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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Hypatia of Alexandria (370 – 415) was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher in Roman Egypt. Her murder, by a Christian mob, whose leader Cyril was later sainted, marked the end of Classical philosophy and the beginning of the Dark Ages. “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies.”

Hypatia

Hypatia, an excellent worldly scientist and philosopher stripped and murdered.

Hypatia

Hypatia of Alexandria in a fanciful 19th century drawing.

Hypatia wrote many books: 13 volumes of Commentary on the Arithmetica of Diophantus, The Astronomical Canon, Commentary on the Almagest of Ptolemy. All are lost, perhaps simply burned in the Library of Alexandria by those who murdered her. Watch the instant movie AGORA for a lush experiencing of Hypatia’s life, struggles and death.

Quotations from Hypatia are these few below, and they varied with each translation, so I rewrote them slightly, marked with ( — ) to emphasize the apparent intent. Sources: Google, OSU,

–Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a terrible thing. A childish mind accepts and believes them, and only occasionally through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.

–Reserve your right to think for yourself, for to think clearly with wrong facts is better than not to think at all.

–Men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a tested truth, and generally more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is from a point of view, founded on clear facts, and so is changeable with the view.

–All formal dogmatic religions are founded on believing the unverifiable and must never be accepted by thinking persons as final.

–Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door of perception is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.

Neoplatonism is a progressive philosophy, and does not expect to state final conditions to men whose minds are finite. “Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.” wrote Elbert Hubbard in part of a lovely fictional idealized statement by Hypatia

The following is from the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan

“Only once before in our history was there the promise of a brilliant scientific civilization. Beneficiary of the Ionian Awakening, it had its citadel at the Library of Alexandria, where 2,000 years ago the best minds of antiquity established the foundations for the systematic study of mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, literature, geography and medicine. We build on those foundations still. The Library was constructed and supported by the Ptolemys, the Greek kings who inherited the Egyptian portion of the empire of Alexander the Great. From the time of its creation in the third century B.C. until its destruction seven centuries later, it was the brain and heart of the ancient world.

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy — an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia’s time — by then long under Roman rule — was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces. Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism. In great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril’s parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia’s death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”


COMMENTS:

Sagan supplies only a glimpse of the tragedy of the collapse of our civilization under the weight of religious bigotry. It could easily happen again, and probably will, as the forces of foolishness rise to power once again as they did in Hypatia’s time. The need of a great portion of the public to have absolute answers to inherently unanswerable questions is answered by self-proclaimed authorities fabricating religious dogma out to supply the wishful thinking for a perfect world. The priests claim to offer a life of eternal happiness, after death of the body, if only the unwary follow their untestable plan. The very best the realists can offer is a possibility of a long and tranquil life and only absolute oblivion after death. That isn’t good enough for the majority of people and thus in the long run there will be times when wishful thinking will once again rule the world.

The problem develops because some adults think they are helping children by telling them lies about the real world.To teach superstitions as truths is a terrible thing.” It sets up a child for a life of accepting untestable lies as a way to conduct their life, and that will often lead them into a life of unnecessary sorrow. Not facing reality, which is where we must live no matter what anyone says, must lead to ultimate failure. The shaman class, who takes the life and money of their clientele, can continue their hoax because no one ever comes back from the dead to reveal their lies.

A civilization based on lies will be one of denial and suffering.