Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Life of Hypatia

By Socrates Scholasticus, from his Ecclesiastical History

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

Yet even she fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes [governor of Alexandria who opposed the bishop’s exile of Jews, and who was then killed by Christian monks], 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 Caesareum, 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 [the bishop, later made a saint], 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 [415 CE].

* The Greek word is ostrakois, literally "oystershells," but the word was also applied to brick tiles used on the roofs of houses.
For some historians, the death of Hypatia marks the end of Antiquity.


  1. I dunno... Christians always tell stories of how the early saints were thrown to lions, but they don't talk about the crimes of the early church which led to the prejudice against their strange death cult.


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