Hypatia of Alexandria

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Overview

Hypatia—brilliant mathematician, eloquent Neoplatonist, and a woman renowned for her beauty—was brutally murdered by a mob of Christians in Alexandria in 415. She has been a legend ever since. In this engrossing book, Maria Dzielska searches behind the legend to bring us the real story of Hypatia's life and death, and new insight into her colorful world.

Historians and poets, Victorian novelists and contemporary feminists have seen Hypatia as a symbol—of the waning of classical culture and freedom of inquiry, of the rise of fanatical Christianity, or of sexual freedom. Dzielska shows us why versions of Hypatia's legend have served her champions' purposes, and how they have distorted the true story. She takes us back to the Alexandria of Hypatia's day, with its Library and Museion, pagan cults and the pontificate of Saint Cyril, thriving Jewish community and vibrant Greek culture, and circles of philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, and militant Christians. Drawing on the letters of Hypatia's most prominent pupil, Synesius of Cyrene, Dzielska constructs a compelling picture of the young philosopher's disciples and her teaching. Finally she plumbs her sources for the facts surrounding Hypatia's cruel death, clarifying what the murder tells us about the tensions of this tumultuous era.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

This gem of academic detective work may be the last word on a subject that has fascinated for centuries.
— Anthony Gottlieb

Nation

Like Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc...Hypatia has been retailored to suit the psychic needs of anybody retrospecting her, rational, romantic, nostalgic, or loony. [In this book] Dzielska demystifies Hypatia, sifting patiently through the original sources, from the Sud lexicon to the correspondence of Synesius of Cyrene.
— John Leonard

Science

Through a subtle reading of the ancient sources, Dzielska reconstructs a powerful and persuasive account of Hypatia's life. She also addresses the difficult task of describing her philosophy...with engagement and finesse.
— Wilbur Knorr

Philadelphia Inquirer

[A] pithy and engaging attempt to state what we actually know about Hypatia.
— Carlin Romano

Ancient History

Hypatia, an exceptional philosopher, mathematician and high profile public figure of late fourth and early fifth century Alexandria, ironically owes her fame in history to the violent and politically contentious nature of her death in 415 AD. From the moment she was brutally murdered by a mob of angry Christians, Hypatia became a legend, a figure who has ever since been used and manipulated by artists, writers, poets and feminists. Maria Dzielska in Hypatia of Alexandria, explores who Hypatia was, what she believed, why she was killed and what she has come to symbolize in the centuries since...Dzielska's discussion of Hypatia has contributed to the understanding of women in late antiquity. Hypatia was an exceptional woman and has been of particular benefit to those interested in Christian and Roman/Hellenic history. The ideas commonly held regarding Hypatia have been strongly influenced and shaped by a tradition which used Hypatia as a symbol for its own attitudes and beliefs. Such details have created a veil over the true figure of Hypatia. This has effectively been removed by Dzielska revealing the historical Hypatia, an extraordinary woman, without the benefit of legend.
— P. Murphy

Choice
Dzielska...provides here an exemplary 'retrieval' of the life and achievements of Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 335-415). Dzielska traces in detail the modern literary tradition of Hypatia--from the Enlightenment authors who claimed her as the last of the great pagan neoplatonists, through Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley, to today's feminists...The author portrays the close circle of her students and provides the context for her public lectures; she concludes with 35 sober pages on the 'life and death of Hypatia,' interpreting her death as a kind of witch-burning in the transition from pagan Empire to Christian state. Dzielska is meticulous in her pursuit of facts from the widely scattered sources...The book as a whole is a model of feminist scholarship in its sorting out of legend from facts.
Biblical Archaeology Review

Maria Dzielska has finally brought us definitive and sober research into who that grand historic figure really was, the circumstances of her life and scholarship, and the dynamics that led to her death. We shall be permanently indebted to Dzielska for her thorough research and for her highly readable book...If you are a historian, Greco-Roman scholar, Egyptologist, anthropologist, psychologist, theologian or a thoughtful person in any field who likes a good read...buy this book!
— J. Harold Ellens

Classical Review

History fades to myth. Dzielska's aim in this book is to peel away those mythical images of Hypatia to examine the reality beneath. The result is a splendid example of demythologizing scholarship...[It] deserves to be read by anyone studying ancient gender or her time period [and] is a delight to read, in a translation which is light and natural.
— Richard Hawley

Coptic Church Review
Historians and patristic scholars as well as general readers should be grateful to Dzielska for this book which clarifies a dark and interesting spot in Church history.
ISIS

Hypatia of Alexandria is a clearly written, tightly focused book…In contrast to a number of earlier writers on Hypatia, Maria Dzielska is meticulous about disentangling fact from speculation; meticulous, too, about documenting her sources and leading her readers, via her footnotes, to a variety of interesting discussions about the various points at issue.
— J.J. MacIntosh

New York Times Book Review - Anthony Gottlieb
This gem of academic detective work may be the last word on a subject that has fascinated for centuries.
Nation - John Leonard
Like Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc...Hypatia has been retailored to suit the psychic needs of anybody retrospecting her, rational, romantic, nostalgic, or loony. [In this book] Dzielska demystifies Hypatia, sifting patiently through the original sources, from the Sud lexicon to the correspondence of Synesius of Cyrene.
Science - Wilbur Knorr
Through a subtle reading of the ancient sources, Dzielska reconstructs a powerful and persuasive account of Hypatia's life. She also addresses the difficult task of describing her philosophy...with engagement and finesse.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Carlin Romano
[A] pithy and engaging attempt to state what we actually know about Hypatia.
Ancient History - P. Murphy
Hypatia, an exceptional philosopher, mathematician and high profile public figure of late fourth and early fifth century Alexandria, ironically owes her fame in history to the violent and politically contentious nature of her death in 415 AD. From the moment she was brutally murdered by a mob of angry Christians, Hypatia became a legend, a figure who has ever since been used and manipulated by artists, writers, poets and feminists. Maria Dzielska in Hypatia of Alexandria, explores who Hypatia was, what she believed, why she was killed and what she has come to symbolize in the centuries since...Dzielska's discussion of Hypatia has contributed to the understanding of women in late antiquity. Hypatia was an exceptional woman and has been of particular benefit to those interested in Christian and Roman/Hellenic history. The ideas commonly held regarding Hypatia have been strongly influenced and shaped by a tradition which used Hypatia as a symbol for its own attitudes and beliefs. Such details have created a veil over the true figure of Hypatia. This has effectively been removed by Dzielska revealing the historical Hypatia, an extraordinary woman, without the benefit of legend.
Leonora Jackson
This book is an important monograph for anyone with an interest in the fourth and fifth century Alexandria, its social life, church history, neo-Platonism and mathematics. The book reads well and for this the translator must be congratulated.
Biblical Archaeology Review - J. Harold Ellens
Maria Dzielska has finally brought us definitive and sober research into who that grand historic figure really was, the circumstances of her life and scholarship, and the dynamics that led to her death. We shall be permanently indebted to Dzielska for her thorough research and for her highly readable book...If you are a historian, Greco-Roman scholar, Egyptologist, anthropologist, psychologist, theologian or a thoughtful person in any field who likes a good read...buy this book!
Classical Review - Richard Hawley
History fades to myth. Dzielska's aim in this book is to peel away those mythical images of Hypatia to examine the reality beneath. The result is a splendid example of demythologizing scholarship...[It] deserves to be read by anyone studying ancient gender or her time period [and] is a delight to read, in a translation which is light and natural.
ISIS - J.J. Macintosh
Hypatia of Alexandria is a clearly written, tightly focused book…In contrast to a number of earlier writers on Hypatia, Maria Dzielska is meticulous about disentangling fact from speculation; meticulous, too, about documenting her sources and leading her readers, via her footnotes, to a variety of interesting discussions about the various points at issue.
Library Journal
Philosopher, mathematician, and teacher, Hypatia dominated the cultural life of Alexandria, Egypt, during the final decades of the fourth century. While she is regarded as one of the last Neoplatonists, only fragments of her writings exist, and details of her life are sketchy. In attempting to add dimension to this legend, historian Dzielska (Jagiellonian Univ., Cracow, Poland) utilizes the few primary sources available, notably the letters of Hypatia's student Synesius. Though her scholarship is commendable, the author fails to substantiate generalized observations about Hypatia's personality with specific illustrations. Her conclusions-that Hypatia was nearly 60 at the time of her death, that she edited the extant works of other Alexandrian philosophers, and that her gruesome murder in 415 was a by-product of a power struggle among Christian factions in the city-do not significantly alter or add to general knowledge of this noble woman. This slight work is a marginal purchase for all but specialized libraries.-Rose Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674437760
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Series: Revealing Antiquity Series , #8
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 712,432
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Maria Dzielska is an internationally recognized authority on the cultural life of the Roman Empire. She lives in Krakow and is Professor of Ancient Roman History at Jagiellonian University.
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Table of Contents

I The Literary Legend of Hypatia

II Hypatia and Her Circle

III The Life and Death of Hypatia

Conclusion

Abbreviations

Sources

Notes

Index

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