Hypatia

Hypatia lived from 355 to 425 and was the leading astronomer and mathematician of her time. As she was Neoplatonist, Hypatia was considered pagan. She was murdered by Christians who may have been associated with Saint Cyril, or maybe not. It was a long time ago.

But Hypatia’s story fascinates me. She was around as the ashes of the Library of Alexandria were cooling (metaphorically–it was being destroyed for ages in one way or another) and her life’s work, as far as we can tell, was to ensure the survival of Greek mathematics and astronomy. But nothing she wrote has survived to our time. The Encyclopedia Britannica says “her philosophy also led her to embrace a life of dedicated virginity” and here we are accepting knowledge about the sex life of a woman who lived 1600 years ago. Sure we are.

I don’t know how she spent her days. Maybe she woke at 5am and wrote in a journal until heading out to debate and breakfast. Maybe she had two good years and spent the rest of her life in a crushing depression. She might have been a virgin until her death, or she might have been gay, or she might have been asexual and relieved to be removed of the burden of sex by academic structure. All I needed was these few details: math, astronomy, a woman, a pagan, remembered. It makes me wonder who alive today will be remembered 1600 years from now, and for what.

Hypatia