The Insidious Effects of Professional Jealousy
People came from near and far to engage with her philosophical teachings. As a result of her self-possession, she was often required to appear before the magistrates and consort with men of importance. Inevitably, the excellence of her mind led to political jealousy among some of the men, who circulated defamatory stories about her. These stories led to a terrible conclusion.
A nasty piece of work called Peter the Reader led the group of ‘Christians’ ultimately responsible for Hypatia’s fate. Orestes, a governor, had quarrelled with the bishop, St. Cyril of Alexandria, who was, allegedly, a patriarch afflicted with a strong and bigoted temperament. This disagreement had become the cause of great disharmony.
Peter the Reader and his cohorts erroneously reported that Hypatia was intentionally preventing the two men from becoming reconciled.
They had secured a crime and they were going to act upon it.
Hypatia is Savagely Massacred
Peter and his co-conspirators ambushed Hypatia as she was walking home to her husband, Isidorus. They dragged her out of her chariot, and into a church, known as the Caesarium. Here, within this holy place, they committed an outrage so terrible it is almost beyond comprehension.
They stripped Hypatia of all her garments, and tore into her with sharp oyster shells, scraping away strips of her flesh. Then, they bore her limbs to another place, known as the Cinaron, and there they burnt them.
Realising they had perpetrated a most savage massacre, the killers offered gifts to the authorities to avoid any punishment.
(According to Socrates Scholasticus, the Greek word for oyster shells, which is “ostrakois” can also mean brick tiles as applied to house roofs. Oysters shells, however, seem a more efficient and, therefore, more likely method.)
Honouring the Spirits of Women from the Past
When Adrienne Rich wrote her poem, Diving into the Wreck, she was speaking to women of Hypatia’s ilk. Rich, as the poem’s narrator, “is looking for “…a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear.”
Our grandmothers may have suffered, but we can honour their spiritual truth by discovering, by remembering and by naming them.
Arnold, Roxane & Chandler, Olive. Feminine Singular. (1975). Femina Books Ltd.
Russell, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. (1946). George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.
Socrates Scholasticus. The Life of Hypatia. (305-445 AD). Ecclesiastical History. Accessed October 13, 2013.
Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck: The Fact of a Doorframe. (1984). W.W. Norton and Company.