Hypatia was a Greek scholar from Alexandria, Egypt, considered the first notable woman in mathematics, who also taught philosophy and astronomy. She was born between AD 350 and 370; died March 415. She was killed by a Christian mob who accused her of causing religious turmoil. Some suggest that her murder marked the end of what is known traditionally as Classical antiquity.
While some suggest that she went to both Athens and Italy to study, others think there is no evidence that she ever left the city. She became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in approximately 400. According to Byzantine encyclopedia the Suda, she worked as a teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle. Itâ€™s believed that there were both Christians and foreigners among her pupils
Hypatia was known more for the work she did in mathematics than in astronomy, primarily for her work on the ideas of conic sections introduced by Apollonius. She edited the work On the Conics of Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This concept developed the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. With Hypatia's work on this important book, she made the concepts easier to understand.
Orestes, Hypatiaâ€™s student and the governor of Alexandria, was an adversary of the new Christian bishop, Cyril, a future saint. He objected to Cyril expelling the Jews from the city, and was attacked on his head by Christian monks for his opposition. Cyril encouraged the belief among the people that it Hypatia's friendship with Orestes was the cause of the disruption of Egypt.
Cyril's preaching against Hypatia is said to have been what incited a mob led by fanatical Christian monks in 415 to attack Hypatia as she drove her chariot through Alexandria. They dragged her from her chariot, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body in the library of Caesareum.
Hypatia's students fled to Athens, where the study of mathematics flourished after that. The Neoplatonic school she headed continued in Alexandria until the Arabs invaded in 642. Hypatia's life ended tragically, however her life's work remained. Later, Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz expanded on her work. Hypatia made extraordinary accomplishments for a woman in her time. Philosophers considered her a woman of great knowledge and an excellent teacher.
Imagine a time when the world's greatest living mathematician was a woman, indeed a physically beautiful woman, and a woman who was simultaneously the world's leading astronomer.