" Hypatia is a person who separated the society in 2 sides:those who considered her as a miracle of light and those who show her like representative of darkness.."
(Elbert Hunnard)


            Hypatia from Alexandria is one of the most famous female figures of the past. She was very versatile and had lots of interests in scientific and philosophic fields, so Hypatia can represent the last flame of the Greek science that will be given to the Islamic world and found out again during the Renaissance, almost a thousand years later.

            She lived in Alexandria, Egypt, between the forth and the fifth century, where she was at the head of the neoplatonic school, and she was interested in mechanics, technology, but also astronomy, and she planned various scientific instruments such as the plan astrolabius to measure the positions of the sun, the stars and the planets. Hypatia wrote many books and published essays about maths and astronomy, but unfortunately we don’t have any trace of them anymore. This peculiar interest about the scientific studies was handed down to her by her father Teon,  who taught at the university of Alexandria, attached to the world-famous library, and who seems to have been responsible for Hypatia's education, though she might also have been taught by Plutarch the Younger in Athens. Furthermore he was a mathematician and an astronomer of the notable museum of Alexandria. It was usual in that time, in fact, that women got closer to that kind of studies just thanks to a male relative, because  of the strong influence of the Aristotelean misogyny of the period made people think that women were inferior beings. Her huge love for science and for the teaching of her discipline brought Hypatia to a tragic death: Hypatia was guilty, under the eyes of the Christians, who were ascending to the power through a violent repression, of being still neoplatonic, a proselyte of that philosophical movement that represented the last expression of a pegan thought. During the forth century the repression brought to the institution of different schools for Christians, Pagans and Jewish. But she made lessons for everyone despite their religious beliefs. So, the figure of this woman became the symbol of the modern feminist movement and her death represents the end of the ancient science. Hypatia’s story make us think also today. We live in an advanced society but there still are obstacles for the full professional affirmation of women in the research field. One of the reason of this phenomenon is, in my opinion, the duties women still have towards their own families. It’s not a case that women who chose to undertake the path of research stay single. This phenomenon has severe consequences: the poor contribution of women penalizes seriously a system which doesn’t use their professional and intellectual resources, even though it has them. Who can improve women’s condition and erase all the stereotypes around them? Only women themselves, possibly with the support of the entire category.

            As a teacher she was extremely well-known and respected (it's said that letters addressed simply to "The Philosopher" were delivered to her). She taught from a neo-Platonist standpoint, influenced in particular by Plotinus and the Syrian philosopher Iamblichus of Chalcis (c.250-c.230 CE), but mainly as applied to mathematics and natural philosophy. None of her works survived; we know only their titles, from which it appears that they were mainly commentaries on earlier writers. It has been said that Hypatia's main achievement was the preservation of (especially mathematical) texts which would otherwise have been lost. Most of what we know about her work and life comes from letters preserved by one of her students, Synesius of Cyrene, who went on to become the Bishop of Ptolemais, together with various later romanticized or politicized accounts of her life.

            Hypatia's Alexandria was certainly turbulent. Christianity was becoming dominant, and religious riots began to be common in the 390s. Things became worse when Cyril of Alexandria became Patriarch in 412 CE. He instituted a zealous and violent assault on non-Christians and members of other Christian groups; heretical Christian sects had their churches closed and looted, and Jews were attacked on the streets and in their homes and driven out of the city. Hypatia, as a person of education, was a natural target (Christians tended to see learning as evidence of diabolism, and saw little distinction between science and magic), and in addition she was a friend of Orestes, the civil governor of Alexandria, who opposed Cyril. In 415ce, she was attacked by a Christian mob (possibly of Nitrian monks), who stripped her and horribly murdered her. Cyril was later canonized as a saint, and declared a Doctor of the Church.

            Hypatia is important for a number of reasons. Apart from her role as a popular and charismatic teacher, and as a preserver of ancient thought, she stands as a symbol of the light of learning in a world too often dark with superstition and ignorance, and as a symbol of the ability of women even in the most unlikely places and periods of history to overcome the social and cultural barriers to their intellectual success.


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