Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hypatia of Alexandria - the first great mathematician of the ancient world

In the year 370 e.n. was born the greatest minds of antiquity and also the first female mathematician in history: Hypatia. Beautiful, intelligent and highly respected in a time when women could not enter the Alexandria high society, Hypatia was the most famous thinkers of the ancient world. Symbol of science and independent thought, Hypatia was to find the end in tragic circumstances, after refusing to submit to religious dogma.
Growing up with geniuses Alexandria

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, one of the most educated men around Alexandrie. He was an astronomer and mathematician, professor at the University of Alexandria and a renowned thinker in the entire region, so that Hypatia grew up in an environment of intellectual development.

Theon was a supporter of comprehensive education, both physical and intellectual, his only child wanting to become "a complete man". Thus, Theon to Hypatia taught her everything he knew about mathematics, science and religion, but also encouraged her to devote more time sports such as running and climbing.

Theon to Hypatia taught her to always have an open mind, unhampered by any religious system that no longer allowed to discover scientific truths. "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not thinking at all," said Theon would be his daughter.

Hypatiei childhood, Theon of Alexandria University became the leader, at that time considered the most important institution in the world. Scholars from many countries come here to study and collaborate with other scholars on their level so that Hypatia had a chance to grow surrounded by the best minds of the time. He learned from them about art, literature, philosophy, world religions and arts of oratory.

Hypatia works

Hypatia has inherited her father's passion for mathematics, deepening the studies in this field at the school in Athens led by Plutarch the Younger and his daughter, Asclepigenia. On his return to Alexandria, Hypatiei was proposed to teach mathematics and philosophy at the university, due to excellent results obtained in Athens.

Enthusiasm that he had Hypatia math, erudition and eloquence to have made ​​more and more students want to listen. Thus, her house became a meeting point for those who wanted to decipher the mysteries of mathematics. Over time, the house became a veritable Hypatiei intellectual core, the most diligent students of her discussing important aspects of philosophy here.

Hypatia has published numerous treaties, especially comments on the works of other contemporary mathematicians, but none of his works were not preserved. Some of them perished in the fire that destroyed the library of Alexandria and the rest were destroyed intentionally by his opponents. All that is known today about Hypatia is due correspondence on the first great mathematician in history had with his former students.
Some treated by Hypatiei father, Theon, have been preserved to this day, and among them are an important commentary on the works of Euclid and Ptolemy. Some historians say that Hypatia was co-author of this important work, while others say it only helped his father, the sole author of the commentary.
Reportedly contemporary authors, including on issues of Hypatia included the conic sections (circles, ellipses, and hyperbolas parables formed when a plane intersects a circle), she comments on the work of developing Apolloniu. After death Hypatiei, this topic has been neglected for over a millennium. The importance of conical sections was recognized only in the sixteenth century, and today they are used to describe the trajectory of comets, planetary orbits and missile movement.
Also, Hypatia wrote a commentary on the work of an Egyptian mathematician named Diófa. Called the "father of algebra" wrote Diófa indeterminate equations (today called "diofantice equations"). Because he carried on his work Diófa and extended it, some historians have suggested that Hypatia turn deserves the nickname "Mother of algebra".
Hypatiei interests were not limited in mathematics, so that we know today because of Synesius of Cyrene, the most famous student of Hypatiei. He who was to become bishop of Ptolemais Hypatiei wrote numerous letters, asking for advice for building an astrolabe, an instrument for calculating the position of planets and stars in the sky and measure the passage of time. Some historians believe that Hypatia invented the astrolabe, and others say that only helped to design. Another tool developed by Hypatia is said to Synesius in his last letter to his former teacher. He urges a "hygroscopic", letter to the first mention in history of such a device. Hygroscopic water distillation was used to measure liquid level, is also useful to those who wanted to distill alcohol-based drugs.
Hypatia was known all over the civilized world. Examples of the prestige enjoyed by the letters which are preserved to this day: brilliant minds that I wrote Hypatiei mention the recipient only "Muse of Alexandria" or "philosopher of Alexandria", no need to add further details to the letters to reach them.
Although contemporary accounts show that was considered beautiful Hypatia, daughter of Theon never married, despite many offers from men with the condition. Some historians speculate that one potential reason is that no man was not equal to Hypatia in intelligence, it preferring rather to devote themselves to mathematics and philosophy.

Tragic end of Hypatia

Hypatia had the misfortune to live in a tumultuous period of Egyptian history, the social transformations taking place unprecedented.

In the early fourth century, Alexandria was still dominated by neoplatonicieni latest intellectual center, supporters of Greek school-based mathematics and science. Christianity became a force more powerful, and conflicts between pagans and Christians more often.

In 391, Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus said paganism illegally destroying all pagan temples in the city. The most important of these, Serapeum and Mouseion, housed many works that were not destroyed when the library of Alexandria.

In 412, Cyril became patriarch of Alexandria. Immediately after his appointment, he started a campaign against Christian opponents. First, Cyril of Alexandria encouraged Christians to attack the Jews, considered close to prefect Orestes. Every synagogue in the city were destroyed, Jews were driven out of town and their houses were pillaged.

Orestes protested at Constantinople, and Christians led by Cyril attacked for that reason, but Orestes escaped with life, just hurt. After this event, Orestes expanded security forces become unreachable.

Prefect Orestes was also a good friend of Hypatiei, and this friendship was to bring the famous thinker early and painful death.

In March 415, the order of Cyril, a mob of Christian fanatics attacked her on the street Hypatia. They gave out of the chariot that is, stripped her and dragged her into a nearby church. Here, Hypatia was slaughtered and their remains were carried through the streets nearby, then to be burned.

Perpetrators were never punished for lack of witnesses and the case was closed after the Patriarch Cyril announced that Hypatia was seen in Athens, saying that crime rumor was unfounded. Today, Kirill is regarded as a saint by the Catholic Church and of the Orthodox, it is celebrated on January 18.

Hypatiei death coincided with the beginning of the period known today as the "Middle Ages", in which scientific progress has stalled, and chaos and barbarism dominated former Roman Empire. For over 1,000 years after this unfortunate event, the most important areas of science - mathematics, astronomy and physics - have also progressed.

Hypatia was not forgotten

More than a millennium after his death, legend Hypatiei was again brought to the public. First, his life story was presented in anti-Catholic pamphlets published in the eighteenth century, was then mentioned by several writers, including Voltaire. A century later, German authors Soldan and Heppe Hypatia mentioned her in their book that deal with history processes against witches, considering it to be the first "witch" who fell victim to Christian authorities.

Hypatiei life has become increasingly known in the last two centuries, and his scientific contributions were recognized. In 1884, astronomer Victor Knorr recently discovered asteroid named "Hypatia", in honor of the great thinkers. Also, a crater on the Moon, Earth's natural satellite, today bears his name.

Hypatia remains today a symbol of intellectual values ​​and refusal to submit to dogma. One of his proclamations, valid today, is recorded in the biography of Sandy Donovan, entitled "Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher"

"Fables should be taught to children as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as literary representations. Teaching children superstitions as truth is one of the most terrible things. Child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great suffering that takes years to get rid of this faith. in fact, people will fight on behalf of superstition as quickly as the name of truth - sometimes even faster, since a superstition is intangible, so it can be demonstrated to be false, and truth is a point of view, so it can be changed ".

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post on Hypatia. She was a remarkable woman and the more people who know about her, the better. I've been studying and writing about her for several years and recently pullled together a series of articles/essays about her into a free ebook Hypatia: Her Life and Times which is available in all digital formats here.