The Herstory of Hypatia

A Famous Female Philosopher

Joshua Hehe


(Image Source: Julius Kronberg/Public Domain)

Roughly speaking, the Hellenistic religion lasted from about 300 BCE to 300 CE, give or take a century or so. In the wake of that, a girl named Hypatia was born in Alexandria, Egypt (which was part of the Eastern Roman Empire) in the year 355. She was the only child of an ambitious and acclaimed mathematician named Theon, who tutored her quite well in the subject, to say the least. This would allow her to become the first female in history to make a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics. Although written records tell us nothing about her mother, we do know that Hypatia’s father made sure that his daughter received the finest education money could buy. So, as well as becoming a famous legacy geometer, Hypatia received her primary education in the ancient Greek city of Athens, which was the philosophical capital of the Greco-Roman world.

In many ways, she was fated to become a famous female philosopher, right from the start. That is to say, Hypatia was destined to lecture on the teachings of Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and more. As part of that, Hypatia trained as much as she could, as often as possible, both mentally and physically. She strove to become a champion athlete, excelling at running, swimming, and horseback riding. Along with that, she was very intelligent, highly literate, and well versed in philosophy. After all, Theon wanted her to be perfect in every way, and she nearly was (at least the way some people tell the tale). The point is that Hypatia quickly surpassed her father’s abilities in one subject after another. Even though, Theon was no ordinary man himself. In fact, they were both heroic defenders of data (as the stewards of scrolls and caretakers of codices) who proudly fought for the freedom of information, in opposition to ignorance and illiteracy.

As a perfect example of what I mean, in the year 391, Archbishop Theophilus acted on the orders of Emperor Theodosius and tore down the Serapeum, which was the Temple to Serapis (serving as an annex for the long-lost Library of Alexandria). This was important because every scroll was a hand-written papyrus, many of which were cherished original copies. More to the point, the bitter civil wars between Christians, Jews, and pagans led to the outright obliteration of much of that invaluable content…