EXCERPT from The Last Academic by Helene Kobelnyk in VIVAcini! 26 Oct 2012
Do you know the story of Hypatia of Alexandria? To really understand the
fortitude of this fi rst woman mathematician, philosopher and astronomer, you
have to consider the turmoil of 5th century Alexandria, Egypt.
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.
Julius Caesar conquered the city for Rome in 48 BC, and by 364 AD,
when the Roman Empire split and Alexandria became part of the eastern
half, the city was embroiled in fi ghting among Christians, Jews
and pagans. Th eophilus, archbishop of the city’s Christian church,
was unrelenting in his eradication of non-Christian philosophies
Th is was the Alexandria of Hypatia and her father, Th eon, who
was a teacher of mathematics with the Museum of Alexandria,
a center of Greek culture and learning. Hypatia studied with her
father and other well-known philosophers, taught at the museum’s
school of Neoplatonic philosophy and became its salaried director
in the year 400.
Hypatia has been credited with inventing the graduated brass hydrometer
and the hydroscope. She also designed the astrolabe, a kind
of portable astronomical calculator that would be used until the
19th century. She corresponded with and hosted scholars from other
cities, and her written analyses about the motions of the planets,
number theory and conic sections, made her quite a popular lecturer.
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