“Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things are that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond” – Hypatia.
Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and the last great thinker of ancient Alexandria. She was certainly not the first female astronomer and mathematician, but she was the leading one of her time – a scarce achievement to today.
She was among the most politically powerful figures in Alexandria during a turbulent time, when the city was beset by fighting among Christians, Jews and pagans, and the power balance in the Roman Empire was shifting from Hellenists to Christians. In the mist of violence and power disputes, Hypatia was attacked for her religion, her position and her defense of scientific knowledge. It is clear that Hypatia’s femaleness made her a special target, and she was violently murdered by Christians zealots.
Daughter of Theon of Alexandria, a mathematician and astronomer himself, Hypatia studied under the guidance of her father and collaborated with him in some of his work. She also wrote commentaries on Diophantus’s Arithmetica, on Apollonius’s Conics and on Ptolemy’s astronomical work. Hypatia was a popular and skilled teacher, who attracted many students and large audiences to her lectures. She rose to become the head of Alexandria’s Neoplatonist school of philosophy, a belief system in which everything emanates from the One, an underlying reality partially accessible via the human power of abstraction from the Platonic forms, themselves abstractions from the world of everyday reality.
Hypatia’s work and life can be understood as herculean efforts to preserve the Greek knowledge heritage, to speak against dogmatism and superstition, to defend science in an era of religious and sectarian conflict. Hypatia is an inspiration for the project not only as the first famous female mathematician but most importantly as a symbol of learning and science.