Hypatia, 350 - 415, Alexandria, Egypt
Astronomer, Mathematician, Philosophy, Feminist.

Hypatia was born sometime between 350 and 370, in the Roman city of Alexandria. She was affluent, worked at the University of Alexandria Museum, and had slaves as was the custom in Rome in ancient times.

There are no documents in existence about her life, other than references making incidental notes about Hypatia. Her history is a reconstruction of items from various writers, their letters, and other items. A suggestion has been made that details of her life and death are still being held in the basement of the Vatican. The historians who wrote her biography did so with only the articles available a thousand years after her death. Nevertheless, it has been established she remained celibate.


Hypatia sketch

There were no images made of her during her lifetime, the earliest was a painting done by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, though there was no model for the artist to paint from, it was just his imagination. Nevertheless, many others have followed with their interpretation of the historical narrative. The sketch done by Gasparo in a pamphlet dated 1908 has become popular.

All these images are guesswork, the only features that are known about Hypatia are that she was very attractive, intelligent, and a capable mathematician and astronomer.
She also was a recognized Neoplatonic philosopher through her teaching and written articles. It is presumed she was an inspiring teacher as many students were traveling to Alexandria from other countries to be taught by her. She was referred to as the "Egyptian woman Philosopher".

In Roman Alexandria, being a philosopher was very lucrative because of the demand and the importance of the subject for both religion and politics. Philosophers were consulted for reasoned advice.

She is also known to be an advocate for girls to be allowed to attend
university, and to be fully educated as the boys are.
She considered it unfair boys should get a full education while girls would only get elementary education. Hypatia got a full education because she demonstrated intelligence, and her father was a mathematics teacher.

If you look at the Mary Somerville story, you will see the same comments. The situation has not changed in the last 1000 years, and probably much longer.

Hypatia has long been associated with feminism, and the wife of Bertrand Russell, Doris Russell, wrote a book with the title "Hypatia, Woman of Knowledge" focusing on the inadequate educational opportunities for women. She signed it as Mrs. Bertrand Russell, not Doris Russell as you might have expected from a feminist.

Hypatia the astronomer

Hypatia has been the subject of many books, all drawing from the same source material, as well as films and art exhibitions.
Alexandria was the intellectual capital of the ancient world and taught Greek students the Greek language.
The surviving papers she wrote were on mathematics and astronomy but most of her philosophical work has not survived. Philosophy was a major and important segment of her activity.

She wrote a review of Diophantus's work, on arithmetic in thirteen volumes, she also edited the book by Apollonius on conic sections, defining the curves parabola, ellipse, and hyperbola.

Hypatia gained recognition in astronomical studies by designing and constructing an astrolabe, an instrument for finding the time and date from the position of the planets and the stars, and for measuring the location of the stars in the sky.

A Simple Astrolabe

A small astrolabe could be used for navigation and teaching, while a large one can be used as a clock or a calendar.

Using an Astrolabe

It also appeared she had some design-and-construct ability. A friend asked her to make a hydrometer for him, to be used in a horoscope. She produced a brass graduated hydrometer, so he could measure the specific gravity of a liquid, probably his urine.

In 415AD while on her way home from university, she was stopped and dragged into the church by a Christian mob and killed. She was cut up and burnt.

The story of her death is why she has been remembered. Her accomplishments were only discovered subsequently, but for her assailants, she was the "sister of the devil" and needed to be killed.

Click here to remember Hypatia

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