What Is Hypatia Famous For?

Hypatia was one of the last great thinkers of Alexandria, but is more famous for her violent death. The exact method in which she was killed is unknown and two texts offer differing versions.

Hypatia was born between 350 A.D. and 370 A.D. and was a Neoplatonist philosopher. She taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy and was the head of a Platonist school in Alexandria. It is believed that her death is the result of a feud between Orestes, the Governor or Alexandria, and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria which results in the death of many Christians and the expulsions of Jews from the city. In retaliation to Orestes actions, the Christians sought Hypatia, a known adviser of Orestes. Rumors spread that she was to blame for Orestes inability to reconcile with Cyril.

The two texts regarding her death were written by Socrates Scholasticus and John of Nikiu. The text by Scholasticus was written shortly after her death and John of Nikiu's text was written hundreds of years later in 650 A.D. Both writers were Christians.

In Scholasticus' text, a group of Christians apparently kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to a church named Caesareum. They then stripped her and either, depending on interpretation of the text, beat her with roof tiles or tore her flesh off with oyster shells while she was still alive. They then mutilated her and burned her limbs. In Nikiu's text, they took her to Caesareum, ripped off her clothes and then dragged her through the streets until she died. Her remains were then burned.