* Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Deuteronomy 12:2-3
* I want to tell the story of Hypatia of Alexandria
* They were known as the ‘parabalani’ – ‘the reckless ones’.
* At first, the name had been a compliment.
* In Alexandria, city founded by Alexander the Great himself, built by Alexander’s general Ptolemy, and his son Ptolemy II, 700 years old in the 400s CE.
* At the crossroads of busy trading routes.
* Someone needed to carry away the bodies of the sick and the weak.
* From 249 to 262, the Roman Empire had endured the Plague of Cyprian.
* It erupted in Ethiopia around Easter of 250 CE.
* St. Cyprian (200-258 CE), bishop of Carthage, remarked that it appeared as if the world was at an end.
* We know if mostly through his first-hand account:
“This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith. What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! what sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!”
* Sufferers experienced bouts of diarrhea, continuous vomiting, fever, deafness, blindness, paralysis of their legs and feet, swollen throats and blood filled their eyes (conjunctival bleeding) while staining their mouths.
* More often than not, death resulted.
* The pagans interpreted it as a punishment from the gods.
* Modern theories are that it was either smallpox, measles or ebola.
* It lasted nearly 20 years and, at its height, reportedly killed as many as 5,000 people per day in Rome.
* It killed millions, seriously decimated the Roman army, and had people fleeing from the countryside to the cities, bringing multiple problems, farming, city infrastructure, etc.
* It coincided with the rise of Decius (deshus) as the emperor.
* He introduced an edict which required every citizen of the empire to make a sacrifice in the presence of a magistrate.
* Which of course the Christians refused to do.
* Which lead to the first persecution of the Christians, the so-called Decian persecution.
* And the plague was blamed on the Christians.
* The gods were angry.
* Anyway, back to the parabalani.
* They were members of a Christian brotherhood who voluntarily undertook the care of the sick and the burial of the dead.
* They knew they could die, catching the plague from the bodies they touched, but they did it anyway.
* They came from the bottom of society: they were not wealthy, or educated, or even literate, but they had muscle, they had faith – and they had strength in numbers.
* By the beginning of the fifth century there were an estimated 800 members of the parabalani in Alexandria alone
* an army of young men, devoted to the service of God
* Or actually to the service of the bishops.
* in cities across the empire at this time, powerful clerics were beginning to marshal huge followings of young men; strong believers, in both senses of the word.
* In the fourth and fifth centuries, bishops controlled de facto militaries of the faithful – and they were not afraid to use them.
* When Catholic Christianity became the only legal religion in Rome, these bishops felt it was their duty to use their young army – or the Jesus Youth – to destroy the pagans and the heretics.
* ‘Terror’ is the word used in Roman legal documents about them.
* One spring day in AD 415, the parabalani would go much further than merely threatening violence.
* On that day, they committed one of the most infamous murders in early Christianity.
* Hypatia of Alexandria was a Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician.
* She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.
* And the first female mathematician whose life is reasonably well recorded.
* It’s said she was the greatest mathematician of her generation.
* She was said to be very beautiful but devoted to the life of the mind rather than of the flesh and remained a virgin.
* Any man bold enough to attempt to sway her from this resolve met with a bracing response.
* It is said that one of her students fell in love with her and, ‘not being able to control his passion’, confessed his feelings.
* Hypatia responded briskly. ‘She brought some of her sanitary towels and threw them before him, and said, “You love this, young man, and there is nothing beautiful about it.”’
* By the early fifth century AD, Hypatia had become something of a local celebrity in Alexandria.
* Her father, Theon of Alexandria, was also a famous mathematician who wrote commentaries on works by Euclid and Ptolemy.
* Theon’s edition of the Elements was the only known version until an older copy was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1808.
* And it turns out his edition was better than the original.
* He improved on Euclid’s work.
* So Hypatia was friends with Orestes, the Praefectus augustalis of the Diocese of Egypt.
* Basically the governor of Alexandria.
* Orestes was a Christian.
* Hypatia was a pagan, but she didn’t discriminate.
* People of all faiths crowded in to hear her lecture and flocked to her house to hear her speak.
* She had devotees gathered round her at all times.
* A bit like us.
* In the spring of the year 415, relations between Christians and non-Christians in Alexandria were tense.
* The city had a new bishop, Cyril.
* After the zealot Theophilus, the bishop who urged his followers to destroy the temple of Serapis in 392, many Alexandrians must have hoped that their next cleric would be more conciliatory.
* He was not.
* He was Theophilus’s nephew.
* And, true to family form, he was a thug.
* Cyril had not been in power long before he showed himself to be, if anything, more vicious than his uncle.
* Even Christians had reservations about this brutal and ambitious man: he was, as one council of bishops put it, ‘a monster, born and educated for the destruction of the Church’.
* And within a few years of his coming to power his violence had begun.
* The Jews were among the first to suffer.
* The population of Jews in Alexandria was large and had a long history.
* Tradition has it that Ptolemy II freed 100,000 Jewish prisoners of war in order to get the Jewish elders to loan him 70 translators who produced the Septuagint.
* But those days were long gone.
* According to the sermons being preached by a new generation of intolerant Christian clerics, the Jews were not a people with an ancient wisdom to be learnt from: they were instead, like the pagans, the hated enemies of the Church.
* Despite the fact that Christianity started off as a Jewish faction.
* A few years earlier, the preacher John Chrysostom had said that: ‘the synagogue is not only a brothel… it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts… a dwelling of demons… a place of idolatry’.
* St Chrysostom’s writings would later be reprinted with enthusiasm in Nazi Germany.
* A Christian attempt to regulate the dancing and theatrical displays – apparently much enjoyed by the city’s Jewish population – started a complicated chain of reprisals that climaxed in a Jewish attack on some Christians.
* Some were killed in the attack – and Cyril was provided with the pretext he needed.
* Mustering together a mob of the parabalani, as well as some of the merely brutal and enthusiastic, Cyril set out.
* He ‘marched in wrath to the synagogues of the Jews and took possession of them, and purified them and converted them into churches’.
* ‘Purified’ in such texts is often a euphemism for stole, self-righteously.
* The Christians then completed their work by purifying the Jewish ‘assassins’ of their possessions: stripping them of all they owned, including their homes, they turned them out of the city into the desert.
* Orestes looked on in horror.
* He was an educated man, and one who – much like his good friend Hypatia – refused to live his own life along sectarian lines, despite the increasingly hysterical atmosphere of the time.
* Ostensibly the most powerful man in the city, he was nonetheless unable to stop this uprising: a mere governor’s retinue was no match for 800 marauding, muscular parabalani.
* Moreover, Orestes knew well how determined Cyril could be: the bishop had previously tried to set his spies on Orestes, ordering them to follow the governor as he went about his business around the city – and presumably as he called on Hypatia, too.
* Surrounded by informers, powerless to retaliate, Orestes took the only action he could in the face of Cyril’s aggression: he wrote to the emperor to complain about it.
* Cyril, in turn, went to see Orestes.
* If Orestes had expected an apology from this belligerent man, he was to be disappointed.
* What he received instead was piety.
* When he approached the governor, Cyril held out a copy of the Gospels towards him, ‘believing’ – or so the chronicle says – ‘that respect for religion would induce him to lay aside his resentment’.
* It was an infuriatingly ostentatious act and, unsurprisingly, did little to end the quarrel.
* The atmosphere in the city darkened; the numbers of Cyril’s militia swelled.
* Around five hundred monks descended from their shacks and caves in the nearby hills, determined to fight for their bishop.
* Unwashed, uneducated, unbending in their faith, they were, as even the Christian writer Socrates admits, men of ‘a very fiery disposition’.
* One day, as Orestes rode in his chariot through the city, these monks in their dark and foul-smelling robes suddenly surrounded him.
* They began to insult him, accusing him of being a ‘pagan idolater’.
* He protested that, on the contrary, he was a baptized Christian.
* It made no difference.
* One of the monks threw a rock and it struck Orestes on his head.
* The wound started pouring with blood.
* Most of his guards, seeing what they were up against, scattered, plunging into the crowd to get away from the monks.
* Orestes was left almost entirely alone, his robes covered in blood.
* Some locals helped him escape.
* Rather than be cowed by the violence, his next act was to capture then torture to death the monk who had hurled the rock.
* He was supported by many of the aristocracy of the city – including Hypatia.
* Then rumours started to flow that it was all her fault.
* Hypatia was not a philosopher: she was a creature of Hell.
* It was she who was turning the entire city against God with her trickery and her spells.
* She was ‘atheizing’ Alexandria.
* One day in March AD 415, Hypatia set out from her home to go for her daily ride through the city.
* Suddenly, she found her way blocked by a ‘multitude of believers in God’.
* They ordered her to get down from her chariot.
* Knowing what had recently happened to her friend Orestes, she must have realized as she climbed down that her situation was a serious one.
* As soon as she stood on the street, the parabalani, under the guidance of a Church magistrate called Peter – ‘a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ’ – surged round and seized ‘the pagan woman’.
* They then dragged Alexandria’s greatest living mathematician through the streets to a church.
* Once inside, they ripped the clothes from her body then, using broken pieces of pottery and oyster shells as blades, flayed her skin from her flesh.
* Some say that, while she still gasped for breath, they gouged out her eyes.
* Once she was dead, they tore her body into pieces and threw what was left of the ‘luminous child of reason’ onto a pyre and burned her.
* Hypatia’s death sent shockwaves throughout the empire; for centuries, philosophers had been seen as effectively untouchable during the displays of public violence that sometimes occurred in Roman cities and the murder of a female philosopher at the hand of a mob was seen as “profoundly dangerous and destabilizing”.
* It was indeed a crucial moment in the conflict between traditional pagan thought and Christianity.
* The fate of Hypatia has been seen as the symbolic end of the era of Greek mathematics.
* It was particularly tragic as Hypatia had welcomed both Christians and pagans to her school and after her death many of her pagan students left for Athens to study there.
* Although no concrete evidence was ever discovered definitively linking Cyril to the murder of Hypatia, it was widely believed that he had ordered it.
* Even if Cyril had not directly ordered the murder himself, it was self-evident that his smear campaign against Hypatia had inspired it.
* The Alexandrian council was alarmed at Cyril’s conduct and sent an embassy to Constantinople.
* Theodosius II’s advisors launched an investigation to determine Cyril’s role in the murder.
* The investigation resulted in the parabalani being removed from Cyril’s power and instead placed under the authority of Orestes.
* Cyril himself allegedly only managed to escape even more serious punishment by bribing one of Theodosius II’s officials.
* Watts argues that Hypatia’s murder was the turning point in Cyril’s fight to gain political control of Alexandria.
* Hypatia had been the lynchpin holding Orestes’s opposition against Cyril together and, without her, the opposition quickly collapsed.
* Two years later, Cyril overturned the law placing the parabalani under Orestes’s control and, by the early 420s, Cyril had come to dominate the Alexandrian council.