September 13, 2023
Episode 173: Hypatia of Alexandria: The Life and Death of a Philosopher and her City
Hypatia of Alexandria was a Platonist teacher of the early fourth century at Alexandria, known in her day for her work in mathematics and for the superb teaching culture of her school, but know to subsequent reception as that beautiful, hapless pagan philosopher-lady who was murdered by a Christian mob. Funnily enough, this is more or less an accurate statement, but this isn’t quite how it went. In this episode we discuss our sources, and then the destruction of the Serapeum at Alexandria, a last bastion of polytheist militancy, at the hands of Christians in the year 391, Hypatia’s murder in 415, and related matters. In the next episode we turn our attention to Hypatia’s esoteric credentials and what her life and ghastly death tell us about the changing dangers of late antique culture.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Damascius: we cite Damascius’ Life of Isidore, a.k.a. Philosophical History, both in Athanssiadi’s edition and Zintzen’s earlier and more confusing, but more widely-cited edition. Both editions are in the Recommended Reading section below.
- On Olympus: Vit Is. fr. 42 Ath; Z fr. 96.
- Hypatia highly respected in her day: Vit Is. 43e Ath; Z. fr. 102.
Eunapius on Antoninus prophecying the fall of the Serapeum: VS 472 Wright.
John of Nikiu’s chronicle can be accessed in English in Charles, R. H. (1916) The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu. Oxford, if you can find it.
Socrates of Constantinople:
- On the destruction of the Serapeum: HE 5.16-18. Cf. Ruf. HE 2.23-30; Eunapius VS 471.
- The fighting for the succession to the bishopric of Constantinople: 7.7.
- Orestes writes to the emperor: 7.13.
- Truce between Cyril and Orestes: 7.14.
- Appalled by Hypatia’s murder: 7.15. Cf. Malalas 13.39.
- on Theon of Alexandria (thanks to David Whitehead and the Suda online project for the translation): The man from the Mouseion,  an Egyptian, a philosopher, a contemporary of Pappos the philosopher who was also an Alexandrian. Both of them happened to live during the reign of the elder Theodosius. He wrote works on mathematics and arithmetic, On Signs and Observation of Birds and the Sound of Crows, On the Rising of the Dog[-Star], On the Inundation of the Nile, [a commentary] on Ptolemy’s Handy Table, and a commentary on the small astrolabe.
- The longer entry on Hypatia can be read here.
Synesius of Cyrene: Letters 10, 15, 16, 33, 81, 124, 154 are to Hypatia. Letter 137 discusses the orgia of philosophy.
Agora, dir. Alejandro Amenábar, 2009.
Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy is a peer-reviewed academic journal published quarterly by Cambridge University Press.
Charles Kingsley. Hypatia, or New Foes with an Old Face. Reprinted from Fraser’s Magazine. London, 1853.
Watts 2006, see below. We cite pp. 190-91 and 198-99.
Wider, Kathleen (1986), “Women Philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle”, Hypatia, 1 (1): 21–62.
Polymnia Athanassiadi. Persecution and Response in Late Paganism: The Evidence of Damascius. Journal of Hellenic Studies, 113:1–29, 1993.
Idem. Damascius: The Philosophical History. Text with Translation. Apameia, Athens, 1999.
Maria Dzielska. Hypatia of Alexandria. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1995.
Christopher Haas. Alexandria in Late Antiquity: Topography and Social Conflict. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD/London, 1997.
R.J. Penella. When was Hypatia Born? Historia, 33:126–8, 1984.
J. Schwartz. La fin du Serapeum d’Alexandrie. In American Studies in Papyrology, Vol. I, Essays in Honor of C. Bradford Wells, pages 97–111. New Haven, CT, 1966.
Edward J. Watts. City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA/London, 2006.
Idem. Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017.