Hypatia (huh-pa-tee-uh) was an Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher born around 350 AD. While much of her early life is lost to the ages, it is known that she was a respected member of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy, a male dominated academia. She would wear the robes of an academic elite, something that only men did at that time, and speak at the city center where people would listen to and be captivated by her interpretations. She constructed hydrometers, wrote several commentaries on literary works of the period, and was regarded as a wise advisor and counselor. It was said that she excelled her father as a mathematician and that she was a brilliant astronomer. She was beloved by pagans and Christians alike, teaching students of all religions. This adoration earned her great influence with the political elite of Alexandria, including the Roman prefect Orestes. Her academic intensity, influence, and sway brought her many admirers and would-be suitors, as well as the attention of men who wanted to kill her.
Like many at the time, Hypatia practiced paganism. Christianity was a cult, still in its infancy but spreading quickly. The fear and persecution forced many pagans to convert, especially as discriminatory laws were enacted that threatened death to non-Christians. Hypatia did not convert, she openly continued to practice paganism, and her defiance made her a target. The Alexandrian government supported her dissent until they could no longer protect her. In March 415 AD, a mob of Christian zealots ambushed Hypatia as she was returning home and kidnapped her. They dragged her through the streets, torturing her and stripping her naked. She was taken to the Kaisarion, a former pagan temple that had been converted to a Christian church. There they beat her, scraped her skin off with oyster shells, or ostraka, and tore her limbs from her body. Her body parts were scattered through the streets, the remaining parts carried to the Caesareum where they were burned. Her treatment was like that reserved for the vilest criminals, and her cremation regarded as a symbolic purification of the city.
Philosophers, like Hypatia, were seen as untouchables in Ancient Greece. Her horrible death at the hands of a mob was a shock to the empire, some calling it destabilizing. Those responsible for her death justified their doing by saying she represented idol worship, something the Christians opposed. Some accounts claim that her death was politically motivated. It wasn’t until later accounts of the event, written by John of Nikiu, that she was associated with Satan, and he justified the mobs actions saying that she “beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments.” Her murder at the hands of that Christian mob, even if politically motivated, was one of fear and ignorance. The man allegedly at the center of her death, Cyril of Alexandria, eventually became a saint despite members of the faith condemning other actions and calling him a monster.
The story of Hypatia is one in a long list that chronicles religious attitudes towards heretics and non-conformists. These stories continue into modern times as, once again, the Christian faith has decided that its will is the one true way to live. Private matters like abortion, marriage rights, and topics in public education are under constant scrutiny and attack from religious groups seeking dominion. Ideas like tolerance, acceptance, and loving thy neighbor are second to their will.
History is the cautionary tale we pass on so that the mistakes of the past are not made again. The story of Hypatia cannot be allowed to repeat itself. There must be a clear and united voice to speak against those that would limit the rights of other human beings, and the people must stand up to those that wish to force obedience and pass judgement as though they are the arbiters of divine will. A proper divide must be established between the private lives of the people and the goals of rising Christian nationalism.
Women in the United States have been made second class citizens again. The Supreme Court, through their Christian Conservative majority, has declared that the precedent of cases pertaining to same-sex relationships and contraception are open to scrutiny. In the days since the Roe ruling, the court ruled in favor of prayer being allowed in public school. Matters of faith are becoming party platforms more frequently and elected officials are speaking out against the separation of church and state. The dissolution of democracy has been in motion for generations and is now gaining speed, and where this path leads one can only speculate. The anger and outrage over these injustices must not be silenced. Failure to stop the momentum of this movement will doom present and future generations to repeat the mistakes history tried to warn us of.
Hypatia of Alexandria: https://allthatsinteresting.com/hypatia-of-alexandria
Hypatia of Alexandria: https://www.thoughtco.com/hypatia-of-alexandria-3529339
Christians were strangers: https://aeon.co/essays/how-an-obscure-oriental-cult-converted-a-vast-pagan-roman-empire
Persecutions of pagans in the late Roman Empire: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_pagans_in_the_late_Roman_Empire