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HYPATIA ((355 or 370 - 415AD))

She lived a very long time ago - about 1,600 years. But as I read more about her life and upbringing it's astonishing how the way she was educated and many of the things Hypatia was interested in are still of interest and concern to women now.

Hypatia was a Roman scholar, mathematician and philosopher. She was the daughter of Theon, considered one of the most educated men in Alexandria, Egypt. Some said that Theon attempted to raise the perfect human being when he educated Hypatia. His education methods included an exercise routine to help her develop a healthy body as well as a healthy mind.
She was a child prodigy and was tutored by some of the most celebrated scholars of her day. Her powers of oratory became much admired and as she grew older she had many followers.
Her particular interests were mathematics, astronomy, astrology and the natural sciences. Some sources credit her with the invention of the astrolabe (a device used to study astronomy), but others dispute this.
She used Apollonius's mathematical work on conic sections and made the study of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses easier to understand. She was so outstanding and popular too as a teacher that she was appointed head of the University of Alexandria.


She lived at a time of the rise of Christianity in Alexandria. To counter this Hypatia attempted to create an intellectual reawakening of reverence for the Greek gods and goddesses. She particularly emphasised the importance of goddesses and the feminine aspects of culture, arguing that the Mother Goddess religion conferred dignity, influence and power on women. She argued that when men of a violent, warlike disposition had taken over a society they produced nothing but turmoil. She said the only way to solve this was to elevate women to a higher place in society. Wow! How that sentiment rings true in today's world situation!

Hypatia's eloquent teaching attracted a mass following among both educated and uneducated people and she became quite a political force. This threatened the power of the Christians who were rising in influence at the time. Because of this she was detested by the Bishop of Alexandria. Plots seem to have been hatched against her and when she was travelling back from the University one day a fanatical 'Christian' mob attacked her, stripped her and killed her with pieces of broken pottery. Later the mob dragged her through the streets. Other versions say that she was killed by monks.


Hypatia's life ended tragically but her life's accomplishments remained. Later Descartes, Isaac Newton, and Leibniz expanded on her work. Hypatia made extraordinary accomplishments for a woman of her time and scholars still consider her a woman of great knowledge and an excellent teacher.


The story I have told above may be true, but there is a lot of dispute over the opinions and evidence it is based on. If I've piqued your interest and you want a more scholarly version and an analysis of other theories go to these pages:

Feminist Analysis and more:
Hypatia of Alexandria
Lots of links and academic sources here:
The Lady Philosopher of Alexandria.
Mathematical Information:
Hypatia & Mathematics
Hypatia & other female scientists:
Biographies of Women Scientists

Interesting Women - More