Hypatia, the last of the Neoplatonists.
Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, a celebrated philosopher and mathematician, the author of a commentary on Euclid, in which his daughter is said to have assisted him. An only child, she showed deep interest in philosophy and mathematics from her early youth. Her father instructed her in these subjects with care and diligence, and she soon became one of his most brilliant pupils. Her writings, according to Suidas, included commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria, on the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, and on the Arithmetical Canon of Ptolemy, all of which are now lost.
As a young woman, she traveled to Athens and Italy. Upon her return to Alexandria, around 400 CE, Hypatia achieved prominence as the recognized head of the Neoplatonist school in Alexandria, where letters addressed simply to “the philosopher” were routinely delivered to her. There she expounded upon the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle and lectured on mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, and philosophy, in particular teaching a variant of Neoplatonism which was distinguished from the mysticism of her predecessors by its greater scientific emphasis. In addition to her mathematical works, Hypatia also developed an apparatus for distilling water, an instrument for measuring the level of water, a plane astrolabe (for measuring the positions of the stars, planets, and sun) and a graduated brass hydrometer for determining the specific gravity of a liquid. Hypatia came to symbolize learning and science, which the early Christians identified with paganism, making her the focal point of riots between Christians and non-Christians.
Hypatia brought Egypt nearer to an understanding of its ancient Mysteries than it had been for thousands of years. Her knowledge of Theurgy restored the practical value of the Mysteries and completed the work commenced by Iamblichus over a hundred years before. Following in the footsteps of Plotinus and Porphyry, she demonstrated the possibility of the union of the individual Self with the SELF of all. Continuing the work of Ammonius Saccas, she showed the similarity between all religions and the identity of their source. The precarious foundations of Christian dogma were still more exposed when the Neoplatonic School began to adopt the inductive method of reasoning sponsored by Aristotle. Of all things on earth, logic and the reasonable explanation of things were most hateful to the new religion of mystery.
Hypatia was firmly convinced of the importance of education. In direct contradiction of the the Roman Empire’s official Christian Doctrines, she advocated the education of all children, girls as well as boys, and admonished that, “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing. The mind of a child accepts them, and only through great pain, perhaps even tragedy, can the child be relieved of them.” Furthermore, she was reputed to be an unusually beautiful woman who dressed as as a teacher and engaged openly in philosophic discourse and debate in places normally not frequented by women. She urged others to think freely and to speak openly on matters which were supposed to be restricted to the realm of blind faith: “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.” “To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world is just as base as to use force.” “All formal dogmatic religions are delusive and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.” “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth – even more so, since superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”
When Hypatia explored the metaphysical allegories from which Christianity had borrowed its dogmas, and openly analyzed them in public meetings, she used a weapon which the Christians could meet only with violence. If her School had been allowed to continue the whole fraud perpetrated by the Church would have been laid bare. The light of Neoplatonism was shining much too brightly upon the patchwork of Christianity.
So, on an afternoon during Lent in the year 414, a crowd of Cyril’s monks led by Peter the Reader collected in front of the Museum, where Hypatia was just finishing one of her classes. Her chariot drew up to the door, and Hypatia appeared. A dark wave of monks, murder in their hearts, rushed out from their ambuscade, surged around Hypatia’s chariot and forced her to descend. They stripped her naked and dragged her into a nearby Church of God, pulling her body through the cool, dim shadows, lit by flickering candles and perfumed with incense, up the chancel steps to the very altar itself. Shaking herself free from her tormentors, she rose for one moment to her full height, snow-white against the dark horde of monks surrounding her. Her lips opened to speak, but no word came from them. For in that moment Peter the Reader struck her down, and the dark mass closed over her quivering flesh. Then they dragged her dead body into the streets, scraped the flesh from the bones with oyster shells, making a bonfire of what remained.
Thus Hypatia perished, and with her death the great Neoplatonic School came to an end. Some of the philosophers removed to Athens, but their School was closed by order of the Emperor Justinian. With the departure of the last seven philosophers of the great Neoplatonic Movement — Hermias, Priscianus, Diogenes, Eulalius, Damaskias, Simplicius and Isidorus, who fled to the Far East to escape the persecution of Justinian - the reign of wisdom closed.
The death of Hypatia marked the beginning of the Dark Ages, in which the world was encompassed by the clouds of ignorance and superstition for a thousand years.