Hypatia of Alexandria: Science and Religion

Murdered in a cruel way, Hypatia was a woman of reason, a teacher in places where women did not even enter, a revolutionary who believed, above all, in science…

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Hypatia of Alexandria was the first philosopher, mathematician and physicist of whose existence there are reliable proofs. He was born in Egypt at the end of the IV century AD. She was teacher and head of the Neoplatonic school of Alexandria at the beginning of the S.V. He cultivated knowledge such as geometry and logic, leading an ascetic life as established by the Neoplatonic precepts.

She was a teacher and educator of a select school of aristocrats, Christians and pagans, who ended up occupying high positions in the Alexandrian society. This is how he became a figure with a great social influence, target of the envy of many.

Among his scientific achievements are those primitive astrolabes that served to determine the status of the stars in the celestial vault. In addition, he invented a hydrometer, an instrument used to determine the relative density of liquids without the need for complex mathematical calculations.

Christians and pagans, science and religion

Alexandria was the nuclear headquarters of a bloody civil war between Christians and pagans. The maximum representative of Christianity, Patriarch Theophilus, intended to end any non-Christian religious worship (paganism in any of its forms). On the other hand, the intellectual elite supported the defenders of the pagan temple; all the philosophers who defended paganism left Alexandria to save their lives.

However, Hypatia, who considered philosophy, science and mathematics to be far removed from political-religious disputes, continued to teach as if all this internal war was not with her. In fact, until then, nobody had bothered her, perhaps thanks to her neutral position on the subject.

But when the patriarch Teófilo succeeds Cyril, much more implacable, the level of persecution against everything that is not Christian increases. This time, Hypatia can not stay out of the disputes and is placed on the side of Orestes, imperial delegate whose role was the firmness and state order. After all, Hypatia feels represented with everything traditional, with the Greek Aristotelian polis where religion is only a part of politics and not the other way around. His idea was that religious authority should be subordinated to politics and citizen welfare and not the other way around.

Hitherto Hypatia – teaching classes to the Alexandrian elite in which “pagans” and Christians met – had been living proof that Christianity was compatible with the rest of philosophical and religious ideas. There are sources that speak of people from all sectors and classes admiring her. Well, almost everyone, since there is an irreducible sect of Christian fanatics who do not want it in their city; On the other hand, its influence reaches the lower strata, but in a much more attenuated way than religion.

Hypatia “the pagan” and “the witch”

Hypatia was known by Christians as “pagan.” It was not difficult to spread rumors about the witchcraft condition of this scientist. To the illiterate, the mathematical signs seemed like invocations to the devil and astronomy was easy to confuse with astrology. Suddenly, Hypatia of Alexandria had become a witch of bad arts.

One day in March of the year 415, during Lent, Hypatia returns home in her carriage. Suddenly, a crowd attacks her, takes her out of the car and takes her to the church of Caesarion. It is there where Hypatia is skinned alive with pieces of pottery that in full fervor rip from the walls. After this, they burn the remains in a bonfire.

This murder is clearly religious, political and philosophical: philosophical because Hypatia defends dialogue and reason against fanatical faith. Politician because he believes that religion should be rebellious to politics and religion because Hypatia of Alexandria is perhaps the most painful representation of the cultural battle between paganism and Christianity.