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View Diary: Women in Science: Hypatia 350/370-415 (54 comments)

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  •  Our Pagan martyrs (11+ / 0-)

    Thanx for posting about this great Pagan martyr. One of the greatest gifts she left us is the hydrometer. Anyone who is a home-brewer surely appreciates the hydrometer! There is an extant letter from Syenesius requesting one from her. Cheers, Hypatia!

    As you mention, the Agora movie (although flawed) is a good introduction to her life. Unfortunately, these days she has suffered again due to some recent reactionary interpretation of her life and the events leading up to her death. One vein of this disinformation attempts to blame her death on her own politics, instead of the Christian religions fanaticism. People advocating this attempt to marginalize the growing stranglehold religion had on the governing class. Also, in some “New” atheist circles , she has become something of a darling. Here she is portrayed (as in the “Agora” movie) as an agnostic/atheist free thinker, instead of a Platonist.  

    •  Did the movie portray her as an older woman? (6+ / 0-)

      From what I've read on the matter, she was older at the time of her death, perhaps even an elderly person.

      And I believe she was a Neoplatonist.

      Not all Christians were anti-pagan.  She had Christian supporters as well.  This isn't some simple-minded thing, Christianity was in flux during this period, it was not a monolithic belief system (nor is it now). Cyril had Christian opponents.    If I remember correctly, Cyril carried her death as a stain on his reputation for the rest of his life.  Forgive my bad memory on this, the last time I studied late Antiquity in detail was around 1990.

      I recommend the wikipedia article on Hypatia.

      Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

      by rbird on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 03:37:09 PM PST

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      •  Yikes, "Neoplatonism" is a modern term. (3+ / 0-)

        Yeah, you point out another problem with the movie. The movie did not portray her as an older woman, although her age at death is unknown. Most today feel she was what would be called 'middle-aged'

        "Neoplatonist" is a modern word,  Hypatia would not have known what that means. As a Pagan, I can assure we are use to our heroes and martyrs being nullified, marginalized, or shoe-horned into some intellectual corner more palatable for today.

        Of course not all Christians were anti-Pagan. Christians thinkers such as Origen advocated a "can't we all get along" attitude (but his works were declared heresy about 100 years after they were written), and the voices of tolerance and reason did not win-out . By the time of the death of Hypatia, Paganism was under sustained attack, Christians had celebrations where Pagan texts were burned, priests and priestesses were being beaten or killed, and temples were being torn down--or at least forcibly closed. Although this oppression was not yet empire wide (much like the edicts of Christian persecution were not uniformly enforced), it was growing in intensity.

        All this has been well documented by a number of scholars (see my post, below). You may also be interested in reading "The Archeology of Religious Hatred” by E. Sauer.

        •  I only used "Neoplatonist" because it was ... (2+ / 0-)
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          Aunt Pat, Prof Haley

          used in one or more of my references.  However, I think that you are undoubtedly right.  It is like a lot of other preconceptions and modern definitions that we place on ancient history, or even our own relatively recent history.  We always define events by our own experiences and concepts.

          •  That's what we're supposed to do (1+ / 0-)
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            Desert Scientist

            If human history weren't relevant to us, if we couldn't see the past through the lens of our lives, it would be useless.  There is no such thing as abstract history, it's all supposed to be useable.  Every generation takes what it needs from history even as it writes its own history.

            For instance, without a modern perspective we would not realize just how much humanity lost when Classical Antiquity fell.  A Roman could travel faster across Europe than anyone up until the invention of the locomotive in the nineteenth century.  Roman slavery was not the chattel slavery of the Old South.  It evolved as an institution.  By the time of the Empire, slaves had rights and privileges, including the right to earn a small wage from which they could buy their own freedom.  Romans built and operated what we could call modern factories, utilizing water power to drive machines in those factories.  They had universal health care.  Anyone could go to a temple of Asclepius and be treated.  The Roman military was thoroughly modern in its organization.  They even had the equivalent of VA hospitals.  At least one Roman emperor was a black guy.  Others were Syrian and Spanish.  When Classical Antiquity fell, so did the quality of life and personal rights of the mass of humanity in Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East.

            You think we're so great?  Caesar, as bloody-minded as he was, would recoil in horror at the 20th Century.  As bad as gladiatorial games were, the Romans didn't murder 100 million people.  We did.  That's the total body count from the wars, revolutions, purges, and genocide of the last century.

            So don't be dismissive of the intellectual tools we use now to make the past more accessible to our modern minds.  We need all the help we can get.

            Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

            by rbird on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:53:58 AM PST

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            •  I was not being dismissive. (1+ / 0-)
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              I was only making the point that we never can look at the past other than from our own perspective.  How could we do otherwise?  We can't experience the world as Hypatia did.  Yet we do share those things that are common to all humans from the time of our emergence on the African savanna. Namely curiosity about our world, our nature, and our future.

              •  There was once the idea that historians could... (1+ / 0-)
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                Desert Scientist

       "objective."  This still floats around in the culture, even though it was demolished for the first time about a century ago.  Unlike my readings in late Antiquity, which took place twenty years ago, the graduate course I took in Historiography was around twenty-five years ago, so even foggier.  Not much of it remains in my head other than a disdain for the idea of "objective" history.

                Sorry if I overreacted.

                The savanna, and our hunter-gatherer existence, may play a very large part in who we are.  It may have lasted for 200,000 years, maybe even longer.  It is twenty times as long as human civilization.  We're made for small groups, talkativeness, and cooperative behavior, literally, shaped by evolution to be that way.  I've often wondered just how much of what we're up to as a species is directly related to that evolutionary inheritance?

                My day for pondering....Ponderer Day?   That should be a legitimate holiday!

                Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

                by rbird on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 03:40:27 PM PST

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            •  Recoil in horror? I don't think so... (2+ / 0-)
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              rbird, Desert Scientist

              I think Caesar would recognize much of the modern world, both East and West, and the see the opportunity that lies within it.  He might be awed at first by the scale of it all, but he would be just as eager to get his hands on all the latest toys and try his hand at the latest version of world conquest.  Once a Caesar, always a Caesar.

              The rest of your comment I largely agree with.  I wonder how history will view the American Empire, or how long we'll even be on the stage.

              •  The body count would horrify him, I think... (2+ / 0-)
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                Desert Scientist, gene s

                ...that's what I was talking about.  The 20th Century is very impressive in an evil sort of way.

                As to the politics of our age, yeah, I fully agree with you.  Caesar would recognize our politics right away.

                Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

                by rbird on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 03:26:58 PM PST

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          •  Hypatia would probably have a good lol (0+ / 0-)

            at some of us here! Once again, you did a great job in summing up Hypatia, and (judging from one of the comments) you even brought the truth of her life to someone who never heard of her. How cool is that?

            Sometimes I'm a bit oversensitive about the "Neoplatonist" thing. Many do (fairly I might add, but it is complicated) classify her as a such. It's just that the term has become (recently) misused as a stand-in for atheist/agnostic.

        •  Neoplatonist thought was popular... (1+ / 0-)
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          ...among many groups in late Antiquity, among them Jewish and Christian philosophers.  And yes, it's a modern term, invented to distinguish those Platonists who followed the teachings of Plotinus.

          Paganism was under pressure from Constantine on forward, but the persecutions weren't all-encompassing, nor quite rational from a modern perspective (we're much better at persecution and mass murder than the ancients).  Temples were forcibly converted to churches, priests and other temple officials were killed.  Even when there was no overt force used, the traditional municipal backing for temples and their priests or priestesses was banned.  All that, and yet known pagans were tolerated by Christian emperors and even given promotions and official positions.  I'm thinking of Libanius, though it's been many years since I read his works.

          The last classical pagan temple (forgot which one, sorry) was closed somewhere around 525 CE.  After that, Classical Paganism went underground.  There are hints of its continued existence in formerly pagan deities being "adopted" into the Catholic Church as "saints" in order to appeal to local pagans. Gnostic and Neoplatonist Christians didn't go away, either, they went underground.

          During this period, Christian-on-Christian violence increased as well.  Orthodox vs Gnostic vs Arian vs Papal is just the start of it.  I can't even remember all the controversies and feuds, there were so many.

          Overt pagans were still around, just not Classical Pagans.  Nordic and Germanic paganism continued on until, what, around 1100?

          So it's actually a very, very complicated story, getting even more complicated in Italy after about 1300, and then it got really, really complicated after 1517.

          "Witches" were burned or hanged in Europe up until the middle of the nineteenth century.  And let's not forget what they did to Giordano Bruno and other free thinkers.  Least you think such things are in the past, in Russia, two members of band Pussy Riot were imprisoned for disrespecting the Orthodox Church.

          Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

          by rbird on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:24:27 AM PST

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          •  I think the last one closed was the Temple of Isis (2+ / 0-)
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            rbird, Rashaverak

            at Philea, around AD 650, as far as the Greco-Roman world was concerned. It was closed by Justinian I.

            •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
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              gene s

              Twenty years can cloud the mind.  That's how long it's been since I last studied this material.  I thought it was Eleusis I was thinking of, but it was closed by Theodosius I in 392 (just looked it up).

              Thanks for reminding me of Philae.

              Tell me what to write. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

              by rbird on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:54:50 PM PST

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