HYPATIA

By Pilar Baumann

Teacher, Mr. Martinez

East Whittier Middle School

One of the world’s most important philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers to live was a woman. She was both beautiful and intelligent. She lived in a city assaulted by religious fanatics. Daughter of a famous pagan philosopher and mathematician she became more knowledgeable than her father at an early age. Hypatia was born and raised in Alexandria which was part of Greece, but was in Egypt. Although we do not know her exact date of birth because there are very few primary sources about her life, we believe it was between 350 and 370 A.D. Hypatia was well know for her beauty, but more important, she was an astronomer, a mathematician and a philosopher. Hypatia’s father Theon Raised her. He was a geometer and philosopher. Theon was also Hypatia’s teacher and taught his daughter all she knew. When Hypatia was older she and her father would converse about science, philosophy and religion. He taught her about many religions, but she didn’t practice one particular one. She believed in Neoplatonism, which talks about finding the one absolute truth. Later, Hypatia persuaded her father to send her to Athens to further her studies.

During the period of time Hypetia lived, Alexandria was not very stable. Theophilus was the archbishop and the governor was Orestes. The Christians were trying to overpower smaller religions such as Judaism and Paganism . Even though Neoplatonism was not a religion, Christians were trying to abolish it too because they were afraid it was fortune telling. There is a strand of mathematics in Neoplatonism and Hypetia was interested in it because she was a mathematician. The problem was that Christians thought that astrology was astronomy and mathematics was numerology and people from the streets would say that astronomers, astrologers, mathematicians and numerologists could tell the future by the stars because astronomers could predict seasons and eclipses by the positions of the planets. Christians were against fortunetelling because they believed God is the only one who can predict the future.

Hypetia was a great teacher and became head of the Neoplatonist school at Alexandria. She assisted her father in writing his eleven part commentary on Ptolemy Almagest1. She may have also helped her father write a new version of Euclid's elements2 . It is thought that Hypatia also improved a technique of long division. Hypatia wrote commentaries for Diophantus’s Arithmetica, and Ptolemy astronomical works. Unfortunately, all of Hypatia's work is lost except for titles and references by other writers. Furthermore, there is proof that Hypatia helped Synesius, a pupil of hers, design the astrolabe and the hydroscope. An astrolabe was an instrument used by astronomers and navigators before medieval times through the 16th century. It was used to measure the altitudes of the sun, stars and planets. The hydroscope is like a hydrometer . It is used to measure the gravity of liquids. But most important:

Hypatia was known more for the work she did in mathematics than in astronomy, primarily for her work on the ideas of conic sections introduced by Apollonius. She edited the work On the Conics of Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by plane. This concept developed the idea of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. With Hypatia’s work on this important book she made the concept easier to understand, thus, making the works survive through many centuries. Hypatia was the first woman to have such a profound impact on the survival of early thought in mathematics.3


After Archbishop Theophilus died his nephew Cyril was made Archbishop. While Theophilus never insulted Hypatia, probably because Theophilus was a friend of Governor Orestes and Hypatia was friends with Orestes, his nephew Cyril hated both Hypatia and Orestes. Cyril created a militia of 500 people which attempted to assassinate Orestes, but failed.
Cyril thought that Hypatia was devoted to magic and influenced Orestes with “satanic wiles...and magic.” Shortly after the attempted assassination on Orestes, while on her way home, Hypatia was taken from her carriage to a church, stripped naked and beat with roofing shingles. While she was dieing they beat her eyes out then tore her limbs off and burned her remains.

This was the tragic end of a great scientist. However, her work will always be useful to us as it was to Newton, Descartes and Leibniz who expanded on her work and considered her a great woman and teacher. She also has become a role model for many women and girls. Therefore, girls who think science is only for men can look at Hypatia and see that women have been in science probably from the beginning of history

1 Ptolemy's mathematical theory of the motions of the Sun, Moon, and planets.

2 an introductory work on elementary geometry and other topics

3 Ginny Adair, Agnes Scott College.

Bibliography
1. Adair, Ginny. “Hypatia” Department of Mathematics.1995-1998

2. Deakin, Michael a.b. “The primary sources for the life and work of Hypatia of Alexandria”<http://www.polyamory.org/~howard/hypatia/primary-sources.html>

3. Hubbard,Elbert. “Hypatia” Elbert Hubbard 1928 <http://www.polyamory.org/~howard/hypatia/hubbard_1928.html

4. “Hypatia of Alexandria” JOC/EFR April 1999
http:/www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/mathematicians/hypatia.html

5.“Hypatia of Alexandria” ockhams razor transcript 3 Aug 97
http:/www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/or030897.html

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