Hypatia (born c. AD 350 - 370; died 415), often called Hypatia of Alexandria, was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, 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.
According to contemporary sources, Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the governor Orestes and the Bishop of Alexandria.
Life of Hypatia:
The mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of the mathematician Theon Alexandricus (c. 335 - c. 405). She was educated in Athens. Around AD 400, she became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, where she imparted the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle to students, including pagans, Christians, and foreigners.
Although contemporary 5th-century sources identify Hypatia of Alexandria as a practitioner and teacher of the philosophy of Plato and Plotinus, two hundred years later, the 7th-century Egyptian Coptic bishop John of Nikiu identified her as a Hellenistic pagan and 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 historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in Ecclesiastical History:
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 of Cyrene, who was tutored by her in the philosophical school of Platonism and later became bishop of Ptolemais in AD 410, an exponent of the Christian Holy Trinity doctrine. 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.
Works of Hypatia:
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.
- Edited the existing version of Ptolemy's Almagest.
- 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 - 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.