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"Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining."  ~Hildegard of Bingen

Hypatia of Alexandria


“Hypatia.” Signed A. Seifert. Oil on panel, 1901, Public Domain


“Ptolemy II and Jews” by Vincenzo Camuccini, 1813, Public Domain



Ancient Persian and Armenian traditions say that the Great Library of Alexandria was inspired when Alexander the Great saw the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh and wanted to combine all the works of the various nations he conquered, translate them into Greek, and collect them under one roof.  Alexander died before he could create his universal library but his friend and successor Ptolemy the 1st, began to realize this dream. 


The Library of Alexandria was founded in 298 B.C. by Ptolemy the 1st who proposed collecting “books of all the peoples of the world.”


According to legends, Ptolemy II [309 - 246 B.C.] asked each of the Jewish scholars to individually translate the whole Hebrew Bible.  Ptolemy requested seventy sages from the land of Israel to come to Alexandria and there to translate the Law of Moses into the Greek language.  Miraculously the result, was identical versions which became known as the Septuagint, or the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek.  


Hypatia is regarded as the last great Alexandrian librarian, mathematician and philosopher who wrote a commentary on geometry and taught New-Platonism to her students.

“The daughter of the philosopher Theon, Hypatia made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions.”  ~ Socrates


“Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.”  ~ Hypatia


Hypatia followed a Neo-Platonic belief which felt that reality was beyond the grasp of human intellect and words.  To her, it must be mystically experienced.  Theon, Hypatia’s father, raised his daughter to be the “perfect” human being.  Hypatia has come to symbolize the fearless, progressive attitude of a scholar. Hypatia never married and probably led a celibate life.  She was murdered in a most horrifying manner.  On the way home from the Library, she was dragged off of her chariot by monks led by Peter the Lector or Reader.  They took shells and broken pottery and flayed her skin from her bones and dismembered her and scattered the pieces of her body through the streets, burning them finally in a church called Caesareum.  Cyril was the bishop of Alexandria at this time and often accused Hypatia and her followers of paganism and heresy.  It is unknown the part he played in her brutal murder.  Hypatia died on or around the 8th of March, 415 A.D..


Notice in these primary sources, the various interpretations of her character and the nature of this tragic event. For more information compare and contrast this with the accounts given in this article.


THE ASTROLABE The astrolabe, one of the world’s oldest scientific instruments, provides a clear, concise picture of the heavens at a particular time and place.  With its elegant arcs and mysterious components it is truly an amazing technological achievement.  Hypatia is credited with inventing the astrolabe and the hydrometer, a device used to measure the relative density of liquids to water.  A type of moth, an Adobe typeface and an astroid belt are all named after this amazing “Renaissance” woman who lived nearly a thousand years earlier.


Listen to Tom Wujec on TedTalk discuss the amazing Astrolabe.


“Astrolabe” Persian, ca. 1620 Safavid Dynasty, Public Domain



Censorship has been a problem throughout history.  It is a method used by those who want to maintain control, blocking the spread of information.  Unfortunately censorship is not limited to the past or ancient times.  The fires of war have destroyed books in every language.  Consider this list of book burning incidences throughout known history and ponder the loss of knowledge.  It may surprise you how much has taken place just since the start of the 21st century! 


So, the fear of knowledge is not simply a problem of the 12th century.  Read about a recent 21st century tragedy in Alexandria, Egypt in the book market.


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