Thursday, March 31, 2016

Religion, Science and the Murder of Hypatia 1898

The Murder of Hypatia, article in Popular Astronomy 1898

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Undoubtedly of all the female astronomers of antiquity the greatest was HYPATIA. Even with a due allowance for the fables which have gathered around her memory she was truly a very remarkable woman. Born in Alexandria, daughter of Theon, the librarian, himself a mathematician and astronomical commentator of no mean merit, judged by the times, she far surpassed him in her keenness of philosophical insight and power of disquisition; so that her fame spread abroad through the then known world. As Hypatia may be known to most readers entirely from the novel of this name by Charles Kingsley, it may be well to emphasize the fact that she is an historical personage. She was born about 370 A. D., and though in Alexandria by that date the mental strength of the Greeks, which gave birth to originality of thought and observation, had indeed passed away, yet Hypatia’s learning and ability as a teacher present no unfavorable contrast with that of her masculine contemporaries. She wrote commentaries on the works of the ablest mathematicians who had preceded her; calculated astronomical tables, and publically lectured to throngs of eager students, at Alexandria, upon philosophy and science. But philosophy and science had fallen upon evil days. The population of that once famous seat of learning was now kept in continual turmoil by the bitter disputes and deadly animosities of three classes—the Christians, the Jews and the Pagans. The unscrupulous and fanatical Cyril gained the ascendancy for the Christians; and, probably at his instigation, a mob of vicious monks assailed the beautiful and cultured Hypatia as she was one day returning from her lecture-hall. With circumstances of the most fiendish barbarity they dragged her into a church where she was clubbed to death. Afterwards her corpse was dismembered and one historian says that the mob actually scraped the flesh from the bones with oyster-shells and cast the remnants into a fire.

This murder of Hypatia in 415 A. D. is usually taken as marking the almost complete extinction of Greek science until the beginning of the eighth century when it was revived by the Arabs who, after their capture of Alexandria in 640 A.D., extended their dominion over all northern Africa and into Spain, whence emanated Greek scientific influence on Mediaval Europe.

It was not until the beginning of the twelfth century that another woman arose to vie with Hypatia for honors in science. ST. HILDEGARDE (1099—1180), who founded the monastery of Mount St. Rupert near Bingen-on-the-Rhine, wrote a book in which Battandier has pointed out some marvelous statements: (1) that the Sun is in the midst of the firmament, retaining by his force the stars which move around him; (2) that when it is-cold in the northern hemisphere it is warm in the southern, that the celestial temperature may thus be in equilibrium; (3) that the stars not only shine with unequal brilliancy but are themselves really unequal in magnitude; (4) that as blood moves in the veins (Harvey was not born until 1578!) and makes them pulsate, so do the stars move and send forth pulsations of light.

From History of the Conflict between Religion and Science By John William Draper 1898

St. Cyril, who had commended himself to the approval of the Alexandrian congregations as a successful and fashionable preacher..was he who had so much to do with the introduction of the worship of the Virgin Mary. His hold upon the audiences of the giddy city was, however, much weakened by Hypatia, the daughter of Theon, the mathematician, who not only distinguished herself by her exposition of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, but also by her comments on the writings of Apollonius and other geometers. Each day before her academy stood a long train of chariots; her lecture-room was crowded with the wealth and fashion of Alexandria. They came to listen to her discourses on those questions which man in all ages has asked, but which never yet have been answered: "What am I? Where am I? What can I know?"

Hypatia and Cyril! Philosophy and bigotry. They cannot exist together. So Cyril felt, and on that feeling he acted. As Hypatia retired to her academy, she was assaulted by Cyril's mob—a mob of many monks. Stripped naked in the street, she was dragged into a church, and there killed by the club of Peter the Reader. The corpse was cut to pieces, the flesh was scraped from the bones with shells, and the remnants cast into a fire. For this frightful crime Cyril was never called to account. It seemed to be admitted that the end sanctified the means.

So ended Greek philosophy in Alexandria, so came to an untimely close the learning that the Ptolemies had done so much to promote. The "Daughter Library," that of the Serapion, had been dispersed. The fate of Hypatia was a warning to all who would cultivate profane knowledge. Henceforth there was to be no freedom for human thought. Every one must think as the ecclesiastical authority ordered him, A. D. 414. In Athens itself philosophy awaited its doom. Justinian at length prohibited its teaching, and caused all its schools in that city to be closed.

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