Hypatia

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"In the starry expanse that has no dwellings: forces of the universe, interior virtues, harmonious union of earth and heaven that delights the mind and the ear and the eye, that offers an attainable ideal to all wise men and a visible splendor to the beauty of the soul."
Hypatia
(From a dramatic work by Leconte de Lisle, 1857)

Hypatia of Alexandria: A Woman Before Her TimetWA '97 Summer.JPG (28494 bytes)

Hypatia of Alexandria was a woman of grace and eloquence, of beauty and wisdom. She was born before her time, and she died before her time.

Regarded as the first woman astronomer, Hypatia was also an accomplished mathematician, an inventor, and a philosopher of Plato and Aristotle, She lived during the late 4th, early 5th centuries--a time of great change.

Born in Alexandria, the exact year of Hypatia's birth is disputed. In the book by Maria Dzielska, Hypatia of Alexandria, the strongest argument is made for 355 A.D. as the year of her birth. In Charles Kingsley's 1928 historical novel of the same name, she was born in 390 A.D. Most sources, however, favor 370 A.D.

Hypatia was raised by her father, Theon. There is little mentioned of her mother in any of the surviving records that document Hypatia's life.

Theon was a mathematician, a philosopher, and a noted astronomer and astrologer. According to the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia, The Suda, he was also the last director of the university, the famed Museum of Alexandria. His accomplishments in his career were many, but they paled in the light of his biggest accomplishment, his beautiful daughter.

Theon educated Hypatia, teaching her mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, and the arts. In addition, Theon had her participate in a daily routine of vigorous exercise with him. Legend has it that he was determined that his daughter develop into the "perfect human being."

Hypatia never married, choosing instead to pursue her scholarly endeavors. She was an esteemed citizen of Alexandria, loved by its populace and respected by its officials. All listened intently when Hypatia spoke. Her beauty, grace, and eloquence were as mesmerizing as her wisdom and philosophies.

Though Hypatia was a pagan, her philosophy was Transcendentalism, and she belonged to pure reason. In Elbert Hubbard's book written in 1928, Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Hypatia supposedly said of her religion, "Neoplatonism is a progressive philosophy, and does not expect to state final conditions to men whose minds are finite. Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond."

Hypatia was loved and admired by her students. Much of what is known about her is the result of surviving letters written by her most famous student, Synesius of Cyrene, who was to become the wealthy and powerful Bishop of Ptolemais. In a letter to an old schoolmate he wrote of Hypatia, "You and I, we ourselves both saw and heard the true and real teacher of the mysteries of philosophy."

Synesius stayed in contact with Hypatia after leaving Alexandria and often sought her expert counsel. He would ask for her critique on poems he had written, as well as her designs for astronomical instruments, such as the astrolabe and the planesphere.

Hypatia is the earliest woman scientist whose life is well documented. She wrote many books on mathematics, such as the 13 volumes of Commentary on the Arithmetica of Diophantus, the "father of algebra." And she wrote about her favorite science, astronomy. She wrote The Astronomical Canon, as well as edited the third book of her father's, Commentary on the Almagest of Ptolomy.

But Hypatia's love for astronomy was to be her doom.

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Hypatia on the Moon
Hypatia lives on forever, sitting serenely on the Moon by the shores of Sinus Asperitatis, located between Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Nectaris.

There are two features named for Hypatia, an irregular crater and a system of rilles. The crater is medium sized, measuring 41km x 28km, and is located 4.3S and 22.6E of the meridian. Rimae Hypatia is located north of the crater, just one degree south of the equater, and is 180km long.

The crater named for Hypatia's father, Theon Junion, is located northwest of the Hypatian features at 2.3S, 15.8E. It is a circular crater and prominent at 18.6km in diameter and 3,580 meters deep, from rim to bottom.

The area where the Hypatian features are located is within 100km south of the Apollo 11 landing site. Best seen a couple of days before the first quarter or a couple of days after the last quarter Moon, the features are visible in a small telescope.

Hypatia on the Web

There are many sites on the Web about Hypatia. Here are a few we found of interest. A search, using your favorite search engine, will find many more.

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The Life of Hypatia - by John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle

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The Life of Hypatia - by Socrates Scholasticus, from his Ecclesiastical History

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The Life of Hypatia - from Damascius's Life of Isidore, reproduced in The Suda, translated by Jeremiah Reedy

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Hypatia of Alexandria - mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher (d. 415 C.E)

 

Updated 01.01.2008
theWoman Astronomer 2001-2008

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