Date: Feb 11, 1999 1:04 AM
Author: Michael Deakin
Subject: Re: [HM] hypatia

I'll try to answer these queries seriatim.

> I first learned of Hypathia in junior high school, possibly one of
> the fortunes of having an algebra teacher who knew something about
> the history of his subject. I recall that the story of her murder
> was related to the ignorance of the crowd. No mention of religion
> was made; an understandable omission for a 7th grade teacher.

There is probably a faint shadow of correct historiography here.
"The ignorance of the crowd" suggests a not too good reminiscence of
the relevant passage in the Suda Lexicon. There are now several
English renderings. One quite good one is now on the web. See

> Of course some myth has undoubtly evolved about the life of this
> remarkable individual. Given her gender and place in history, how
> couldn't it ?
> However the argument advanced by Anglin is disturbing. Somehow it
> suggests more the reasoning of an American trained court attorney
> than that of an historian.
> I sometimes wonder that if Hypathia had been a Christian convert, she
> would had been made a saint by the Church.

Hypatia was certainly not a christian convert. She was not at all
unsympathetic to the christian cause and one of her pupils (Synesius
of Cyrene) did become a christian without incurring her wrath. There
were attempts to conscript her into christianity (after her
martyrdom). One is a fake letter that tries to connect her with the
Nestorians (a group of "heretics"); the more substantial one her
apotheosis into the legend of "St" Catherine of Alexandria, once one
of the Christian chuch's most significant saints. The Roman church
at least has now suppressed her cult, essentially on the grounds tat
such a "St" did not exist. Incidentally, Synesius, who is
universally regarded as an important figure in rearly christian
theology has not been canonised. Some of his beliefs did not accord
with prevailing dogma. He was on excellent terms with Theophilus,
Cyril's predecessor and also uncle, and between them the two men
seemed to protect Hypatia from christian violence. Theophilus died
in 412, Synesius in 413, and Hypatia was then murdered in 415.

> Al Barron
> Metuchen, NJ

> > ----------
> > From: Gavin Hitchcock[]
> > Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 1999 3:03 AM
> > To:
> > Subject: [HM] hypatia
> >
> > Dear colleagues,
> > Can any one answer tell me more, with refs, about the motives of the mob
> > who are said to have murdered Hypatia? And the details, and repercussions?
> >
> > Socrates Scholasticus (History of the Church, Book VII, Chapter 15) says
> > she was killed by a mob of `Christians', led by someone called `Peter'.
> > Most histories of mathematics seem to assume that the motives of the crowd
> > were religious, that is, Hypatia was killed because she refused to be
> > converted to the Christian Faith, or because she fell out with Cyril, the
> > Christian Bishop of Alexandria. In contrast, W S Anglin (Mathematics: A
> > Concise History and Philosophy, Springer 1994) says `there is no evidence
> > to support this accusation. Cyril was a zealous leader, but we have no
> > reason to think he incited the crowd to make a physical attack on the
> > pagan mathematician. Indeed, we have no reason to think that the murder
> > had anything to do with religion and science. For all we know, the mob
> > killed Hypatia simply because they were poor and unemployed, while Hypatia
> > had a permanent well-paid job.'

This isn't very well researched. Cyril's "guilt" is assessed along
party lines. He may not have actively incited the mob who killed
Hypatia, but the man had a history of violence and kept an armed
militia, who (in my view, but not everybody's) also killed Hypatia.
Mathematics was outawed by both the christian church and by the
empire (whose established religion by then was christianity) and it
was easy to target Hypatia. Even if what was outlawed was NOT true
Mathematics but rather Astrlogy & Numerology.

The closest approximation to a balanced assessment of Cyril's
"guilt" may be found in Canon Bright's church history of 1860.

Recently a new source (the Chronicle of John of Nikiu) has come to
light and it makes it quite clear that Cyril's partisans used the
mathematical card to justify her slaying.

"Hypatia ... was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and
instruments of music, and she beguiled many through [her] satanic
wiles. ...... [and much more in this vein until, after the
description of her death, we reach] ..... . And all the people
surrounded the patriarch Cyril and named him 'the new Theophilus';
for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city."
> >
> > Was Hypatia in any sense a `mathematics martyr`?

As the above makes clear: YES.

> >
> > Gavin Hitchcock,
> > University of Zimbabwe.

I have had to be brief. My still unpublished biography has a lot
more to say. A VERY few copies of an earlier draft are still
available by snailmail to interested people.

For more on the web, see:

The best accessible account in print covering these matters is Ian
Mueller's article in Grinstein & Campbell's "Biobibliographic

Mike Deakin