Hypatia: One of History’s Greatest Women

With the murder of Hypatia,
the Dark Ages began for the Western world.

~ * ~

“By all accounts stunningly beautiful, dazzlingly brilliant, yet always modest and kind, in an age when women were but chattel, she was history’s first female mathematician, as well as the first female astronomer, inventor, and natural philosopher.” (Sir Harold Kroto, English chemist and Nobel Prize winner, 1939-2016)

“Alexandrian School (of Philosophers). This famous school arose in Alexandria (Egypt) which was for several centuries the great seat of learning and philosophy. Famous for its library, which bears the name of “Alexandrian”, founded by Ptolemy Soter, who died in 283 B.C., at the very beginning of his reign; that library which once boasted of 700,000 rolls or volumes (Aulus Gellius); for its museum, the first real academy of sciences and arts; for its world-famous scholars, such as Euclid (the father of scientific geometry), Apollonius of Perga (the author of the still extant work on conic sections), Nicomachus (the arithmetician); astronomers, natural philosophers, anatomists such as Herophilus and Erasistratus, physicians, musicians, artists, etc., etc.; it became still more famous for its Eclectic, or the New Platonic school, founded in 193 A.D., by Ammonius Saccas, whose disciples were Origen, Plotinus, and many others now famous in history. The most celebrated schools of Gnostics had their origin in Alexandria. Philo Judæus, Josephus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, Clement of Alexandria, Eratosthenes the astronomer, Hypatia the virgin philosopher, and numberless other stars of second magnitude, all belonged at various times to these great schools, and helped to make Alexandria one of the most justly renowned seats of learning that the world has ever produced.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 16-17)

Neo-platonism. Lit., “the new Platonism” or Platonic School. An eclectic pantheistic school of philosophy founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas, . . . It sought to reconcile Platonic teachings and the Aristotelean system with oriental Theosophy. Its chief occupation was pure spiritual philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism. Theurgy was introduced towards its later years. It was the ultimate effort of high intelligences to check the ever-increasing ignorant superstition and blind faith of the times; the last product of Greek philosophy, which was finally crushed and put to death by brute force.” (HPB, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 227)

“. . . the Neo-platonists were doomed to destruction from the day when they openly sided with Aristotle.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 252)

“Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, a celebrated philosopher and mathematician, the author of a commentary on Euclid, in which his daughter is said to have assisted him. An only child, she showed deep interest in philosophy and mathematics from her early youth. Her father instructed her in these subjects with care and diligence, and she soon became one of his most brilliant pupils. Her writings, according to Suidas, included commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria, on the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, and on the Arithmetical Canon of Ptolemy, all of which are now lost.

“While Hypatia was living in Athens she came in contact with the Neoplatonic Schools which had been founded by Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus, and identified herself with the Neoplatonic Movement. Later, when she took up her residence in Alexandria, she began to hold lectures and classes in the famous Museum, where her eloquence and profound wisdom, her youth and extraordinary beauty soon attracted great crowds of students and admirers. She was admitted into the intimate circles of the great Alexandrian families, and numbered among her friends two of the most powerful men of the day: Orestes, the Prefect of Alexandria, and Synesius, the Bishop of Cyrene.

“The Neoplatonic School reached its greatest heights in the days that immediately preceded its destruction. Hypatia brought Egypt nearer to an understanding of its ancient Mysteries than it had been for thousands of years. Her knowledge of Theurgy restored the practical value of the Mysteries and completed the work commenced by Iamblichus over a hundred years before. Following in the footsteps of Plotinus and Porphyry, she demonstrated the possibility of the union of the individual Self with the SELF of all. Continuing the work of Ammonius Saccas, she showed the similarity between all religions and the identity of their source.” (from “Hypatia: The Last of the Neoplatonists” in the “Great Theosophists” series, “Theosophy” Magazine, March 1937)

“At the beginning of the fourth century crowds began gathering at the door of the academy where the learned and unfortunate Hypatia expounded the doctrines of the divine Plato and Plotinus, and thereby impeded the progress of Christian proselytism. . . . It was precisely the teachings of this Pagan philosopher, which had been so freely borrowed by the Christians to give a finishing touch to their otherwise incomprehensible scheme, that had seduced so many into joining the new religion; and now the Platonic light began shining so inconveniently bright upon the pious patchwork, . . . But there was a still greater peril. Hypatia had studied under Plutarch, the head of the Athenian school, and had learned all the secrets of theurgy. While she lived to instruct the multitude, no divine miracles could be produced before one who could divulge the natural causes by which they took place. Her doom was sealed by Cyril, whose eloquence she eclipsed, and whose authority, built on degrading superstitions, had to yield before hers, which was erected on the rock of immutable natural law.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 252-253)

Hypatia (Gr.). The girl-philosopher, who lived at Alexandria during the fifth century, and taught many a famous man – among others Bishop Synesius. She was the daughter of the mathematician Theon, and became famous for her learning. Falling a martyr to the fiendish conspiracy of Theophilos, Bishop of Alexandria, and his nephew Cyril, she was foully murdered by their order. With her death fell the Neo-Platonic School.” (HPB, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 146-147)

Although people sometimes “quote” Hypatia, it’s widely believed that many of these quotes were fabricated by a 19th century scholar. If any of her own writings have indeed survived, it is not well known or evidenced. Nonetheless, quotes often attributed to her, such as “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than to not think at all,” display the importance she placed on learning and critical thinking.

In 2009 a major mainstream film about her life was released in cinemas. Titled “Agora,” one of the promotional posters bore the words “ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, 391 A.D. THE WORLD CHANGED FOREVER.” That was the year the Serapaeum of the Library of Alexandria was vandalised and demolished by the Christian mob under the orders of the Coptic Pope Theophilus and approximately 25 years before the death of Hypatia.

But true Knowledge and timeless Wisdom is never lost.

“This statement is rendered more credible by a consideration of the following facts: the tradition of the thousands of ancient parchments saved when the Alexandrian library was destroyed; the thousands of Sanskrit works which disappeared in India in the reign of Akbar; the universal tradition in China and Japan that the true old texts with the commentaries, which alone make them comprehensible – amounting to many thousands of volumes – have long passed out of the reach of profane hands; the disappearance of the vast sacred and occult literature of Babylon; the loss of those keys which alone could solve the thousand riddles of the Egyptian hieroglyphic records; the tradition in India that the real secret commentaries which alone make the Veda intelligible, though no longer visible to profane eyes, still remain for the initiate, hidden in secret caves and crypts; and an identical belief among the Buddhists, with regard to their secret books. The Occultists assert that all these exist, safe from Western spoliating hands, to re-appear in some more enlightened age.” (HPB, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, Introductory, p. xxxiv)

In an article titled “Historical Accuracy in the Film Agora,” Joshua J. Mark says, in response to some Christians and Church leaders who had seen the film and felt it demeaning or even offensive to their religion:

“The anti-intellectual stance of the early church is attested to by early Christian writers themselves and so, if the Christians in the film are depicted as ignorant it is because they were so by choice. . . . Christianity was the new found truth and paganism, and all things pagan, was the enemy of that truth. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) who lived roughly about the same time as Hypatia, wrote that pagan temples had to be “redeemed” in the same way as pagan souls and this “redemption” often took the form of sacking the temples, destroying them, and building Christian churches on their foundations. . . .

“The destruction of the library at Alexandria by the Christian zealots as presented in the film has been criticized as inaccurate for many reasons but, chiefly, because it presents Christians in a bad light. The truth, however, is that Christians did, in fact, behave this way in c. 415 CE. That dramatic license was taken with the presentation is not disputed but the historical accuracy of similar scenes enacted throughout the ancient world at that time is certain. The objections of modern day Christians to the depiction of ancient Christians in the film are unmerited. Early Christianity had to wipe out pagan thought and practice as a rival belief system and way of life. In fairness, before Constantine legitimized Christianity, pagans attempted to rid themselves of Christians in similar fashion. The early Christians were seen as “troublemakers” who refused to honor the gods of the community and so upset the relationship and harmony between the people and their deities. Even so, the early persecution of Christians did not result in the same depth of loss as the later persecution of the pagans by the Christians.

“The loss of ancient knowledge contained in pagan writings aside, the rise of Christianity resulted in a decline in personal hygiene, ignorance of some of the most basic instruments and methods used in medical and dental practice, a decline in the status of women, an abrupt halt to the practice of philosophical inquiry, and the overall neglect of the things of this world, including basic upkeep of cities, in favor of contemplation of the greater, better, world to come. . . . By the time of Hypatia, there were Christians who were educated and who did value learning and tolerance but there were many who were not literate, had no wish to be, and felt their faith threatened by those who were. Whether there was an official policy of destruction and murder, then, is almost irrelevant; destruction and murder did take place and did so because of religious zeal.

“That early Christians should engage in the destruction of the old paradigm should not come as a surprise to modern believers in the faith. To deny those actions of the early church in trying to replace the faith of the past, seen as repellent in today’s climate, is as dangerous as trying to deny or gloss over the foolish things one did in one’s own youth. Everyone has done things at some point which, later on with more maturity and wisdom, one realizes were wrong and even regrets. As with the individual, so with a faith or with the rise of a country; people make mistakes in their zeal to achieve a desired end. A refusal to admit one’s past mistakes is an invitation to repeat them. Today one looks at the 5th century Christians and their destruction of learning and culture in the film Agora and finds their actions deplorable; at the time, though, they were commendable to many, if not the majority, of adherents to the young faith who sought to follow Christ and to make all things new for his second coming.”

Perhaps one of the most important things left out of the film, from a Theosophist’s perspective, is the fact of Hypatia’s mystical spiritual and strong metaphysical views. She was, after all, a Neo-Platonist, something which no historian can deny, and as said in a quote above by HPB, the Neo-Platonists’ “chief occupation was pure spiritual philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism.” There isn’t really even a slight hint of this in “Agora” and one could come away thinking she was an avowed atheist. But it is certainly far better, as often said in Theosophy, to be a philosophical atheist than a blind believer in a personal and anthropomorphic “God,” something which all genuine Esoteric Philosophy refutes vehemently.

As was said in the “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Neo-Platonism,” this school or movement – who were actually the first to call themselves “Theosophists” – “was the ultimate effort of high intelligences to check the ever-increasing ignorant superstition and blind faith of the times.”

Whether all the leading Neo-Platonists were consciously aware of the guidance and inspiration of the Lodge or Brotherhood of Masters of Wisdom being behind them it would be hard to say but nonetheless it is affirmed by the latest Representative to the world of those Masters to have been the case.

With the heading “A SAINT BUTCHERED, AND BUTCHERS SAINTED” at the top of the page, HPB relates the following on p. 52-53 of the second volume of her first book “Isis Unveiled”:

“The dispersion of the Eclectic school [i.e. one of the other names by which the Neo-Platonists were known; they never called themselves “Neo-Platonists,” this term was applied to them only sometime later but seems quite apt] had become the fondest hope of the Christians. It had been looked for and contemplated with intense anxiety. It was finally achieved. The members were scattered by the hand of the monsters Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, and his nephew Cyril – the murderer of the young, the learned, and the innocent Hypatia!

“With the death of the martyred daughter of Theon, the mathematician, there remained no possibility for the Neo-platonists to continue their school at Alexandria. During the life-time of the youthful Hypatia her friendship and influence with Orestes, the governor of the city, had assured the philosophers security and protection against their murderous enemies. With her death they had lost their strongest friend. How much she was revered by all who knew her for her erudition, noble virtues, and character, we can infer from the letters addressed to her by Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, fragments of which have reached us. “My heart yearns for the presence of your divine spirit,” he wrote in 413 A.D., “which more than anything else could alleviate the bitterness of my fortunes.” At another time he says: “Oh, my mother, my sister, my teacher, my benefactor! My soul is very sad. The recollection of my children I have lost is killing me. . . . When I have news of you and learn, as I hope, that you are more fortunate than myself, I am at least only half-unhappy.”

“What would have been the feelings of this most noble and worthy of Christian bishops, who had surrendered family and children and happiness for the faith into which he had been attracted, had a prophetic vision disclosed to him that the only friend that had been left to him, his “mother, sister, benefactor,” would soon become an unrecognizable mass of flesh and blood, pounded to jelly under the blows of the club of Peter the Reader – that her youthful, innocent body would be cut to pieces, “the flesh scraped from the bones,” by oyster-shells and the rest of her cast into the fire, by order of the same Bishop Cyril he knew so well – Cyril, the CANONIZED Saint!!

“There has never been a religion in the annals of the world with such a bloody record as Christianity. All the rest, including the traditional fierce fights of the “chosen people” with their next of kin, the idolatrous tribes of Israel, pale before the murderous fanaticism of the alleged followers of Christ!”

And it is no exaggeration to say that had law and order not been brought to bear upon the Christian Church only 200 years or less before the time of H. P. Blavatsky, thus forcibly restraining it with threat of severe punishment from indulging its aggressive and violent impulses towards those it deems as heretics and blasphemers, HPB would most probably have met the same or a similar end as Hypatia. As it was, Christians did their best to kill her reputation and public image instead, as well as that of genuine Theosophy, but although they came close they did not fully succeed and never will.

“Thus Hypatia perished, and with her death the great Neoplatonic School came to an end. Some of the philosophers removed to Athens, but their School was closed by order of the Emperor Justinian. With the departure of the last seven philosophers of the great Neoplatonic Movement – Hermias, Priscianus, Diogenes, Eulalius, Damaskias, Simplicius and Isidorus, who fled to the Far East to escape the persecution of Justinian – the reign of wisdom closed.

“The death of Hypatia occurred in the year 414. Exactly fifteen hundred years later, in 1914, the World War of the Christian nations began. Is there a connection between these two events? The death of Hypatia marked the beginning of the Dark Ages, in which the world was encompassed by the clouds of ignorance and superstition for a thousand years. We are now at a corresponding point in our cycle. Knowledge of what must be done to avoid the repetition of the horrors of the past rests with the theosophists of this era.” (“Hypatia: The Last of the Neoplatonists”)

And Theosophists are not only those who call themselves “Theosophists” or who are members of or connected with the United Lodge of Theosophists or Theosophical Society organisations. The point was repeatedly made by HPB that there are more Theosophists outside of the Theosophical Movement than within it. Why? Because every sincere soul who earnestly aspires to be a Divine Wisdom-ist (“Theosophia” literally means “Divine Wisdom” in Greek) and to seek after Truth for its own sake, with eager intellect and open mind and heart, and for the inestimable good that it can confer upon the whole of humanity, is a Theosophist, in the broadest and fullest sense of the term.

~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~

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