Hypatia Lives On In 2023

Hypatie – Hypatia of Alexandria. Here she is, her name emblazoned on a prominent bench in the Place du Panthéon in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. There, with two-hundred other women who are all but unknown in history, she is recognized.

This is the way of Hypatia. People bring her up a lot. They tell the same old story. People often tell it like she was just a woman who did some math and science with her dad in Alexandria. Lady people with brains were bad back then. So, Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, ordered her terrible end. 

Let me leave you with a few facts to ponder about Hypatia:

  • At the time of her death, she was probably around 50 years old. Not a young woman, not just starting out, but middle-aged. I know middle-aged. We don’t mess around. 
  • There is evidence that she headed (THE BIG BOSS) the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria. That would make her the dean of arguably the most important school in the Roman Empire, possibly even more so than any in Athens or Rome itself in its time. 
  • Let me point out again that she was a woman. And a pagan. Who ran the most important school in the Empire. At a time when women weren’t supposed to be doing those things. Curious.
  • Almost nothing of her work, other than a few math and astronomy bits that she worked on with her dad, remains. Again, curious.

How did a woman who supposedly just wrote a few things with her dad rise to a position of immense power?

Wait, she was powerful? Does anybody recall what it takes to become powerful? Did women just do that? But, wait, history said that was not a thing? Curious. This combination of mixed-message and incomplete details sparked an obsession in me more than a decade ago.

No one is ever going to really know Hypatia’s actual life events, I’m pretty confident. Or, what erased her history. However, she lingers in the collective memory. We build benches and put her name on them where I find myself sitting 1500 years later. We repeat stories that are full of mysteries. We make art. 

Back here in Vancouver, she’s taking on a life of her own. I’m sitting with her today, just like I did back in 2019 when I first visited Paris. She found me that day. She always does.