Hypatia was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 350 AD. Alexandria was then a part of the roman Empire. She was the daughter of Greek scholar Theon, who was the last curator of the Museum of Alexandria which served as a large centre of learning and was considered as the city’s university. Hypatia grew up in this intensely academic environment and received education from her father from a very tender age. She was Theon’s best pupil and learned various classical works including the writings of Plato and equations of Diophantine. She travelled to Italy and Athens for further studied before returning back to Alexandria and becoming a lecturer and writer in fields such as philosophy, mathematics, mechanics and astronomy. She had Neoplatonism inclination to mathematics and philosophy and was appointed director of the Neoplatonist school in 400 AD. She penned down many famous books, some of them in collaboration with her father.
Though she was a genius but there are very few mentions of Hypatia in ancient texts. One scholar had to spend six years to find the mention of this lady. One of the first hand sources about Hypatia are letters to her from a student named Bishop Synesius of Cyrene. Other references are too little. From the limited resources we learn that Hypatia was an eminent female mathematician and intellectual in her age, where women did not engage in any type of learning. She was in favour of using practical technology and invented various gadgets such as the one which could tell the positioning of stars and sun. Large crowds emerged outside her house just to catch a glance of this enigmatic woman.
Hypatia was immensely attractive and beautiful. In one of the records it is claimed that she harshly turned off a student having crush upon her by flinging her bloody menstrual rags on his face. Even the letters of Bishop Synesius have a love undertone to them. But according to the sources Hypatia never married and kept company of some of the most intellectual people of ancient Alexandria. Chastity was one of her sacred values.
But the Roman Empire during Hypatia’s times was divided into a mess. Though Christianity was the official religion but other sects from Jews to heretics had their powers. Every religion hated the other and this rivalry was very fierce in Alexandria. Intellectualism was on the point of being ousted by fundamentalism. Thus it wasn’t a good time to preach free thought. Added to this Hypatia was a pagan and female. Though there were many Christian students who admired Hypatia’s pagan beliefs but other dogmatic Christians thought of her as a witch and Satanist. Hypatia’s ideas which were not normal for a woman in her age were the reasons for such string feelings in men. Her situation was further worsened when she became a part of a disputed between Orestes (pagan governor of Alexandria) and his political rival Cyril (a powerful priest).
In March 415 AD when Hypatia was on her way in a carriage her vehicle was sidetracked by a gang of Christian monks who were in violent rage. They dragged Hypatia off her carriage and to the nearby church called Caesareum. According to the accounts the mob stripped her naked, beat her to half dead and then scraped her skin off her body using oyster shells. After this her corpse was burned. Christians did not stop even after her death, they burned all her writings and also of her disciples. All traces of this lady were wiped off.
But it seems their efforts didn’t pay off as Hypatia became a martyr about whom we are still talking about.