Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Hypatia

Photo: wiki

In the wake of growing intolerance and the ensuing ripple effect it has created nationwide, I can't help but recollect an old story. Story of Hypatia.

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., the city of Alexandria quickly grew into a center of culture and learning for the ancient world. At its heart was the museum, a type of university, whose collection of more than a half-million scrolls was housed in the library of Alexandria. It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. A place where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.

The last known member of this museum was the mathematician and astronomer Theon - Hypatia’s father.

Throughout her childhood, Theon raised Hypatia in an environment receptive of knowledge and free thinking. At a time when women had few options and were hardly valued, Hypatia moved freely, showed fierce independence and was one of the most influential person in otherwise male dominant society. She was not only intelligent but also a beautiful woman who got many suitors but she rejected all offers and led a celibate life.

Theon started teaching mathematics and astronomy to his daughter from an early age and she turned out be a natural, for soon she became a renowned mathematician, astronomer, and Platonic philosopher. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.

Hypatia is often credited with invention of hydrometer and astrolobe(a kind of portable astronomical calculator). Among other works, her contributions on the ideas of conic sections are remarkable. She edited the work On the Conics of Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This concept developed the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. she made the concepts easier to understand, thus making the work survive through many centuries. Hypatia was the first woman to have such a profound impact on the survival of early thought in mathematics.

She was an excellent orator and lecturer and students used to come from different cities to learn from her. Many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Two of her most important students were Synesius and Orestes. Synesius, became a Bishop and Orestes became the prefect (governor) of Alexandria.

Unfortunately, Hypatia became the victim of shrewd political and religious turmoil. In Alexandria, Christianity had started to dominate over the other religions. By early 390's there were frequent riots between different religions. Until 412 Theophilus was Alexandria’s bishop, who was friendly with Synesius(Hypatia's student), he still admired her so she was protected and was permitted to continue her scientific explorations. With the deaths of Synesius and Theophilus and Cyril becoming new bishop of Alexandria situation got worst.

Cyril hated Hypatia because of her close friendship with governor Orestes and because of her very nature, for what she stood for -philosophy, science and inquisitive mind. Above all, her refusal to accept the religion she was forced upon. It is believed that Cyril spread rumors about her, declaring her a witch and blaming her of manipulating Orestes. Although her life was in grave danger, she never gave up and continued to teach until that fateful day in the year 415.

That day, on her way home, a mob(a fanatical sect of people who were supporters of Cyril) attacked her. They dragged her from her chariot, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body.

photo: wiki
The works of Hypatia were destroyed and her name buried deep down in history. We know of her writings today through the works of others who quoted her and a few letters written to her by peers.

A life so enriched with the passion for knowledge and filled with extraordinary accomplishments, brutally ended due to 'intolerance'.

Now, when I look at these religious and political unrest, I realize how little things have changed even after thousands of years. How many more will suffer because of few fanatics? Hypatia to me is much more than a mathematician or astronomer. She stands for every human who have the right to think and believe in something they choose. And that's why I don't want to loose this fight to some crazy heretics. Not now, not ever!

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is
better than not to think at all."
                                                                                       - Hypatia 





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