Ypatia of Alexandria
370 - 415 AD
Ypatia of Alexandria
was one of the first women to make a substantial contribution to the
development of mathematics.
Ypatia was the daughter of the mathematician and philosopher
Theon of Alexandria and it is fairly certain that she studied mathematics under the
guidance and instruction of her father. Ypatia became head of the Platonist school
at Alexandria in about 400 AD. There she
lectured on mathematics and philosophy, in particular
teaching the philosophy of Neoplatonism.
Ypatia based her teachings on those of Plotinus, the
founder of Neoplatonism, and Iamblichus who was a developer of Neoplatonism around 300 AD.
She was described by all commentators as a charismatic teacher.
Ypatia came to symbolize learning and science which the early Christians identified
In 412 AD Cyril (later St Cyril) became patriarch of Alexandria.
However, the Roman prefect of Alexandria was Orestes and Cyril and Orestes became bitter
political rivals as church and state fought for control.
Ypatia was a friend of Orestes and this, together with prejudice
against her philosophical views, which
were seen by Christians to be pagan,
led to Ypatia becoming the focal point of riots
between Christians and non-Christians.
A few years later, according to one report, Ypatia was brutally
murdered by the Nitrian monks who were a fanatical sect of
Cyril. According to another account (by Socrates Scholasticus)
she was killed by an Alexandrian mob under the leadership of the reader Peter. What
certainly seems indisputable is that she was murdered by Christians who felt
threatened by her scholarship, learning, and depth of scientific knowledge.
Her murder coincided with the death of the pagan world
and the end of progress in science for about 1000 years.
These notes on Ypatia are based on
of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, St Andrews Scotland.
The picture above of Ypatia is taken from that page. So as to follow modern Greek
pronunciation, we have used the spelling Ypatia rather than
Hypatia which fits better with classical Greek pronunciation.
In fact there were many women mathematics in Ancient Greece, most
of them connected with the Pythagorean school.
A list, in chronological order, is given in
Mathematicians of Ancient Greece
(editors V.Spandago and D.Travlou, editions Aithra,
Of the of the 330 or so listed mathematicians of ancient Greece, about 12% were women.
The majority were students of Pythagoras and of
The first "known" mathematician Aithra, leads the list of both men and women.
The last important mathematician in the Greek line is Ypatia.
The men recorded after her are of much lower caliber
Some of the most notable of Greek women mathematicians (edited notes from the book
Mathematicians of Ancient Greece) include
Aithra (10th-9th B.C.), mythical mother of Theseus but also a real person.
A teacher of arithmetic and logistics, and the use of the abacus.
Mentioned in Plutarch and Strabon. The next recorded mathematician
(if we skip Homer who, according to some, was also a mathematician) is
Thales of Miletus (643-548 BC).
Themistocleia (6th century BC) was a Delphic priestess,
the teacher and mentor of Pythagoras. Myth has it that Pythagoras admired
Themistocleia to such an extent he kept his school open to women also.
Theano (6th century BC), from Kroton, daughter of the doctor
Brontinos, a student of Pythagoras, who married him and succeeded him in
the direction of his school. Their three daughters, also mathematicians,
spread the teachings of the school. She wrote a biography of
Pythagoras which has been lost.
Arignote (6th century BC). Possibly a daughter of Theano and Pythagoras.
Muia, or Myria, (6th century BC). Daughter of Theano and Pythagoras.
Deino (6th century BC). Mother in law and student of Pythagoras.
Tymicha (6th century BC). Student of Pythagoras,
of Spartan origin. Pressed by the tyrant of
Syracuse to reveal the Pythagorean secrets,
she cut her tongue with her teeth and spat it on the tyrant.
Diotima (6th-5th century BC). Pythagorean,
mentioned in Plato's Symposium as a teacher of Socrates.
Periktione (5th century BC). Pythagorean, possibly Plato's mother.
Lasthenia ( 4th century BC). From Arcady, student of Plato in the academy.
Axiothea (4th century BC). From Phleious, a student in the academy, taught in Corinth.
Nikarete of Corinth (4th century BC). Geometer.
Arete from Kyreneia (4th - 3rd century BC). Studied in Plato's academy.
In J. Morans book "woman in Science", Cambridge 1913
the following is quoted as her epitaph:
The grandness of Greece
the beauty of Helen
the pen of Aristippos
the soul of Socrates
and the language of Homer
Pythais (2nd century BC). Geometer, daughter of mathematician Zenodoros.
Ypatia (370-415 AD)
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