Mathematician and Astronomer

Hypatia (370 BC – 415 BC)
Although none of her work has survived, Hypatia is the first woman to have made a significant contribution to the field of mathematics. She wrote commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria, the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, the astronomical canon of Ptolemy and edited other works.

Hypatia was educated in Greece and Italy but lived in Alexandria, Egypt. She followed in the steps of her mathematician father, Theon, and was a teacher, as well as the head of the Platonist school. Her profession was not the only way that Hypatia did not live like other women. Because of her scholarship, she was able to drive her own chariot, meaning she could go where she wanted, when she wanted. Consequently, Hypatia had an active public life in Alexandria and was known and respected by top politicians.

Why then don’t we study her work? Because Hypatia’s life was cut short. In the year 415 BC, an angry mob of Christians who thought she had too much influence over the non-Christian leader of Alexandria, pulled the mathematician out of her chariot and killed her.

Many believe that Hypatia’s murder marked the beginning of the decline of Alexandria as a place of intellectualism and learning. Soon after, the Great Library of Alexandria burned down and significant books were lost, including her works. Today, in film, literature, academia and feminism, Hypatia’s brief life is celebrated. The ancient math whiz even has an asteroid belt and lunar crater named after her.