Neoplatonism Through the Renaissance


Who was Hypatia of Alexandria?

A philosopher and educator who achieved lasting renown, Hypatia of Alexandria in Egypt (c. 350–415) became famous throughout intellectual communities for her abilities in Neoplatonist philosophy and mathematics. In the Neoplatonic tradition, Hypatia used mathematics as a path toward understanding the higher world. In Theon, Hypatia’s father comments on Ptolemy’s Almagest, which set forth the geocentric model of the universe, and he credits her for the work of Book 3.

Although Hypatia was a pagan, the Roman Christian Egyptian government appointed her head of a school of Plotinus. Hypatia held that post for about 15 years, teaching both male and female students. She was said to have been very beautiful and was much admired personally. Synesius (c. 373–c. 414), her pupil who was to become bishop of Ptomemais, conveyed her views in essays, hymns, and letters. She was the heroine of Charles Kingsley’s 1853 novel, Hypatia; or, New Foes with an Old Face.

Hypatia was associated with Alexandria’s prefect, who was opposed by Saint Cyril of Alexandria (c. 378–444), the militant archbishop. As a result of her involvement in that dispute, Hypatia was hacked to pieces with sharp shells and her body burned by a mob of Christian monks. (The contemporary feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, is named after her.)


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