[Hypatia in the School of Athens, Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), 16th century]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Hypatia was the daughter of Theon Alexandricus, one of the last people to hold an official teaching position at the Mouseion of Alexandria.* It is probably from him that she received most of her education, though some sources claim that she was educated at Athens. She was ferociously intelligent, to the point that, according to Scholasticus, “she surpassed by far the philosophers of her time.”
At some point she took over as head of the Platonist school in Alexandria, but it was perhaps even before this that she became a well-known orator. Most teachers of the era taught only people of one religion. People of all religions came to hear Hypatia speak and to learn from her. She also wrote influential commentaries on Apollonius’ Conics** and Diophantus’ Arithmetica as well as editing a number of her father’s works. Some speculate that she also collaborated with her father on some of the works attributed to him, but as with so many other ancient and medieval female scholars we have no evidence either way.
The circumstances leading up to Hypatia’s murder remain under debate and are discussed in nearly every work that talks about her. Over the course of her career she became embroiled in the conflict between Alexandria’s Roman and Christian leaders. In 415 she was accosted by a group of Christian fanatics and beaten to death. Her body was then dismembered and burned. Since then, she has been more remembered for her death than for her life.
*This was attached to the now more famous Library of Alexandria. The enormous collection of books that has entered the popular imagination was mostly destroyed two centuries before when Julius Caesar invaded Egypt. The Mouseion (Museum) and Library referred to in later sources was a second, smaller collection.
**Conic sections. Anyone else remember these from algebra class?
The martyrdom of the pagan philosopher Hypatia. Alexandria, 415 A.D. - Diotima
(Note: the link above contains three primary sources including Socrates Scholasticus and an excerpt from the Suda. It should be fairly clear where one ends and the next begins)
Hypatia - Wikipedia
The Perniciously Persistent Myths of Hypatia and the Great Library - First Things
Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria's Great Female Scholar - Smithsonian
Review: Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr - Mathematical Association of America