Hypatia

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by Gina Luria Walker

Hypatia 370–415 was a Greek scholar, daughter of a master teacher at the academy at the Great Library at Alexandria, Egypt. During her lifetime, Hypatia was renowned as a philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and teacher, as well as a great beauty.   She defied popular assumptions about women by wearing the black philosopher’s robe reserved for learned men, and driving her own chariot in public. She is credited with the authorship of three major treatises on geometry and algebra and one on astronomy. She invented several tools: an instrument for distilling water, an instrument to measure the specific gravity of water, an astrolabe and a planisphere. All Hypatia’s writings were destroyed in the fire at the Great Library. Contemporaries report that letters addressed to ‘the philosopher’ were delivered to her. After her father’s death, her lectures attracted many students, all male, who continued to correspond with her after they left Alexandria and went on to illustrious careers of their own. Hypatia’s independence as a thinker was reported by her students; she taught, ‘Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.’  Hypatia likely became a Christian and this led to her brutal death. Walking with a group of male students on a Sunday in Alexandria, she was seized by a crowd of Christians, taken to a church, stripped naked, torn to pieces, and then burned. Her murder was part of a plot by the Alexandrian bishop, jealous of her competence and reputation, perhaps because of her heretical beliefs.

Resources:

Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Hypatia
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/hypatia.php

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