A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hypatia Part VIII: The Sources

Continued from Part VII: The Aftermath

This is a summation of the various sources of information on Hypatia with some comments on their provenance.

Sources for Hypatia

The Sources covering Hypatia are listed in their chronological order, starting with Synesius' Letters, which preceded the assassination of Hypatia, followed by the Histories of Socrates Scholasticus and Philostorgius of Cappadocia, who were reasonably contemporary, with the proviso that Philostorgius exists only as a 10th century epitome (or digest).
  1. Synesius. The Letters. Contemporary. The primary source for Hypatia’s teachings. Some interpretation is required because Neoplatonists kept their teachings largely occult. The letters do not cover the events in Alexandria leading up to her murder.

  2. Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History. Contemporary. He covers major events preceding and including the murder and provides a context. He was a lawyer in Constantinople, well-informed about goings-on in the Church and Empire. His informants on the character of Hypatia were likely Ammonias and Helladius, who would have known her before they fled after the Serapeum riots. He is somewhat hostile to Cyril because of his treatment of the Novatians.

  3. Philostorgius of Cappadocia. Ecclesiastical History [Contemporary]  Exists only in an epitome compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, 10th cent.
  4. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  5. Damascius. Life of Isidore. Two generations later (5th, early 6th century). This is a brief mention in passing and gives few details. Studied in Alexandria and became the last master of the Athenian Academy before it was closed. Deeply hostile to Christianity and only source to claim that Cyril directly engineered the murder. Disagrees with Socrates on the place of the murder and gives no other details. Original lost; reconstructed from fragments quoted by others. Source of the "menstrual rags" story.
  6. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  7. John Malalas. Chronographia. 6th century. Antioch. Two sentences. Info on her lifespan, fame, popularity. His book is “a curious farrago of fact and fancy.”

  8. Hesychius of Miletus. Onomatologus. 6th century. Short bio. Original lost; survives as fragments quoted by others. Contains info on titles of her works. Reports she was married to Isidore, a fragment repeated in The Suda, but which is in error. Isidore lived in the wrong generation.

  9. John of Nikiu. Chronicle. 7th century. Survives in Ethiopian translation of Arabic translation of Coptic original. Local author (Lower Egypt) born during Arab invasion. May have had access to now-lost records of Alexandrian church. Clearly biased, pro-Cyril. Follows John Malalas and a second, now lost work. Only source that calls Hypatia a pagan and a witch. Celebrates her murder but does not say that Cyril planned or knew.

  10. The Suda. 10th century. Byzantine encyclopedia. Combines fragments of Heysichius and Damascius. The encyclopedia is regarded as unreliable overall.

  11. Other accounts are fully derivative of the above.

On-Line Resources

Listed in story order and including context resources: Alexandria, Serapeum, etc.
  1. List of Roman Emperors
  2. List of the Popes of Alexandria
  3. Tidbits of Neoplatonic philosophy Part III, with links to Parts I and II
  4. The Historia Augusta (a “mockumentary” or satire, not always reliable) on the Egyptian character
  5. Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian
  6. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 7 and 10: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian and the murder of the virgins of Heliopolis.
  7. Rufinus of Aquileia: Ecclesiastical History, On the Destruction of the Serapeum
  8. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 16: On the Destruction of the Serapeum
  9. Synesius, Letters.
  10. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, ch. 13-15: account of Hypatia and the events leading up to her murder.
  11. John Malalas. Chronographia.
  12. The Suda Lexicon (Contains a fragment on Hypatia from Heysichius of Miletus and a longer fragment from Damascius’ Life of Isidore.)
  13. Photius. Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, cf. Book VIII, ch. 9
  14. John of Nikiu, Chronicles 84.87-103, On the death of Hypatia
  15. Catholic Encyclopedia (1914), Cyril of Alexandria.
  16. Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2 ch. V and VIII, on the murder of bishop Proterius.


  1. Mr. Flynn. As you seem to be good at this kind of thing, what with Galileo and Hypatia, I was wondering if you could help a fella out with sources for the historicity of the Gospels. I wouldn't presume to ask you to do a series on it, but if you could point me in the right direction, I'd be appreciative. Thanks!

  2. First, read the gospels. Then for a background understanding of how best to approach the questions that have been forced to the surface over the last couple centuries, read this by C. S. Lewis: . Jimmy Akin over at National Catholic Register often writes neat little easily-digested blogs on this or that question about the Gospels. Here's a recent one: .

  3. This collection of articles on Hypatia and Alexandria is one of the most fascinating and well-researched -- and well-reasoned -- I've ever read.

    Brilliant work!

    Best Wishes,

    Melbourne, Australia


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