In the late fourth and early fifth centuries of our era, Hypatia of Alexandria was the world’s greatest living mathematician and astronomer. A strikingly beautiful woman and a devoted celibate, she lived in a city as turbulent and troubled as Baghdad or Beirut is today. She achieved fame not only in her special field, but also as a philosopher, religious thinker, and teacher who attracted a large popular following. Her life ended tragically in violence at the hands of a rampaging mob of Christian fanatics, who killed her for her “pagan” beliefs, some say at the instigation of St. Cyril of Alexandria.
This is the first biography of Hypatia to integrate all aspects of her life. Mathematician Michael Deakin emphasizes that, though she was a philosopher, she was first and foremost a mathematician and astronomer of great accomplishment. In a fascinating narrative that brings to life a richly diverse ancient society, he describes her work so that the mathematics, presented in straightforward terms, finds its true place in the context of her life as a whole. Deakin supplies full detail on the historical, intellectual, and religious context of Hypatia’s times. He also analyzes the pattern of her life and thought, and finally gives an account of the events leading up to her lynch-mob execution.
Although this outrageous crime has made Hypatia a powerful symbol of intellectual freedom and feminist aspiration to this day, Deakin makes clear that the important intellectual contributions of her life’s work should not be overshadowed by her tragic death.