murdered her. Her murder thus was plausibly due to her astronomical observations.

    Late Antiquity to the Age of Reason

    Legends about Hypatia's possible marriage are discussed in the 10th century Byzantine Suda encyclopedia, which states that Hypatia was "the wife of Isidore the Philosopher" (apparently Isidore of Alexandria); however, Isidore of Alexandria was not born until long after Hypatia's death, and no other philosopher of that name contemporary with Hypatia is known. The Suda also stated that "she remained a virgin" and that she rejected a suitor with her menstrual rags, saying that they demonstrated that there is "nothing beautiful" about carnal desire — an example of a Christian source using Hypatia as a symbol of Virtue.

    Shortly after her murder, there appeared under Hypatia's name a forged anti-Christian letter. The Neoplatonist historian Damascius (c. 458 – c. 538) was "anxious to exploit the scandal of Hypatia's death", and attributed responsibility for her murder to Bishop Cyril and his Christian followers; that historical account is contained in the Suda. Damascius's account of the Christian murder of Hypatia is the sole historical source attributing direct responsibility to Bishop Cyril. Maria Dzielska proposes that the bishop's bodyguards might have murdered Hypatia.

    Some writers have theorized that the origin of the story of Catherine of Alexandria was based on Hypatia.

    The intellectual Eudokia Makrembolitissa (1021–1096), the second wife of Byzantine emperor Constantine X Doukas, was described by the historian Nicephorus Gregoras as a "second Hypatia".

    Centuries later, the early 18th-century Deist scholar John Toland used the murder of Hypatia as the basis for the anti-Catholic tract, Hypatia: Or the History of a most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish'd Lady; who was torn to pieces by the Clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their Archbishop, commonly, but undeservedly, stil'd St. Cyril. In turn, Thomas Lewis, in 1721, defended the Christians with The History of Hypatia, a most Impudent School-Mistress of Alexandria: Murder'd and torn to Pieces by the Populace, in Defence of Saint Cyril and the Alexandrian Clergy from the Aspersions of Mr. Toland.

    19th century

    In the 19th century, interest in the "literary legend of Hypatia" began to rise. Diodata Saluzzo Roero's 1827 Ipazia ovvero delle Filosofie suggested that Cyril had actually converted Hypatia to Christianity, and that she had been killed by a "treacherous" priest.

    In 1843, German authors Soldan and Heppe argued in their highly influential History of the Witchcraft Trials that Hypatia may have been, in effect, the first famous "witch" punished under Christian authority (see witch-hunt).

    In his 1852 Hypatie and 1857 Hypathie et Cyrille, French poet Leconte de Lisle portrayed Hypatia as the epitome of "vulnerable truth and beauty".

    Charles Kingsley's 1853 novel Hypatia; Or, New Foes with an Old Face, which portrayed the scholar as a "helpless, pretentious, and erotic heroine", recounted her conversion by a Jewish-Christian named Raphael Aben-Ezra after supposedly becoming disillusioned with Orestes.

    In 1867, the early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron created a portrait of the scholar as a young woman. On 2 January 1893, a stage play, Hypatia, written by G. Stuart Ogilvie, opened at the Haymarket Theatre in London. It was based on the novel by Charles Kingsley, and was produced by Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The title role was initially played by Julia Neilson, and it featured an elaborate musical score written by the composer Hubert Parry.

    20th century

    Marcel Proust compares Mme. Swann to Hypatia in the final paragraph of the first section of Within a Budding Grove, "Madame Swann at Home".

    Some characters are named after her, such as Hypatia Cade, a precocious child and main character in the science fiction novel The Ship Who Searched by Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey.

    Rinne Groff's 2000 play The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem features a character named Hypatia who lives silently, in fear that she will suffer the fate of her namesake.

    Hypatia is the name of a shipmind (ship computer) in The Boy Who Would Live Forever, a novel in Frederik Pohl's Heechee series.

    Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino sees the protagonist meet a secluded society of satyr-like creatures who all take their name and philosophy from Hypatia.

    A fictional version of the historic character appears in several works and indeed series, such as

  • The Heirs of Alexandria series written by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer, is an alternate history in which Hypatia was converted to Christianity by John Chrysostom, which saved her life and enabled her to stop the mob from destroying the Library of Alexandria, eventually resulting in her elevation to Sainthood. The books, taking place in the world of 1530 resulting from the above, include copies from the alternate Hypatia's influential correspondence with Chrysostom and St. Augustine, as well as a monastic order, the Hypatian Siblings.
  • The Corto Maltese adventure Fable of Venice, by characteristic superposition of anachronistic elements, sees Hypatia preside over an intellectual salon in pre-Fascist Italy;
  • As a recurring character in Mark London Williams's juvenile fiction Danger Boy.
  • She also appears, briefly, as one of the kidnapped scientists and philosophers in the Doctor Who serial Time and the Rani.

    American astronomer Carl Sagan, in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, gave a detailed speculative description of Hypatia's death, linking it with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

    A more scholarly historical study of her, Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (translated into English by F. Lyra, published by Harvard University Press), was named by Choice magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Book of 1995, Philosophy Category".

    Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, published since 1986 by Indiana University Press, is named after her as well. The journal is now one of the most popular journals in Feminism and Women's Studies, ranked #5 by Google Scholar metrics.

    Judy Chicago's large-scale The Dinner Party awards her a place-setting.

    A central character in Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is a woman philosopher clearly modeled on (though not identical with) Hypatia.

    The last two centuries have seen Hypatia's name honored in the sciences, especially astronomy. 238 Hypatia, a main belt asteroid discovered in 1884, was named for her. The Lunar crater Hypatia was named for her, in addition to craters named for her father Theon and for Cyril. The 180 km Rimae Hypatia are located north of the crater, one degree south of the equator, along the Mare Tranquillitatis.

    By the end of the 20th century Hypatia's name was applied to projects ranging in scope from an Adobe typeface (Hypatia Sans Pro), to a cooperative community house in Madison, Wisconsin. A genus of moth also bears her name.

    21st century

    Her life continues to be fictionalized by authors in many countries and languages. Two recent examples are Ipazia, scienziata alessandrina by Adriano Petta (translated from the Italian in 2004 as Hypatia: Scientist of Alexandria), and Hypatia y la eternidad (Hypatia and Eternity) by Ramon Galí, a fanciful alternate history, in Spanish (2009).

    Azazil by Egyptian Muslim author Dr. Youssef Ziedan, tells the story of the religious conflict of that time through the eyes of a monk, including a substantial section on Hypatia; Ziedan's book has been criticized by Christians in Egypt.

    Her life is portrayed in the Malayalam novel Francis Itty Cora (2009) by T. D Ramakrishnan.

    Examples in English include

  • Remembering Hypatia: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Brian Trent,;
  • Flow Down Like Silver, Hypatia of Alexandria (2009) by Ki Longfellow, the second in a trilogy of the divine feminine, the first being The Secret Magdalene;
  • The Plot to Save Socrates (2006) by Paul Levinson and his sequel Unburning Alexandria (novelette, 2008; novel 2013) – where Hypatia turns out to have been a time-traveler from 21st century US.
  • Heresy: the Life of Pelagius (2012) by David Lovejoy, which includes Hypatia's death as well as a portrait of Synesius
  • The 2009 movie Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, focuses on Hypatia's final years. Hypatia, portrayed by actress Rachel Weisz, is seen investigating the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Aristarchus of Samos, and even anticipating the elliptical orbits discovered by Johannes Kepler 1200 years later.

    The 2014 version of Cosmos portrays Hypatia in a similar vein as the 1980 version.

    In 2016 the play Hypatia's Math had its premiere at the Flagstaff Festival of Science and workshop performances at the Strand Theater in Baltimore at the Maryland STEM Festival. The structure of the play is similar to the histories presented by Deakin and Belenkiy.

    There is currently a petition to establish an annual festival commemorating Hypatia on March 20, based on that date as perhaps the date of her death—killed while making observations of the vernal equinox. This argument is described in academic work by Ari Belenkiy who is based in Vancouver, and the petition is to the Canadian government.


    Hypatia Wikipedia