I’ve spent the evening watching a fictionalised account of the life of Hypathia of Alexandria, a film called Agora (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1186830/?ref_=nv_sr_1). It’s very fictionalised, but if a film encourages people to look for information about real historical events then I don’t have a great problem with that. It’s only when they take the piss with historical fact that I get miffed. I really can’t watch films from the sixties or earlier. I take them apart, it really ruins the films.
Hypatia of Alexandria was a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who made substantial contributions to her fields. Unfortunately none of her works survive. She was murdered in March 415 by Christian zealots, possibly at the instigation of Cyril – the bishop of Alexandria who was later made a saint.
I’d vaguely heard of Hypatia of Alexandria before, but only in relation to the various destruction events in the history of the library of Alexandria and its ‘daughter library’ the Sarapeum. Trying to find any reliable information has been difficult. According to various sources – ancient and modern – the library was burnt down during Julius Caeser’s civil war in the 40’s BCE, then attacked during the 3rd century CE, the daughter library at the temple of Sarapis was destroyed during the destruction of pagan temples and then finally during the Muslim invasion of Egypt in the 7th century.
It was during Hypatia’s lifetime that the Serapeum, and it’s collection of books, was destroyed. I’d also heard of her during some programme or other about Alexandrian philosophers.
So why is she a heroine of mine (considering that list consists of Marie Curie, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Terry Pratchett, J.R.R.Tolkien etc)? Well, she was a woman of great intellect and eloquence, who made great contributions to her field and influenced the government of her city. I admire her for these things. She’s more known for her death than her life these days, but I think that should change. For women and girls interested in science, maths and technology, Hypatia is an example, a role model from the past, a past, we’re told, in which there were no scientific women, that all major discoveries were made by men.