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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Herstory of Hypatia

At Medium, "The Herstory of Hypatia" -- Herstory, get it? -- written by one Joshua Hehe, who bills himself as:
Theorist, Pantheist, Ontologist, Syncretist, Glocalist, Anthropologist, Populist, Cosmologist, Futurist, Ethicist, Alarmist, Epistemologist, Occultist, Artist,…
Clearly this impressive list of accomplishments qualifies him to write about Late Antiquity. Or something. My old buddy Mohsen is a cosmologist, and I am familiar with the range of mathematics and physics he had to master. (TOF himself took only Astrophysics and Galactic Structure and the usual range of Differential Manifolds, Tensor Calculus, etc. Although that was many eons ago and, use it or lose it, TOF would hesitate to bill himself as a Tensorist, or even a Manifoldist, since he specialized in General Topology instead.) Glocalist stumped him for a time, but he figures it is a combination of Globalist and Localist, which is sort of like what Hegel and Marx called an internal contradiction. Not only is Mr Hehe a Syncretist, but also a Pantheist. Plus, he is a Theorist and they don't come any more impressive than that.

TOF's Faithful Follower recalls that Hypatia has made appearances heretofore, but knew there would be a hereafter, as well. It's the gift that keeps on giving, being one of the foundational myths of the Modern Age. The story has been told so often it is easy to forget that these accounts are many times longer than the only surviving near-contemporary source, meaning that new facts have been created to flesh out these longer narratives.

Naturally, as is often the case with writers from that quarter, Mr Hehe cites no sources, and one suspects he leans heavily on Draper/White, on Sagan, and/or Gibbons. At least an account TOF once saw on something called rationalwiki cited sources, even if they were mostly irrelevant.

TOF will pause here and allow you to read Mr Hehe's account and make your own notes. Remember the TOFian battle cry: "How do you know that? What is your source!" Ready? Go!


Back already? Okay, let's look at some of the points. You will note there are actually some truthful statements in his essay, though oft spoilt by exaggeration, by Modernist interpretations, and by the addition of details for which there is no actual evidence. These hypes are unnecessary. The actual event is horrific enough. Is it made more horrific by imagining that Hypatia was "very beautiful"?

1. Yes, we know: the "his" in history is not the 3rd person possessive pronoun for first declension. The root word is ιστορ, Greek, meaning a wise person or judge, a quo ιστορία, "a learning or knowing by inquiry; an account of those inquiries, history, record, narrative," thence to Latin historia, "a narrative of past events; account, tale, story." But everyone likes a pun, aina?

2. "a terribly eager successor of Alexander the Great established the Ancient Library in Africa."
You can tell us, Mr Hehe. It was one of the Ptolemies. According to a letter supposedly written by one Aristeas, it was Ptolemy Philadelphius (309-246 BC). It was not called the Ancient Library for the excellent reason that the folks back then did not know they were the ancients. It was the Royal Library and was the property of the King. But it was not a library as we would think of libraries. The word βιβλιοθήκη (bibliotheke} meant a book chest (βιβλιο - θήκη), not a building. These chests were usually stored in the niches of the colonnade of a temple, of the baths, or of other public buildings. The Royal Book Chests were stored in the Temple of the Muses and the priest-scholars were permitted to use them. Many were also stored in warehouses in the harbor district, conveniently placed for Caesar's troops to accidentally destroy them in the First Alexandian War.

3. "the illustrious repository of planetary wisdom housed millions of scrolls..."
No. Only one ancient source, from long after the Book Chests had been plundered, estimates 700,00 scrolls, but like the fish that got away, the Library tended to grow bigger after it had disappeared. (Greek was notoriously sloppy about writing large numbers, cf. Archimedes, The Sand Reckoner.) Such a collection would have required a fairly enormous building in its own right, given the size of standard scrolls and the methods of shelving them. Yet when Strabo (64 BC - 24 AD) visited Alexandria sometime around the time of Christ, he mentioned no such building, though he gave a detailed description of the Museum itself. That the Royal Book Chests contained twice as many scrolls as the other great libraries of the era is not beyond reason. But that it contained more than ten times as many defies reason. Strabo, in a passing mention, writes:
"Eratosthenes ... had read many historical works, with which he was well supplied if he had a library as large as Hipparchus says it was.” (Geographia, II.1). 
Which sounds like that large library was not around any more, or else Strabo would have noticed it. Eratosthenes (276 - 194 BC) had been the head librarian and the author of an earlier, now-obsolete Geographia. Strabo had worked in Alexandria itself, yet he had to rely on a remark by Hipparchus (190-120 BC) a century and a half earlier to tell him that he had had a big library.

4. "the illustrious repository of planetary wisdom ... contained the collective understanding of the entire world."
Well, of the local entire world. In the account of Epiphanius (On Weights and Measures), the Royal Book Chests held almost entirely Greek works, and the librarian Demetrius of Phaleron recommended that they collect Latin works as well as Egyptian and Syrian. (And he has also heard that there are many books in India.) Most importantly, there are works by the Jews relatively close by. (Epiphanius is re-telling the tale of Aristeas how the Septuagint translated Scripture into Greek and placed it in the Royal Library.)

5. "...a continuous supply of manuscripts coming in and out of the facilities on any given day, including Jewish, Turkish, and Babylonian texts alike."
We know that there were Jewish texts because the Septuagint is specifically mentioned by Epiphanius. Babylonian is questionable, and Turkish is out of the question because the Turks were not in the Middle East until the 10th century AD.

6. "...a sort of peculiar little girl named Hypatia was born in ancient Greece circa 370."
There is no evidence she was born in Greece. So far as we know she was born and bred in Alexandria. Why Mr Hehe thinks she was "peculiar," who knows.

7. "...the finest education she could get, in the best place available. Athens was home to the most sophisticated society in the classical world, and that’s where she was destined to come of age."
By the 4th-5th century AD, Athens was "famed only for her beekeepers," according to Hypatia's student, Synesius. It glory days were long over.

8. "Hypatia excelled at running, swimming, and horseback riding, among countless other sports."
There is no evidence for any of this. Mr Hehe appears to have made it up, or copied it uncritically from some tertiary source.

9. "...she was unimaginably and incomparably intelligent, being incredibly literate and tremendously well versed in philosophy."
Not just intelligent, but unimaginably and incomparably intelligent. Not just literate, but incredibly literate. We do know that she was renowned for her philosophical teaching and was a Neoplatonic spirit guide; hence, well-versed in the mathematics that provided a path to experience the numinous. She also knew the Chaldean Oracles and other mystic sources (Dzielska: 63)

10. "In the year 391, archbishop Theophilus acted on the orders of emperor Theodosius and tore down the Serapeum"
Mr Hehe got this right, although it was imperial troops that did the tearing down. Theophilus was certainly an enthusiastic cheerleader. The Serapeum sat upon the Acropolis of Alexandria at the head of a hundred steps. It had been used recently as a stronghold by pagan rioters who had slain several of Christian captives there in ritual sacrifice. Since this was not the first time rioters in Alexandria had used the temple as a redoubt, the emperor decided to have it torn down. Modern archeology reveals that only the temple itself was dismantled, not the colonnade.

11. "the Serapeum, which served as an annex for the long lost Library."
Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in AD 392 :
“And so the Scriptures, when they had been transferred to the Greek language, were placed in the first library, which was built in the Bruchion, as I have already said. But there was later also another library in the Serapeum, smaller than the first, which was also called its daughter, in which were placed the translations of Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and the rest, two hundred and fifty years later." 
-- On Weights and Measures: III.48c, XI.53c
Whether the bishop meant by "daughter" what we mean by "annex" is problematical. It was called a daughter, not a sister. Perhaps some copies had been taken there during Aurelian's reunification war to save them from the conflagration. There need not have been any "institutional" continuity between the two.

11. "...the long lost Library."
Mr Hehe got this right: the Royal Book Chests were long lost by this time.

The ancients cited the troops of Julius Caesar for the destruction. But Menecles of Barca wrote that Ptolemy Physkon (182-116 BC) expelled the scholars of the Museum for supporting his rival in a civil war, with the result that these “brought education to Greeks and barbarians elsewhere.” likely by taking many of the book chests with them as they fled. (This purge occurred after Hipparchus' claim about Eratosthenes' big library.) The Museum recovered, but its library probably never regained its former glory. Hence, Strabo’s apparent skepticism regarding its size.There is no unambiguous present-tense mention of the Royal Library after this time.

12. "This was very important because each and every scroll was a hand-written papyrus, many of which were cherished original copies."
Papyrus doesn't last long enough to have original copies in 391. They have to be copied over and over, or normal entropy will obliterate them. In AD 273, the entire Bruchion, including the Palace and Museum, was burned when Aurelian drove out the Palmyrenes; and in AD 365, a mere twenty-six years before the deconstruction of the Serapeum, a tsunami swept across the City, depositing ships up to two miles inland, even atop buildings (Ammianus: XXVI.10:16). Not many "original copies" would have survived these catastrophes.

13. "sadly the bitter civil war between monotheists and pagans led to the outright obliteration of much of the invaluable content."
There is no evidence that the Book Chests that Epiphanius claims were stored in the Serapeum colonnade were still there when the cultic center was torn down. There are no less than five separate accounts of that incident, and none of them mentions any books whatever.  When Ammianus Marcellinus described the Serapeum ca. AD 363, shortly before its demolition, he wrote of her books in the perfect tense, meaning a past completed action: “In here were once [fuerunt] valuable book-chests...” (Roman Antiquities: XXII 16:15) They were likely confiscated by the Arian bishop George when he and the military comes profaned the temple following in an earlier riot. (BTW, Bishop George is worth noting because the account of his lynching by a pagan mob is very much parallel to Hypatia's later lynching.)

14. "Theon fought hard to keep a great deal of the most important of those remaining documents intact, in a heroic attempt to preserve as much of the precious knowledge as possible."
Theon was not mentioned in any of the accounts, listing the rhetors, philosophers, and grammarins who took part in the fighting. Two of those pagan scholars were later tutors to Socrates Scholasticus, who wrote the only surviving contemporary account of Hypatia's murder. 

15. " spite of his [Theon's] valiant efforts, the Dark Ages had begun."
The Dark Age afflicted only the Western Empire, where civil administration collapsed in the wake of the German Volkerwanderung and Franks, Goths, and Vandals cavorted in the ruins. Records perished. As fast as the Romans and Romanized Celts could write things down, the barbarians burned them up. That's why we call the period "dark." There is little documentation to shed light on the goings-on. In Alexandria, there was no dark age until after the muslim conquest.

16. Hypatia ... [became] a naturalist, a physicist, and a feminist, to name only but a few of her incredible accomplishments. 
She not only had accomplishments, but incredible accomplishments.  However, she was not a feminist. The ancient world knew of no such thing. Following the success of Christianity, women became more prominent in the public square. This included pagan as well as Christian women. Women philosophers were not unusual in that milieu. Gemina, Amphiclea, Marcella, Sosipatra of Pergamon, the renowned Aedesia, St. Theodora, St. Eugenia, and St. Maria the Egyptian are examples. The pagan Aedesia, eulogized by Damascius, held forth in Alexandria in the generation immediately after Hypatia and no one hassled her. (Dzielska: 117-9)

Nor was she a physicist. As a Neoplatonist, she would have disdained the physical world. Matter was a trap for the soul. As for being a naturalist, collecting bugs and flowers and watching animals is nowhere mentioned in the sources. If Mr Hehe meant "naturalist" in the sense of materialism or non-supernaturalist, that would be totally at odds with the Neoplatonism she professed.

17. She was also an inventor and an astronomer, and so much more. 
Hypatia is sometimes credited with the invention of the hydrometer. But this comes from a letter from Bishop Synesius, her former student, in which he asks her to have one built for him. But in this letter, he has to tell her how to build it (Synesius: 15). Furthermore, he asked because “I am in such evil fortune that I need a hydroscope.” This suggests not natural science, but hydromancy.

An astronomer in those days was a mathematician, not a physical scientist. No one knew yet that the lights in the sky were material bodies. They were thought to be made of celestial stuff rather than earthly elements. One studied them to learn where on the eternal cycles the world was, and thus to cast horoscopes. Astronomy was simply geometry applied to these lights. 

18. she became employed as a professor of philosophy and mathematics. 
"Employed" is not the right word.  There were no such things as "professors." It would be better said that Hypatia built a reputation and "hung out her shingle".
19. Then, after being influenced by great minds like Plotinus, Diophantus, and Aristotle, 
A stopped clock is right twice a day. According to the sources, she followed the teachings of Plotinus. A later source, probably reliable on this point, credits her with writing a "commentary" on Diophantus, so she must have known it. [A commentary on a text was a student guide to a more difficult original text. Think of her work as "Diophantus for Dummies."] The revival of Aristotle was a couple generations in the future at this point. It is possible, but not especially likely, that she studied Aristotle, since he was at odds with the Platonic tradition that Plotinus represented.

20. she finally took over as head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria
This is projecting modern Western categories onto the past.  A "school" [schola] was not an institution, but a following. Think "school of fish", not "school of arts." That is, she had mastered the principles of Neoplatonism in the tradition [school] of Plotinus. It was not an independently chartered institution that she might be "employed by" or promoted to "head of." It was her personal following of disciples, whom she instructed in the usual gallimaufry of Neoplatonic woo-woo.

21. there in that renowned facility, 
There was no "faculty." It was Hypatia and her disciples, period.  There were other philosophers holding forth, but the concept of the "university" as a self-governing, chartered institution with a faculty for teaching a standard curriculum will not be invented for several centuries.

22. Hypatia gave highly acclaimed lectures to pupils from all over the world, regarding anything and everything there was to know, and more.
The sources tell us that many of her students came from a distance to hear her lectures. "All over the world" depends on one's definition of "world." We know one student, a wealthy landowner who came from Syria; another, possibly from Constantinople. Her most famous student, Syrenius, came from Cyrenaica -- though this was not that far from Alexandria.

We also know she gave public instruction on those matters that could be revealed.

23. Hypatia gave highly acclaimed lectures ... regarding anything and everything there was to know, and more.
More than everything there was to know?

So what did Hypatia teach? Shh. It’s a secret. No, seriously. It is. “It is an old tradition,” Synesius wrote, “and quite in the manner of Plato, to conceal the profound thoughts of philosophy behind the mask of some lighter treatment.” (Synesius, On dreams: pref.).  He scolded fellow student Herculian for blabbing (Synesius: 143) for they had taken a vow not to reveal Hypatia's teachings to outsiders. But we can glean Hypatia’s teachings indirectly from Synesius' own books, which he sent to her for review and approval. She seems to have leaned heavily on the Chaldean Oracles and other mystic sources (Dzielska: 63).

She lectured on how to contact the Divine. In the Platonic tradition, geometry was a means of doing so, for in the perfections of mathematics one could come close to perceiving the divine mind. Likewise, in the geometry of sound -- music -- one could induce trances in which the mind could be freed of matter and achieve a divine ecstasy. Likewise, astronomy for casting horoscopes.

24. Unlike the other women of her time, Hypatia could move and speak freely among the men. 
Well, unlike women other than Gemina, Amphiclea, Marcella, Sosipatra of Pergamon, Aedesia, St. Theodora, St. Eugenia, and St. Maria the Egyptian. 

25. she had endless suitors,
We know of one example, mentioned by Damascius about two generations after Hypatia's time. One of her students developed a crush on his teacher and "showed her a token of his love."  In response, she showed him her menstrual rags, saying "this is what you're in love with [i.e., her vagina], and it isn't pretty." This must have been early in her career, since she was in at least her fifties by the time of her murder.

26. the thing is that she never really wanted to get married. Hypatia was a strong independent woman. As a kind of Vestal Virgin for Truth, she would not be pressured into expecting and nursing children. 
Neoplatonists as a rule disdained physical relations. Plotinus had taught that a man is a soul trapped in matter and matter was icky. Sex was dirty. This had no relation to being "a strong, independent woman," or pressure to give birth and nurse children. It was simply Neoplatonic anti-materialism.

27. She even stood proudly in defiance of the church and state, whenever she disagreed with anyone about anything of any kind.
There is no evidence of any such disagreement -- certainly not with the State -- and it's not even clear she disagreed with Cyril. The rumors that she was keeping the prefect and the bishop from making peace may have been just that: rumors. Of course, if the prefect and the bishop are intent on butting heads, you're going to have to disagree with one or the other. This is less "proud defiance" than it is a logical outcome.Otherwise, there is again no record of any occasion of defiance.

28. She was a master of the spoken and written word, but sadly so little of her work remains. 
As far as we know, none of it remains; which makes it just as hard to judge her mastery of the written word as it is to judge her mastery of the spoken word. Her Dad credits her only with help on Book III (as Mr Hehe notes):
“Commentary by Theon of Alexandria on Book III of Ptolemy’s Syntaxis,
edition revised by my daughter Hypatia, the philosopher.”
Theon says nothing of the rest of the Syntaxis, but most scholars today interpret "edition revised by" to mean the revision and arrangement of the entire Syntaxis. It is quite possible that the received text of Ptolemy's Syntaxis is her editorial work.Other than that we have a few titles and the worshipful testimony of one disciple.

29. There is still a letter from a correspondence lesson to Synesius in which she clearly demonstrated her command of the astrolabe, which was a very sophisticated portable astronomical calculator, similar to modern GPS. 
Mr Hehe cannot be serious. "Similar to a modern GPS?" Really?
We have no letters by Hypatia; but we do have letters written by Synesius.(And no, her sessions were not correspondence courses.)
Astrolabes were in wide use and were extensively described by Theon, Hypatia's father and teacher. When Synesius sent an astrolabe as a gift to Pylaemenes, an important military leader whom Synesius had met in Constantinople, he included an essay-length letter that states inter alia:
[14] It is a work of my own devising, including all that she, my most reverend teacher [Hypatia], helped to contribute, and it was executed by the best hand to be found in our country in the art of the silversmiths.
That is, Synesius designed the astrolabe himself with help/input from Hypatia, whose father had been an expert in the instrument. Synesius does not specify what Hypatia's contribution was.

30. Over the years she kept in touch with all the interesting characters she had come to know, and these lifelong friends benefited her in several different ways. 
 We don't know this. We do know that Synesius tried to stay in touch with the others, esp. the the three with whom he forms "a foursome elected by fortune": Herculian, Olympius, and "the deacon."
  • Synesius will later become a bishop
  • Olympius is a wealthy Christian landowner in Syria.
  • Herculianus is buddy-buddy with the military governor of Egypt.
  • The "deacon" is supposed by some to be Isidore of Pelusium, the future Church Father and spiritual mentor to the later-bishop Cyril. Isidore was in studies in Alexandria at this time, and he addressed some letters to a certain Synesiōi, but there is no direct evidence that Isidore was "the deacon."
31. just two or three generations after Christianity went mainstream, she quickly became the last of her kind. 
Post hoc is not propter hoc. And it is not clear what is meant by "her kind."

32. a ruthless band of religious terrorists known as the Parabalani. 
The Christians of the cities of the Eastern Empire had invented something new: what we would call today a combination hospital/hospice/homeless shelter. The task of the parabolani was to patrol the mean streets of old Alexandria looking for homeless people and bring them into the shelters. Then, as now, many were disinclined to do so, often violently disinclined. Hence, the name parabolani, which means "persons who risk their lives as nurses" (Late Latin: parabalānī, from Ancient Greek: παραβολᾶνοι or παράβολοι). In addition to performing works of mercy they constituted a bodyguard for the bishop. There is no primary source naming them as the perpetrators of the outrage.

33. that heinous mob of fundamentalist zealots
We should be careful of projecting modern categories of thought onto ancient societies. The beliefs of the parabolani would likely have horrified your typical fundamentalist, being heavily into Mary as Theotokas, the Mass, and so forth. Likewise, the term "terrorists." Some of their acts may have terrified people; but then the acts of the regular government also terrified people. 

34. On her way to work
That does not describe what happened in late antiquity. Hypatia's place of employment was most likely her own estate, not an office somewhere downtown. There are three surviving accounts of the incident that supply any details.
  • Socrates Scholasticus (roughly contemporary): …waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage
  • Damascius (about two generations later): …when Hypatia emerged from her house, in her accustomed manner, a throng of merciless and ferocious men … attacked and cut her down…
  • John of Nikiu (about two centuries later): they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman… And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her seated on a (lofty) chair
35. Then, the Christian extremists dragged her into a church and proceeded to flay her alive. 
"Extremists" is another modern term that doesn't fit well.
Also, none of the accounts mention that she was "flayed alive." That was made up by Gibbons and passed along by a credulous Sagan. This is the account:
 Yet even she [Hypatia] fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed.  For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes [the imperial prefect], it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop.  Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.  This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church.  And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.  This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius. 
 This is ugly and brutal enough without imagining "flaying alive."

36. The savage radicals even burned her corpse on a pyre, treating her as though she were a wicked high priestess being condemned for unforgivable sins against their established faith. 
Actually, this was what was normally done in these street riots: as when a pagan mob had earlier killed the Arian bishop George, or when a later mob of Monophysites lynched the orthodox bishop Proterius. It was a well-established ritual in Old Alexandrial one noted by Greeks and Romans long before there were Christians. cf.  Haas, Christopher. 1992. “The Alexandrian Riots of 356 and George of Cappadocia.”

37. They essentially tried her for witchcraft, but in reality she had only caused problems between bishop Cyril and the prefect Orestes.

No, they didn't "try" her for anything. It was quite well known at the time as a mob action in response to a political issue in the deadly "game of thrones" of Alexandrian politics. It is not even clear that Hypatia "caused" the problems between Cyril and Orestes. Socratese says only that it was "calumniously reported" that she prevented them from being reconciled; that is, maliciously and falsely reported.

38. That horrendous moment was, without a doubt, one of the most significant turning points in the whole of human history.
Exaggeration, much? More significant than the battle of Actium or of Waterloo? Or the victory of Chin over Chu? More significant than the triumph of the ash'ari over the mutazilites? Or of the Confucians over the Moists?  What about the Fall of Rome to the Visigoths, which happened at about the same time as the murder of Hypatia? In the contest for significant turning points in the whole of human history, the murder of a math teacher and spirit guide by yet another dreary Alexandrian mob cannot even suit up in the game.

39. ...a martyr for liberated women the world over...
Oddly, she was not seen this way by either Gibbon or Sagan. Not until Womens Liberation became important to Us, did Hypatia become important for it. And, as Mr Hehe admits, Hypatia was not killed because she was a woman, but because she chose sides in the Alexandrian blood sport of politics. Women in the public square were not unusual in that era.  We need mention only such as Gemina, Amphiclea, Marcella, Sosipatra of Pergamon, the renowned Aedesia, St. Theodora, St. Eugenia, and St. Maria the Egyptian are examples. The pagan Aedesia, eulogized by Damascius, held forth in Alexandria in the generation immediately after Hypatia and no one hassled her. (Dzielska: 117-9)

40.  ...her death at the hands of Cyril’s sympathizers tragically signified the end of Classical Antiquity. 
Classical antiquity had been on the wane for centuries and continued with some vigor for considerable time after these events.  See, Peter Brown (1989), The World of Late Antiquity, OR Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson (1993), Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, A.D. 400-700 for a better picture of the end of classical antiquity.

41. the last of the scrolls from the Library were all destroyed within months of her demise. 
No, this is a repetition of a myth of Sagan. The last scrolls of the Royal Library had been lost years, if not centuries earlier. And those scrolls that may have been in the Serapeum had likely been confiscated when General Artemius and Bishop George occupied the site.  

42. Then, to make matters worse, Cyril even got recognized as a saint. 
Critics always get bent out of shape over this; as if sainthood implied impeccability.  Cyril was declared a saint for his resistance to Nestorianism, not for how the city mob handled a Neoplatonist spirit guide. No one insisted he be impeccable. Socrates wrote: This affair [Hypatia] brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church.  And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. But he does not imply that Cyril directed the murder; only that he let the situation get out of control. Socrates was favorable to the Novatians, whom Cyril persecuted, and was thus critical of Cyril. Two generations later, the bitter pagan Damascius wrote that Cyril planned the murder out of jealousy over Hypatia's popularity, but his account of the murder conflicts with Socrates.

43. That vicious act of brutal murder has caused such profound longstanding damage that it’s almost impossible to describe how devastating it really was. The world lost so very much the day she died.
Granted, the loss of any human life is an inestimable tragedy. But why not try to describe how very devastating this one was? Based on the known titles of her mathematical commentaries, the loss to mathematics/astronomy was not very great. And given that she followed the rather woo-woo philosophy of Plotinus, it's hard to say that the loss to philosophy was very great, either.
"It is an old tradition," her pupil Synesius wrote, "and quite in the manner of Plato, to conceal the profound thoughts of philosophy behind the mask of some lighter treatment." (Synesius, On dreams: pref.).  Obscurantist methods used by the ancients included breaking up a chain of reasoning and scattering the propositions throughout the text; using enthymemes instead of syllogisms; using terms ambiguously; setting the conclusions before the premises; and so on. The cognoscenti could fill in the blanks. This may have been the biggest impediment to the rise of science in the ancient world. Science requires clear and precise communication, not wink-wink, nudge-nudge secret knowledge.

The Sources


  1. Thanks again for all the work you've done here.

    Hypatia, Bruno, Galileo: the chasm between the historical characters and the Enlightenment icons never seems to close, but instead widens. As was once said, with less applicability, about God: if these three didn't exist, they'd have to make them up. Oh, wait...

  2. "Alarmist" may be the most accurate of his job descriptions.

  3. Sounds very much like someone picked up a historical fiction novel and mistook it for a scholarly work.

  4. Brilliant, and a joy to read. Actual history is so much better than what passes as history today.

  5. Sorry, I'm going to have to rely on your obviously biased and disjointed account of Hehe's (Hoho's, Haha's) tome, because I don't really want to join his following. The signup costs are too high.
    No doubt two hundred years from now, as we are discovering the internet isn't REALLY forever, his version will have to be back-formed from surviving works like yours. Supposing anyone to be alive two hundred years from now with enough interest in his work to back-form it.

  6. I want to add my thanks for the work you've put into this and your other historical series.

  7. I ordered a herstory from Amazon the other day and am waiting for it to come in the femail.

  8. I left a comment under the herstory with a link to this review... alas, the author blocked me.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Uh...also by this Hehe guy? This. So, I mean...who's surprised? At the point where he's unironically talking about "magick", you might as well be arguing with the Nation of Islam.

  11. Highly recommended

    1. I relied heavily on that book in compiling my own essay.

    2. Was gonna say, didn't nuestro hospedero actually mention Dzielska by name?

  12. Apparently there is a thing going around that Theon, like Clark Savage Sr., planned to train Hypatia to be the perfect human being. Unlike your actual Neo-Platonist who hated bodies, this story says that a perfect human being has to train in athletics. So she allegedly was good at walking, running, riding on horseback, rowing, swimming, and climbing mountains.

    This apparently came from Hubbard, but has been elaborated upon. It is in math department webpages. It is in a children's picture book.

    1. Not Elron! Then it must be true! And we mustn't ask how the blazes he could possibly know any such a thing.

    2. She could have won the modern pentathlon. If wicked St. Cyril hadn't destroyed all knowledge of fencing and pistol-smithing.

  13. Any chance of a review of Catherine Nixey's Darkening Age about the rise of militant Christianity and the darkening of Europe? Stars Hypatia and the Serapion after which I lost interest in another son of Charles Freeman/Gibbon rant about early Christianity, but I wonder if I'm doing it a disservice

  14. '...none of the accounts mention that she was "flayed alive." That was made up by Gibbons...'
    First, the man's name was Gibbon, with no "s".
    Second, as I read the accounts, she *was* flayed alive. Her skin and flesh was scraped off with tiles; that fits the definition of flaying.

    1. Here are the accounts:
      Roughly contemporary
      1. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History. Book VII, ch. 15
      [As a result of a political turmoil in the City previously described] Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.

      2. Philostorgius of Cappadocia. Ecclesiastical History, Book VIII, ch. 9
      Exists only in a 9th century epitome by Photius:
      Philostorgius says, that Hypatia, the daughter of Theon, was so well educated in mathematics by her father, that she far surpassed her teacher, and especially in astronomy, and taught many others the mathematical sciences. The impious [i.e. Arian] writer asserts that, during the reign of Theodosius the younger, she was torn in pieces by the Homoousian [Orthodox] party.

      5th, early 6th century (Two generations later)
      3. Damascius. Life of Isidore. The original is lost and has been reconstructed from fragments quoted by others (e.g., in the Suda Lexicon, 10th cent.).
      For when Hypatia emerged from her house, in her accustomed manner, a throng of merciless and ferocious men who feared neither divine punishment nor human revenge attacked and cut her down, thus committing an outrageous and disgraceful deed against their fatherland.

      6th century
      4. John Malalas. Chronographia. Antioch. (Mashed with Damascius in the Suda)
      "His book is a curious farrago of fact and fancy.”
      At that time the Alexandrians, given free rein by their bishop, seized and burnt on a pyre of brushwood Hypatia the famous philosopher, who had a great reputation and who was an old woman.

      5. Hesychius of Miletus. Onomatologus.
      Survives as fragments quoted by others. Only info on titles of her works.
      Hypatia, daughter of Theon the geometer and philosopher of Alexandria, was herself a well-known philosopher. She was the wife of the philosopher Isidorus [sic], and she flourished under the Emperor Arcadius [sic]. Author of a commentary on Diophantus, she also wrote a work called The Astronomical Canon and a commentary on The Conics of Apollonius. She was torn apart by the Alexandrians and her body was mocked and scattered through the whole city. This happened because of envy and her outstanding wisdom especially regarding astronomy. Some say Cyril was responsible for this outrage; others blame the Alexandrians' innate ferocity and violent tendencies for they dealt with many of their bishops in the same manner, for example George and Proterius.

      7th century
      6. John of Nikiu. Chronicle. This account is two hundred years after the fact but it survives only in an Ethiopian translation of an Arabic translation of the Coptic original.
      "...they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her seated on a (lofty) chair; and having made her descend they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire.
      John of Nikiu is the only early source that calls Hypatia a pagan.

      None of them mention skinning, flaying, or scraping off the skin.

    2. The "tiles" in question were used in stoning, not ripping off the skin.

    3. Roof tiles of the kind used in the ancient (and modern) Mediterranean are particularly effective for stoning people to death. If you hit, you hit; if you miss, the tile is likely to shatter, and a cut from a flying shard can do more damage than a blow from an intact tile.

      Cf. the massacre of Saturninus’s men in the Senate House, Rome, 100 BC.

  15. On point 21, TOF, you write "there in that renowned facility," but then you proceed to refute the idea that there was no "faculty." Assuming facility must be a typo? Or is faculty the culprit?

    Interesting piece otherwise.

    1. Both. "Facility" implies that there was some sort of institution staffed by a "faculty." That in fact, Hypatia was a professor at this "renowned facility," viz., the Platonic/Plotinus School of Alexandria that existed independently of the philosophers who "staffed" it. But there was no such thing as a corporation in them thar days. There were only renowned philosophers and their scholae, their disciples. The "facility" was wherever the philosopher held forth. The Stoics famously held forth on "the Porch." Aristotle taught while walking about, hence "the Peripatetics." (Plato's Academy near Athens, named after the groves of Akademe where they met, did have an independent corporate existence, like the madrassas of the Near East. Plato was wealthy and could afford the endowment.)

    2. Basically, in terms that might be more familiar—those of martial arts—"school" meant the ryû, the "style", not the dôjô, the physical hall where the practitioners might meet.

  16. Some typos:

    1. "...estimates 700,00 scrolls..."

    2. "...the the three with whom he forms..."

    3. "...Socratese says only..."


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