Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.
Hypatia (born c. 350-370 - died 415 AD) was a Greek philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. She was a daughter of Theon of Alexandria, a mathematician who was the head of a school called the "Mouseion" and who edited Euclid’s Elements.
Hypatia received her first education in Alexandria and then studied in Athens. There, she studied the works of Plato and Aristotle. And then, having returned to Alexandria, Hypatia began to teach students from all over the Mediterranean. She quickly became renowned as a great teacher and a wise counselor.
Hypatia was a prominent thinker of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria and supported the original Neoplatonic principles formulated by Plotinus, a major Greek-speaking philosopher of the ancient world at that time.
It was not the best time for philosophy. During the reign of Constantine, Christianity became the dominant religion, and the traditional Hellenistic religion and culture became outlawed and persecuted. In 391, the Serapeum of Alexandria, an Ancient Greek temple, was destroyed with all the books in it. In 394, Emperor Theodosius abolished the Olympic Games, thus ending the ancient tradition that had existed for more than a thousand years. Fanatical mobs were destroying ancient monuments and temples, slashing and burning everything that somehow reminded them of the hated Greco-Roman world.
It took a big deal of courage for this young, delicate woman to keep teaching. In part, she was helped by the fact that from 382 to 412, the bishop of Alexandria was Theophilus, who ruled the local Christian community with an iron hand. Even though he was opposed to Neoplatonism, he was friends with Hypatia. This was one of the reasons she became so popular in Alexandria.
After the death of Theophilus, his nephew Cyril became the new bishop. Cyril pursued a tough policy of establishing Christianity and eradicating the last remnants of the ancient culture. Unlike Theophilus, he was an avowed enemy of Hypatia and even stooped as low as spreading rumours that Hypatia was a witch.
Cyril closed the churches of the Novatianists, who supported his opponent Timothy, and he confiscated their property. Then he closed synagogues in Alexandria, confiscated all the property belonging to Jews, and expelled them from the city. Even Orestes, the Roman prefect in Alexandria, sent a report to the emperor and complained about Cyril.
In March 415, during the Christian season of Lent, a crowd of religious fanatics under the leadership of one Peter raided Hypatia's carriage when she was travelling home. The crowd pulled Hypatia out of the carriage, beat her, and dragged her to a Christian church. There, the mob stripped Hypatia naked and murdered her with sharp ostraka, which are pieces of pottery. Her body was torn apart, and the remains burned in the fire.
The murder of Hypatia is often considered to be an event that marked the end of classical antiquity and the final decay of the intellectual life of Alexandria.
Hypatia was known as an inventor. She invented the following devices:
Astrolabe - a device for determining the latitudes and longitudes in astronomy, which was used to determine the location of the sun, stars, and planets;
Planisphere - a star chart analog computing instrument, which displays the visible stars for any time and date and helps recognize stars and constellations;
Hydrometer - a device for determining the relative density of fluid.
Hypatia edited the existing text of Book III of Ptolemy's Almagest and wrote a commentary on Diophantus's thirteen-volume Arithmetica.
Hypatia was also renowned as a talented scientist and teacher. People from different parts of the world came to Alexandria, where she was teaching mathematics and astronomy.
Interesting facts about Hypatia:
Hypatia herself adhered to the traditional Hellenistic religion, although many of her students were Christians.
At some point Hypatia had great political influence in Alexandria.
According to Damascius, Hypatia remained a lifelong virgin.