This blog post is going back in time, all the way to the 300s A.D. That’s right, I am going to be talking about Hypatia, “the Egyptian wise woman.” Born to Theon of Alexandria, a well-known scholar and one of the last members of the Library Alexandria, she learned a lot from her father. He instilled in her the importance of Greek culture and, being a mathematician and astronomer himself, placed a special emphasis on the mathematical and astronomical traditions.
Living in Alexandria allowed Hypatia to be surround herself with intellectuals. She worked with her father on theories about the solar system and she created a new version of the hydrometer.
Like her father who preserved Euclid’s Elements and commented on Ptolemy’s Almagest and Handy Tables, Hypatia gave commentaries on Apollonius of Perga’s Conics (geometry, Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetic (number theory), and an astronomical table. Unfortunately, her commentaries have been lost, though people have tried to reconstruct pieces of them.
Hypatia was on of the first recorded women to teach and study math. People traveled from all around to hear her lectures. One aspects of her teaching was Neoplatonism, a “pagan” view. I don’t want to get into the aspects of the philosophy here, but due to the strong tensions between Christians, Jews, and Pagans at the time, Hypatia was killed by a group of extreme Christians.
During Hypatia’s life, she was the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer. She is pictured in Raphael’s famous work “The School of Athens” and was mentioned in an ancient encyclopedia called the Suda. She has become a symbol for both the Enlightenment and Feminism.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky