Hypatia (born c. 350–370 CE; died 415 CE) was a Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, then part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Very few things are known about Hypatia of Alexandria because none of her personal works survived. But there are at least 5 things worth knowing about her.
1. Hypatia of Alexandria was described as beautiful but this fact was rarely brought up in comparison to how intelligent she was. Hypatia was also politically savvy and was quite popular with the Christians and the pagans. She was so beloved by masses that she had political authority among the elites in Alexandria.
2. Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was a mathematician, and like father like daughter Hypatia became very adept in mathematics. In fact, she is one of the first female mathematicians whose life is reasonably well recorded. Philostorgius, a Christian historian, stated that Hypatia outshined her father in mathematics. While no original works of Hypatia’s have survived, it is known that she did edit existing text of Ptolemy’s Algamest.
3. Hypatia was known to construct astrolabes and hydrometers. Astrolabes were used to figure out the altitudes of astronomical bodies and were also used to navigate with regard to latitude. Hydrometers were used to measure the density of different fluids in ancient times. Hypatia also practiced astronomy but at the time astronomy wasn’t distinguished from the field of mathematics. Astronomy was just as mathematical as geometry was but no one ever distinguishes geometry from mathematics.
4. Hypatia’s death wasn’t caused solely by religion. Her death was caused by politics and religion wrapped up tight around each other. She was an adviser to Orestes who was in a political feud with the bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Despite Hypatia’s great popularity with the Alexandrian people, Cyril made many attempts to undermine her credibility. Eventually, she lost the needed political protection and a mob of fanatical Christians murdered her gruesomely.
5. Hypatia was a Neoplatonist like her father. She believed that evil did not exist but was rather the privation of good. So when she saw people around her who behaved selfishly or foolishly, she knew that it was because they were ignorant about the universal truths, mathematics, and the Forms. Like any good Neoplatonist, she found peace through seeing the mathematical and astronomical truths of everything. Sure, she saw how souls were corrupted around her by baser things like lust for wealth or power. But probably in the hardest of times throughout her life, she believed that every soul could be rationally perfected, if not in this life, then in the next.