The Macksey Journal


Hypatia, an educator and philosopher in late 4th and early 5th-century Alexandria, has lived many lives and died many deaths since she reportedly took her last breath before the Caesareum’s altar. She emerges in fifth-century texts as virtuous pagan philosopher caught in the streets and murdered by a crowd of monks, with St. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria at the time, to blame. A contemporary Greek text written for a pagan audience describes Hypatia as a beautiful martyr who unfairly reaped the destruction of true philosophy at the behest of Roman Christianization. Three centuries later, she would be called a witch who tricked men to turn against God. It is not just in these early centuries that we hear about Hypatia; up to fifteen sources varying from historians to novelists and playwrights from the 18th-century to date, discuss her too-brief existence and the feminist or Christian meaning behind her death. Who really was Hypatia of Alexandria, and in which ways do her revisions across centuries of literature and scholarly discussion mirror a changing culture? The paper below discusses the major themes of modern literary treatments of Hypatia, placed against the backdrop of our ancient historical sources.