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Hypatia of Alexandria

hypatia’s mathematics ancient reason

[hiy pay sha] ( c. 370–415) The earliest known female scientist.

Hypatia’s reputation as a mathematician and philosopher has survived through the accounts of her given by three sources: the 5th-c historian of Constantinople, Socrates Scholasticus, and excerpts from earlier Greek writers collected in a lexicon-encyclopedia of the 11th-c, together with the writings of the 9th-c theologian Photius. None of her own writings have survived and little is reliably known of her life; the ancient accounts are often ambiguous and not in agreement, except on the dramatic manner of her death; an event which no doubt has assisted in keeping her reputation alive.

Hypatia’s father, Theon, was a mathematician and astronomer attached to the museum at Alexandria; her education probably took place there and included mathematics and astronomy and a training in the Neoplatonic School. She is reputed to have written books on mathematics that included a commentary on the Conics of and a commentary on . She lectured on astronomy and mathematics and the philosophies of Plato . She taught in Alexandria and among her students was Synesius, later bishop of Ptolemais, who wrote of Hypatia’s mechanical and technological skills in assisting him to invent a hydrometer and a silver astrolabe.

During Hypatia’s lifetime the Roman Empire was converting to Christianity and Alexandria was in a state of dangerous confusion and of conflicting ideas. Although there seems to be no agreement among the ancient writers as to the reasons for her murder, there does seem to be consensus that Hypatia was set upon by a mob and murdered. One reason suggested for this violence is that, as a neoplatonist, she was regarded as dangerous by the more fanatical Christians. Another reason given is that she was a close friend of Orestes, the Roman Prefect of Egypt, also a former student of hers, that he relied heavily on her judgement and that she was caught in a political power struggle.

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