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 with paganism. 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 Christians supporting 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 the history page 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, ISBN 960-7007-57-3).
Of the of the 330 or so listed mathematicians of ancient Greece, about 12% were women. The majority were students of Pythagoras and of Ionian origin. 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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