Hypatia's birth and early learing.Hypatia was born some time between 355 and 370. Her father was Theon of Alexandria, a member of the famous Museum of Alexandria. He wanted his daughter to become the "perfect human being" and educated her in art, literature, philosophy, science, and mathematics. She was also very physically active and was trained in speech. This education opened many opportunities for Hypatia that were typically unavailable to women in her time.
Continuing studiesHypatia was able to continue her studies in Athens, Greece. There she became known as a highly talented mathematician. She was the world's leading mathematician and astronomer of her day. This fame would make her the first female mathematician to be recorded by history.
Teaching and contributions to mathHypatia began to teach in Alexandria like her father before her. She wrote commentaries, which were used like textbooks to teach her students difficult mathematics in more understandable ways. Her commentaries helped preserve the early algebra of Diophantus. She also helped to explain and simplify the works of Apollonius on conic sections, which helped later astronomers study the orbits of planets and comets. Conic sections developed the idea of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses.
Other contributions.Hypatia is thought to have helped her student, Synesius, create the planesphere and astrolabe. His surviving letters to his mentor also talk about methods for distilling water, measuring the level of water, and determining specific gravity of liquids.
NeoplatonismNeoplatonism is the idea that there is an unreachable reality beyond thought and language. Hypatia believed in the unity of the One and in connecting with the underlying reality by abstracting herself from everyday reality. These beliefs were considered pagan since they were not Christian or Jewish. Religious divides were growing deeper in Alexandria during this time. More of the library of Alexandria was lost when the Bishop of Alexandria ordered the destruction of a Greco-Egyptian temple.
Director of Alexandria's Neoplatonic School.She was a very popular teacher who attracted large audiences to her lectures and had many loyal students. During this time, religious tensions started to rise between Christians, Jews, and Pagans. However, the Bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, was close to Hypatia's loyal student, Synesius. So Hypatia was allowed to continue teaching her Neoplatonist philosophy.
Death of TheophilusAlexandria's Bishop dies and Cyril becomes the new Bishop. Hypatia's friendships can no longer protect her and Cyril is less tolerant of those with different beliefs. Synesius also likely died between now and 414.
Hypatia is murdered by a mob.Unfortunately, much of Hypatia's fame comes from her brutal death. In March of 415, political and religious tensions were high in Alexandria. Hypatia was a supporter of the Governor of Alexandria, Orestes, in a feud between him and the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. This caused many Christians in Alexandria to hate Hypatia. An angry mob of Cyril's followers formed and pulled Hypatia from her chariot and dragged her to a church.
Hypatia's death (continued)There, they stripped her and murdered her using tiles or oyster shells. After her limbs were torn apart, the mob burned her remains. Many scholars left Alexandria after the murder of Hypatia. The remains of the great library of Alexandria seemed to die with her.
After death.Along with many other books from Alexandria's famous library, Hypatia's commentaries were destroyed in one of the many raids and bookburnings of the time. However, her works lived on in her students who fled to Athens after her death and continued the study of mathematics. Although her writtings have been lost, her teachings helped preserve the works of other mathematicians that are still taught today.
Example problemThis problem is from The Arithmetica which Hypatia wrote commentaries on and taught from. Find three numbers such that the sums of pairs are the given numbers.
Let (1) + (2) = 20, (2) + (3) = 30, (3) + (1) = 40.
Let x be the sum of the three.
SolutionSince x equals the sum of the three, the numbers would be x-30, x-40, and x-20.
This would mean that x=3x-90.
x=45 Now substitute. The numbers are 15, 5, and 25.
Proof: 15+5=20, 5+25=30, and 15+25=40.