Badass Women in History: Hypatia of Alexandria

Hey all! In the first installment of my Badass Women in History series, we’ll be discussing Hypatia of Alexandria. Never heard of her? Neither had I, until I started researching for this segment. Once you learn about her though, I think you’ll agree that she is definitely pretty badass.

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fictional portrait of Hypatia by Jules Maurice Gaspard

Hypatia was born in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 350 (no one knows for sure, it’s too far back for anyone to agree). Daughter of mathematician and scholar Theon, she was raised as though she were a son: she was taught her father’s trade- a pretty progressive idea for the fourth century.  Her father was the last Professor of the University of Alexandria, and as such, he tutored her in math and philosophy- a term which would really mean “science” today.

She grew up in a time when Alexandria was the center of culture and learning, a hub for scholars from all over the world. She became a respected academic and gave lectures alongside her father at the University, and was known for making difficult mathematical and philosophical concepts easier to understand.

This really pissed off leaders of the budding religion that was Christianity, because what she was teaching directly contradicted the teachings of this new Church.  While her charisma was blamed for the inability of Christian leaders to convert locals from their pagan roots, they described her as generous and intelligent: which meant she must have been a witch, right? I think you can see where this is going for poor Hypatia…

 

Alexandria began to fall into chaos, due to violence from religious intolerance. One day on her way home from teaching that the University, Hypatia was attacked by a mob of Christian monks. They dragged her from her chariot and brought her into a church, where she was stripped, beaten, and burned to death.  The University of Alexandria and local pagan temples were subsequently sacked and burned or torn down.  For many scholars, the death of Hypatia embodies all that was lost in culture and knowledge due to religious intolerance.

Mort_de_la_philosophe_Hypatie
Mort de la Philosophe Hypatie by Louis Figuier

So, was I the only one who didn’t know about her? She was pretty cool, and honestly, so was her father.  It’s pretty much unheard of to have a man in the fourth century be so adamant that his DAUGHTER be an academic instead of a domestic.

 

As always, thanks for reading, and until next time!

 

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