‘The more things change, the more they are the same.’ Alphonse Karr [https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/alphonse_karr_125474]
The quote above is apt, even now with the impact of COVID-19 around the world. Change is inevitable, yet in spite of technical advances, progress in medicine, education, engineering etc, one cannot change how people behave or interact with others. The most significant cultural factor is religion, and that of politics, two topics that arouses heated discussions no matter where you live. It is the former that led to Hypatia’s unfortunate demise.
In my previous article, I wrote how Alexandria during the 5th century CE, was a hotbed of rivalling religions: Paganism, Jewism and Christianity. Christianity was at this time was trying to get a foothold in the region, and its followers, though small, were vocal and combatant. Even though Alexandria was the main centre of learning, it was eventually overrun by zealots and power-hungry religious leaders that incited fighting between the religious factions. For Hypatia, this did not work in her favour, being a popular educator amongst the youth, in this case ‘young, impressionable men’ and her friendship with the Roman Prefect Orestes, and for also being an educated female. It didn’t matter she was celibate, and did not encourage a stream of admirers or suitors. Her interest was focussed on learning and educating.
Hypatia was a pagan and did not change her belief regardless of the tempestuous and contemptuous influences that was growing in Alexandria. She was steadfast in her faith and spoke freely about the Platonic teachings, which embraced Plato’s Theory of Forms, Ethics and Knowledge (epistemology), which goes against the teachings of Christianity (though some aspects of the religion do stem from Plato’s work). This article covers Plato’s philosophy fairly well. The threat of Christianity and the Church’s treatment towards those who did not convert, forced many citizens in Alexandria and beyond to change their religious tenets for fear of persecution. However, Hypatia’s continued defiance and practice of paganism irked infuriated the bishop Cyril, and the fact she was protected by the government, and by Prefect Orestes.
The bishop was outspoken in his disdain for Hypatia, and yet did not, could not act against her due to her powerful allegiance to Orestes and other officials. Cyril tried to convert Orestes to Christianity, who was opposed to the bishop’s actions in persecuting Christian rival sects and for the encouraging violence and bloodshed with the Jewish sect. Orestes, as governor of Alexandria, felt the bishop overstepped his authority when he expelled the Jews from the city. Their acrimonious relationship intensified, and Cyril ordered five hundred monks to harass Orestes as he journeyed the streets of Alexandria. One of the monks threw a rock, which hit Orestes in the head. The monk was arrested and the prefect sentenced him to torture. The monk died, and Cyril declared him a martyr.
Orestes then formed his own political party, was supported by the Jewish leaders, government officials who were moderate Christians, and the Alexandrian elite who included Hypatia. It was her support for the Jews and Orestes against the bishop that led to her eventual death. More in the next post.
Back to the quote: what are your thoughts, are we evolved enough to change or are we destined to repeat the actions of our ancestors? 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.
Mark, J.J. (2009). Hypatia of Alexandria. Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/Hypatia_of_Alexandria/
Mark, J.J. (2012). Hypatia of Alexandria: The Passing of Philosophy to Religion. Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/article/76/hypatia-of-alexandria-the-passing-of-philosophy-to/
Norman, A. (2017). The Story Of Hypatia, An Ancient Greek Intellectual Killed For Her Beliefs. ati. https://allthatsinteresting.com/hypatia-of-alexandria
Platonism. (2020). The basics of philosophy. https://www.philosophybasics.com/movements_platonism.html