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Hypatia of Alexandria (Revealing Antiquity) [Paperback]

Maria Dzielska
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Sep 1996 Revealing Antiquity (Book 8)
Hypatia - mathematician, Neoplatonist, and a woman renowned for her beauty - was brutally murdered by a mob of Christians in Alexandria in 415. In this book, Maria Dzielska searches behind the legend to bring us the real story of Hypatia's life and death, and insight into her world. Historians and poets, Victorian novelists and contemporary feminists have seen Hypatia as a symbol - of the waning of classical culture and freedom of inquiry, of the rise of fanatical Christianity, or of sexual freedom. Dzielska takes us back to the Alexandria of Hypatia's day, constructing a picture of the young philosopher's disciples and teaching, and clarifying what Hypatia's murder tells us about the tensions of this era.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (30 Sep 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674437764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674437760
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 13.8 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 605,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

This gem of academic detective work may be the last word on a subject that has fascinated for centuries. -- Anthony Gottlieb New York Times Book Review Like Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc...Hypatia has been retailored to suit the psychic needs of anybody retrospecting her, rational, romantic, nostalgic, or loony. [In this book] Dzielska demystifies Hypatia, sifting patiently through the original sources, from the Sud lexicon to the correspondence of Synesius of Cyrene. -- John Leonard Nation Through a subtle reading of the ancient sources, Dzielska reconstructs a powerful and persuasive account of Hypatia's life. She also addresses the difficult task of describing her philosophy...with engagement and finesse. -- Wilbur Knorr Science [A] pithy and engaging attempt to state what we actually know about Hypatia. -- Carlin Romano Philadelphia Inquirer Hypatia, an exceptional philosopher, mathematician and high profile public figure of late fourth and early fifth century Alexandria, ironically owes her fame in history to the violent and politically contentious nature of her death in 415 AD. From the moment she was brutally murdered by a mob of angry Christians, Hypatia became a legend, a figure who has ever since been used and manipulated by artists, writers, poets and feminists. Maria Dzielska in Hypatia of Alexandria, explores who Hypatia was, what she believed, why she was killed and what she has come to symbolize in the centuries since...Dzielska's discussion of Hypatia has contributed to the understanding of women in late antiquity. Hypatia was an exceptional woman and has been of particular benefit to those interested in Christian and Roman/Hellenic history. The ideas commonly held regarding Hypatia have been strongly influenced and shaped by a tradition which used Hypatia as a symbol for its own attitudes and beliefs. Such details have created a veil over the true figure of Hypatia. This has effectively been removed by Dzielska revealing the historical Hypatia, an extraordinary woman, without the benefit of legend. -- P. Murphy Ancient History Dzielska...provides here an exemplary 'retrieval' of the life and achievements of Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 335-415). Dzielska traces in detail the modern literary tradition of Hypatia--from the Enlightenment authors who claimed her as the last of the great pagan neoplatonists, through Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley, to today's feminists...The author portrays the close circle of her students and provides the context for her public lectures; she concludes with 35 sober pages on the 'life and death of Hypatia,' interpreting her death as a kind of witch-burning in the transition from pagan Empire to Christian state. Dzielska is meticulous in her pursuit of facts from the widely scattered sources...The book as a whole is a model of feminist scholarship in its sorting out of legend from facts. Choice Maria Dzielska has finally brought us definitive and sober research into who that grand historic figure really was, the circumstances of her life and scholarship, and the dynamics that led to her death. We shall be permanently indebted to Dzielska for her thorough research and for her highly readable book...If you are a historian, Greco-Roman scholar, Egyptologist, anthropologist, psychologist, theologian or a thoughtful person in any field who likes a good read...buy this book! -- J. Harold Ellens Biblical Archaeology Review History fades to myth. Dzielska's aim in this book is to peel away those mythical images of Hypatia to examine the reality beneath. The result is a splendid example of demythologizing scholarship...[It] deserves to be read by anyone studying ancient gender or her time period [and] is a delight to read, in a translation which is light and natural. -- Richard Hawley Classical Review Historians and patristic scholars as well as general readers should be grateful to Dzielska for this book which clarifies a dark and interesting spot in Church history. Coptic Church Review Hypatia of Alexandria is a clearly written, tightly focused book...In contrast to a number of earlier writers on Hypatia, Maria Dzielska is meticulous about disentangling fact from speculation; meticulous, too, about documenting her sources and leading her readers, via her footnotes, to a variety of interesting discussions about the various points at issue. -- J.J. MacIntosh ISIS

About the Author

Maria Dzielska is an internationally recognized authority on the cultural life of the Roman Empire. She lives in Krakow and is Professor of Ancient Roman History at Jagiellonian University.

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Female Socrates 20 Jan 2001
Format:Hardcover
Socrates was executed by the state of Athens as a scapegoat for its defeat by the Spartans. His crime was being a free thinker in a short age of turmoil. He was however fondly remembered and documented. Hypatia was first brought to my attention by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos. She has often been represented as a pillar of wisdom in an age of growing dogma. Unlike with Socrates we know much less about her life and teachings. She is remembered precisely as a martyr who was sacrificed rather than executed by a literalist Christian mob inspired by "St" Cyril, apparently as she was regarded as a threat to Christendom and theology by certain regio-political figures. Enough material on her survived not least owing to the strong memories evoked at the manner of her despatch which turned her into a historical icon.
This excellent short well sourced book is a biographic scenography in the best sense of the word. It does not sadly cover the destruction of the great library or go into great length about the history and politics of 4th century Alexandria but it blows the cobwebs and embelishments that are associated with this enigmatic figure leaving a strong, uncompromising educated presence who would have been of extreme high standing to have obtained the death she received at the hands of bigots.
The importance of Hypatia is that she represents a phase in history where Greek religion was being destroyed by the then politicised Roman state religion. Hypatia represents a tragic victim of this dark phase when a great deal of knowledge was irrevocably lost (e.g.Gandy and Freke, the Jesus Mysteries etc.,).
To know the real Hypatia, and that phase of history, this is one of the best places to begin.
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1 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the sublime rounds the dangerous 6 Jan 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book really doesn't say practically nothing about Hypatia but this isn't an obstacle to extract an obvious conclussion that ever repeats itself across history of mankind: you can be different... but these is not very sane. Hypatia was no doubt a very notorious personage but curiously the only well known fact about his life is his death by terrible murder. Other things we can only scarcely suposse: she was a wise woman scientific, wealthy and philosopher, but she confronted with the obscure primitive Christianism that by then wanted to made his way, so many times plenty of blood and by nothing remembering the teachings of Jesus. Summing up, a figth for power between Paganism and Christianism. Furthermore it seems no very risky to say Hypatia, even recognizing his wisdom, commited some capital mistakes. It's said she was plenty of virtue, intelligence... but also that she had a vigorous and stern character and remained virgin all his foggy life rejecting in a harsh mode the love of some men. Too many chastity, too many stiffness sounds like near of too many pride and a loss of common sense. I suposse that, as other famous heroes or historical personages, Hypatia was a respected but at same times fearsome person perceived by many people as strange and dangerous. Such personages not rarely have a bad end. Accusations to be a witch, making evil and so on are easy to do and probably the same could be said about the Christians, in this case, the ominous St Cyril. There are many cases of punished virtue: Socrates, Galileus, the apostles... Mankind ever need wise people, but paradoxalment rarely tolerate they.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going behind the curtain . . . 30 July 2000
By Thomas J. Brucia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Those who have an interest in the Fourth Century are familiar with the name Hypatia of Alexandria. Unfortunately she has become a figure of legend and myth. Maria Dzielska's small, short book (106 pages, each about 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" ) first examines the various persons that made her a myth, as well as their motivations. It then goes to the source documents, sorts through the credibility of each, and then redraws our picture of Hypatia. (For example, most encyclopedias give Hypatia's date of birth as about 370. Dzielska builds a strong case that she was born about 15 years earlier than that, and was in her 60's when she was murdered). This book excels in distinguishing fact from fiction - in other words it is a work of historical research. Dzielska also points out where her knowledge ends and her inferences begin. This virtue - once known as humility - also contributes to the value of this book. As one would expect, it has an annotated bibliography ("Sources"), is fully footnoted, and includes a good index. Those whose interest in Hypatia involves "her meaning" may be disappointed; those who want the truth about her will find this a useful piece of research and analysis. Maria Dzielska's book could be used as a sourcebook on HOW historical figures are appropriated for the political or religious agendas of persons less interested in "the facts" than "making a point". This alone makes it of wider interest than it might otherwise appear.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hypatia of Alexandria 11 Sep 2005
By Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For those who have never heard of Hypatia the back of this book gives you a quick summary of the woman:

'Hypatia - brilliant mathematician, eloquent Neoplatonist, and a woman renowned for her beauty - was brutally murdered by a mob of Christians in Alexandria in 415. She has been a legend ever since.'

This book is thin (106 pages, an additional forty to fifty provide sources, notes, and an index yet, despite its size, it manages to pull together a summary of Hypatia's life from the texts of the time by people lsuch as Socrates Scholasticus and Synesius.

Essentially, it's an interpretation of these historical texts that reconstructs who Hypatia was, how she lived, and why she was brutally murdered.

The book begins by examining the enduring legend of Hypatia by looking at the literary references in which she is portrayed (19th Century novels, and poetry) and continues to examine her by looking at the people who lived around here. Moving on, Dzielska looks at Hypatia herself from trying to determine the year of her birth to describing the terrible death to which she succumbed and, looks at who - ultimately - was responsible.* After looking at Hypatia, the author resolves the woman's history and offers a conclusion to her book.

It was certainly an interesting book in both the uncommon subject matter and the way that the life within was completely reconstructed from writings of the day as none of Hypatia's work is believed to exist anymore. It does not cover life in Alexandria or describe the Great Library but, as the title suggests, this is not about Alexandria - there will, no doubt, be books on that topic.

It's worth reading if a) you have an interest in philosophy or mathematics; or b) you are a feminist looking for a new heroine. (She was, afterall, the only major female of scientific note prior to Marie Curie.)

* She was stripped naked, dragged through the streets to a church, where many proceeded to strip the flesh from her bones using broken pottery. Her remains were then tossed on a fire.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A realistic view of Hypatia 30 Jun 2000
By Atheen M. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had placed this book on my wish list because it came to my attention through a friend with similar interests. He generously sent it to me, and I must say I enjoyed it. This is probably more for the individual interested in how historical research is done than for someone looking for an indepth account of the lady's life. Although it will give you a very realistic assessment of her life and times in the two concluding chapters, it gives a scholarly assessment of available primary resoureces as its foundation before doing so. And rightly so, since as the first chapter makes abundantly clear, a lot of sentimental nonsense has been written about the person of Hypatia on next to no basis at all. More than anything the character of Hypatia that is presented by these authors has been designed to illustrate some point of importance or some axe to grind by that individual author. Her actual personality and life history become secondary to those goals as she becomes the center of parable.
65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book about a truly GREAT woman 6 Feb 2000
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
To be fair, I must admit at the outset that Hypatia of Alexandria is my all time favorite female in world history. That may make my review of this book a bit slanted. For those who may not be familiar w/Hyaptia, she was a neo-Platonic philosopher / astronomer / physicist / mathmatician (among other things) at the library of Alexandria shortly before it was burned to the ground by an angry mob. To back up: the library of Alexandria was the idea of one Alexander the Great. Although he never lived to see it, Alexander wanted a place where scholars from all over the world & from all cultures could come together & share knowledge. The dream was realized when one of his generals built the library. It is also good to keep in mind that had the library not been burned down (according to the late Carl Sagan the building had over 1 million scrolls at its height), we would likely have made it to the moon long before 1,000 A.D. The amount of scientific, literary and historical texts and data that were lost is nothing less than astounding. Hypatia was one of the last teachers to work at the library before its untimely destruction. It is said that she had the form of Aphrodite & the spirit of Plato. A truly remarkable woman, she excelled in sundry fields of intellectual endeavor at a time when women were supposed to be silent & were thought of as stupid. Read this book, especially you ladies in the world. Hypatia is a testament to the human greatness that lies in the heart of us all.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Female Socrates 20 Jan 2001
By Sarakani - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Socrates was executed by the state of Athens as a scapegoat for its defeat by the Spartans. His crime was being a free thinker in a short age of turmoil. He was however fondly remembered and documented. Hypatia was first brought to my attention by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos. She has often been represented as a pillar of wisdom in an age of growing dogma. Unlike with Socrates we know much less about her life and teachings. She is remembered precisely as a martyr who was sacrificed rather than executed by a literalist Christian mob inspired by "St" Cyril, apparently as she was regarded as a threat to Christendom and theology by certain regio-political figures. Enough material on her survived not least owing to the strong memories evoked at the manner of her despatch which turned her into a historical icon.
This excellent short well sourced book is a biographic scenography in the best sense of the word. It does not sadly cover the destruction of the great library or go into great length about the history and politics of 4th century Alexandria but it blows the cobwebs and embelishments that are associated with this enigmatic figure leaving a strong, uncompromising educated presence who would have been of extreme high standing to have obtained the death she received at the hands of bigots.
The importance of Hypatia is that she represents a phase in history where Greek religion was being destroyed by the then politicised Roman state religion. Hypatia represents a tragic victim of this dark phase when a great deal of knowledge was irrevocably lost (e.g.Gandy and Freke, the Jesus Mysteries etc.,).
To know the real Hypatia, and that phase of history, this is one of the best places to begin.
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