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The Tragic Tale of Hypatia and Ancient Alexandria

The city of Alexandria served as the connection between the Eastern and Western worlds in regard to mathematical and scientific knowledge, making it the intellectual powerhouse of antiquity.

Artistic rendition of The Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria, built under either Ptolemy Soter or his son Ptolemy II in the third century BCE, was the first research institute, collecting the best literature from around the world.


By this time, libraries were already known to many ancient civilizations. As the Greeks began to encompass a larger worldview, they sought to share knowledge and achievements with their neighbors. Inviting dignitaries from around the world, Alexandria came to be regarded as the capital of learning.


Although the exact number of materials housed in the library is unknown, sources report there were up to 700,000 papyrus scrolls.


Hypatia (c. 370- 415 AD) was a Neoplatonist philosopher, teacher, mathematician, and astronomer who lived in a very turbulent era in Alexandria’s history.

She wrote several treatises, many of which were destroyed through the ages. Evidence does show that she wrote commentaries on Apollonius's Conics, Diophantus's Arithmetica, and Ptolemy's Almagest. Most of Hypatia’s writings made mathematical concepts easier to understand, allowing works to survive through many centuries.

Hypatia was brutally murdered due to political turmoil in Alexandria. Her work, however, did live on and later other scientists such as Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz were able to build upon it.


Hypatia's tragedy was the tragedy of Alexandria: the destruction of its library, and the demise of a great wealth of knowledge that had allowed the city to flourish for almost 700 years.


Works cited:

Philips, Heather, "The Great Library of Alexandria?" (2010). Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal).


Woods, Michael, and Mary B. Woods. Ancient Communication: From Grunts to Graffiti. Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.


Hypatia, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/paganism/hypatia.html.


“Hypatia.” Mathwomen.agnesscott.org, mathwomen.agnesscott.org/women/hypatia.htm.

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