Theon, Hypatia’s father, could be considered a futurist in educating his daughter in Mathematics and Philosophy and encouraging her interest in astronomy. His attitude may have been different if he had a son, who knows, however Hypatia was fortunate to have been educated. This was during a time when women were relegated to the back rooms of the house, wore veils if they ventured out of the home, and usually accompanied by a male relative or a slave. This control over women stemmed for a thousand years in Ancient Greece and across the Mediterranean world.
Hypatia’s father was unique in a period of time that only the males were educated, females were taught to weave, worship various goddesses—Hera, Athene, Aphrodite—patrons of the hearth and home. There was also the usual litany of the gods they honoured, but for the women and girls, it was important to acknowledge and offer gifts to the goddesses, especially when it came to marriage and childbirth. The choice of husband was decided by the girl’s father (usually 12 years old—my students freak out when I tell them these stories), and to a man in their 30s.
By the day’s standards, Theon was breaking with tradition and fostered Hypatia’s thirst for learning. She had travelled to Athens to further her education and became renown as a pre-eminent mathematician. On her return to Alexandria, she was asked to teach philosophy and mathematics at the Museum—University of Alexandria. It is conjectured Hypatia and her father collaborated on a number of treaties and one of the works published under Theon, about the Earth being the centre of the Universe, where the sun, moon, planets and stars orbited the Earth, was the work of Hypatia. This theory remained until the findings by Copernicus and Galileo.
Hypatia wrote a number of treatise and commentaries, none of which survived; however, one of her students wrote a series of letters that described how to make an astrolabe based on her teachings. Working at the Museum, afforded Hypatia to read and analyse the many ancient texts that resided in the library, much of which was lost when the famed bibliotheca was burnt down. Her skills as a teacher was illustrated in the number of students attending her lectures and it was this popularity that later saw her being targeted by the Christian sect.
Thank you for your continued support and as always, I look forward to your comments and will respond.
Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, burnt out but not done… yet.
Zielinski, S. (March 14, 2010). Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria’s Great Female Scholar. Smithsonianmag.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hypatia-ancient-alexandrias-great-female-scholar-10942888/
Views of the universe: Ptolemy vs. Copernicus. (n.d.). Telescopes from the Ground Up. https://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/groundup/lesson/basics/g37/
Winters, R. (March 1, 2019). Living in a Man’s World: The Untimely & Brutal Death of Hypatia. Ancient Origins. https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/living-mans-world-untimely-brutal-death-hypatia-002328/page/0/1