Hypatia by John Toland


Most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned,
and every way accomplish’d
Was torn to Pieces by the Clergy of Alexandria, to gratify the Pride, Emulation, and Cruelty of their Archbishop, commonly but undeservedly stiled

Magnum aliquid instat, efferum, immane, impium.
Sen. Medea, Act. 3. Scen. 1. lin. 16.

Printed for M. Cooper, in Pater-noster-RowW. Reeve, in Fleet-street; and C. Sympson, in Chancery-lane. 1753. [Price 6d.]




A general Character of the Lady; the Contrivers and Executioners of the Barbarities which she suffered; and the Authorities from whence this Story is extracted.

I am going to give a short Account, but as full as antient Books afford us Materials, of the Life and Death of Hypatia; who will ever continue the Glory of her own Sex, and the Disgrace of ours: For the Women have no less Reason to value themselves, that there existed a Lady of such rare Accomplishments, without the least Blemish, even as a Foil to her numberless Perfections; than the Men to be ashamed, that any could be found among them of so brutal and savage a Disposition, as, far from being struck with Admiration at so much Beauty, Innocence, and Knowledge, to stain their barbarous Hands with her Blood, and their impious Souls with the indelible Character of sacrilegious Murderers. A Bishop, a Patriarch, nay, a Saint, was the Contriver of so horrid a Deed, and his Clergy the Executioners of his implacable Fury. The Authors out of whom I collect my Account (and I omit none that has come to my Knowledge) were either her Contemporaries, or lived near that Age. One of them was her School-fellow, another her Scholar. 4But they who relate the most odious and flagitious Circumstances, are Ecclesiastical Historians; counted orthodox in their own Time, as well as eminently so by most in ours. Nor ought we to forget that several of them were Priests. To every one of them we shall do the Justice that their Sincerity or Prevarication deserves, though little remains to do in this respect; all being agreed about the principal Facts, and some differing only in Points of no great Importance. They are such Things, as, taken either Way, neither serve much to alleviate a very bad Cause, nor to aggravate what cannot be possibly made worse.


Alexandria, famous for Learning and Merchandize, but particularly for a School or Academy, of which Theon, the Father of Hypatia, was Master.

After Alexander the Great had founded Alexandria in Egypt, as the Center of Commerce in the Empire he was projecting, this City soon became a flourishing Mart for Learning as well as for Merchandize. The Fame of the Alexandrian School, and of the Alexandrian Library, reached much further than the Name of Alexander himself; or at least they carried it, whither it could never have reached without their Means. This was the most proper Tribute, that could in Gratitude be paid to the Memory of a Prince so ambitious of Glory: As indeed no private Persons, no more than Potentates, will ever do any thing praise-worthy without the Prospect of a long-lived 5Reputation, the most effectual Spur to laudable and arduous Undertakings. The Succession of the great Men that presided in this School, may be learnt out of the Works of those, who have purposely written on such Subjects. My Design however obliges me here to mention one of them, namely Theon, who governed that Academy with much Applause in the latter part of the fourth Century. He was particularly famous for his extensive Knowledge in Astronomy, as the Catalogues, made of such who excelled in this Science, abundantly shew. But what has contributed to render him more illustrious to all Posterity, is, that he was Father to the incomparable Hypatia; whom, according to the Custom of those Times, or rather prompted by the Encouragement he received from her own promising Genius, he educated not only in all the Qualifications belonging to her Sex; but caused her likewise to be instructed in the most abstruse Sciences, which are reputed the proper Occupation of Men, as requiring too much Labour and Application for the delicate Constitution of Women.


Philosophy not an improper Study for the Female Sex; many of them very eminent for their great Progress in the Sciences; particularly Hypatia, who excelled all the Philosophers of her Time.

That this Notion is a vulgar Prejudice, the vast Number of Ladies, who have in every Age distinguish’d themselves by their Professions 6or Performances in Learning, furnishes an unanswerable Argument. Whole Volumes have been written, containing nothing else but the Lives of such Women, as became eminent in all Kinds of Literature, especially in Philosophy; which, as it is the highest Perfection, so it demands the utmost Effort of human Nature. But leaving those Heroines to the Search of the Curious, I shall confine myself at present to one Object worthy all Admiration; in doing Justice to whom, I may be deemed to write the Panegyric of the whole Sex. We have the unanimous Consent of SynesiusSocrates, and Philostorgius, her Contemporaries; as likewise of DamasciusNicephorus GregorasNicephorus CallistusPhotiusSuidasHesychius Illustris, and others, touching the prodigious Learning and other excellent Accomplishments of Hypatia. What is still a greater Proof of the Fact, no one Person, or through Ignorance or through Envy, has ever as much as insinuated the contrary. Socrates, the Ecclesiastical Historian, an unsuspected Witness, says, That she arrived to such a Pitch of Learning, as very far to exceed all the Philosophers of her time; to which Nicephorus, also an Ecclesiastical Historian, adds, Those of other TimesPhilostorgius affirms, That she was much superior to her Father and Master Theon, in what regards Astronomy. And Suidas, who mentions two Books of her Writing, one on the Astronomical Canon of Diophantus, and another on the Conics of Apollonius, avers, That she not only exceeded her Father in Astronomy: But further, that she understood all the other Parts of Philosophy; a Thing that will be easily credited by those, who shall peruse the Sequel of this Story, wherein nothing is advanced without competent Vouchers.



Hypatia, succeeds in the Government of the Platonic School at Alexandria, for which she was judged Qualified, in Preference to all the Men of Learning at that Time.

And truly were not this Matter so well attested by those Writers we have just nam’d, and by others we shall presently have Occasion to alledge; yet no Body could any longer doubt of it, after being informed by the very same Persons, that Hypatia succeeded in the Government of the Platonic School at Alexandria, the Place of her Birth and Education. This was another-guess Thing, God knows, than taking the Degree of Doctor in any of the Faculties; which one or two Women have not long since done, for which they have been loaded with fulsome Elogies, tho’ producing no Effects suitable to the Titles they have so much ambitioned. But what greater Glory for a Woman, what greater Honour redounding to all Women, than to see a Lady teaching in that Chair, where Ammonius and Hierocles (to Name no more, for ’tis a Mistake in Socrates or his Transcriber to make Plotinus one of them) where so many Professors, I say, uttered the Oracles of Learning, rather as divine Intelligences than mortal Men? What infinite Merit must she have possessed, who could be preferr’d to that conspicuous Station, at a Time when Men of immense Learning abounded both at Alexandria, and in many other Parts of the Roman Empire? Wherefore, the Novelty of the Thing considered, and Hypatia’s Worth being universally acknowledged, ’tis no Wonder that she soon had a crouded Auditory. She explained to her 8Hearers, says Socrates, the several Sciences, that go under the general Name of Philosophy; for which Reason, continues he, there was a Confluence to her from all Parts, of those who made Philosophy their Delight or Study. To the same Purpose speak others; and Suidas adds, that she explained all the Philosophers, that is, all the several Sects, with the particular Tenets of their Founders, which shews an inexpressible Elevation and Capacity, each of these separately being thought a sufficient Province, to exercise the Diligence of any one Man, consummate in Letters.


Hypatia’s School crouded with Scholars of the best Fashion. She is admired for her incomparable Beauty, and the vast Extent of her Learning.

Now, I cannot but here represent to myself with Pleasure, let who will censure me for it, the Flower of all the Youth in EuropeAsia, and Africa, sitting at the Feet of a most beautiful Lady (for such we are assur’d Hypatia was) all greedily swallowing Instruction from her Mouth, and many of ’em Love from her Eyes. How she serv’d one of this last Sort, shall be told in its due Place. It was doubtless a Thing impossible, not to improve under such a Teacher; as one must be equally stupid and insensible, that could not be powerfully affected by a charming Mind in a charming Body. I am sure this Reflection is very agreeable to that Philosophy she peculiarly professed; and accordingly the Alexandrian 9School never flourish’d more. Her Disciples entered into a strict Tye of Intimacy with one another, stiling themselves Companions, or, as in our Colleges Fellows; which was likewise the Custom at Athens, and in other famous Seminaries of Learning. This commonly begot Effects of Benevolence thro’ the whole Course of their Lives, and sometimes Acts of Friendship very extraordinary. Hypatia was by way of Excellence named The Philosopher, altogether as much on Account of her profound Knowledge, as for her public Profession of Teaching. Nor was any Professor ever more admired by the World, or more dear to his own Scholars. Hers were as remarkable as numerous.


An Encomium on Synesius, one of Hypatia’s Scholars; who, tho’ a Heathen, was consecrated a Christian Bishop.

One of these, who has preserved to us the Names of several others, is the celebrated Synesius. He was a Native of Cyrene in Africa, on the Borders of Egypt, a very ancient Greek Colony, the Birth-place of Aristippus and Carneades, which Synesius forgets not to mention in his Writings. He travelled for Improvement to his neighbouring Country of Egypt, the undoubted Mother of the Sciences, where he happily succeeded in his Studies at Alexandria under Hypatia. This Personage alone may suffice for a Specimen, of the extraordinary Spirits that she formed. If we may rely on the Judgement of no less a Man than Nicephorus Gregoras, Patriarch of Constantinople (who wrote 10elaborate Annotations on his Treatise of Dreams, a Piece fraught with uncommon Learning) he says, There was nothing he did not know, no Science wherein he did not excel, no Mistery in which he was not initiated or skilled, with a great deal more to this Purpose. And it must be owned, that to all the Vivacity natural to his Country, there was joined the most profound Knowledge and solid Judgement. His Works are every one highly commended, but his Epistles are admirable, as Suidas very truly remarks, and in the Opinion of Protius, as well as of Evagrius, they are elegant, agreeable, sententious, and learned. He was a Man of noble Birth, which added no less Weight to his Learning then this relieved Lustre on his Quality; as both together procured him Credit with his Superiors, Authority over his Inferiors, and Admiration from his Equals. He went upon an Embassy, which lasted three Years, to the Emperor Arcadius at Constantinople, on the Behalf of his Country; which was miserably harrassed by the auxiliary Goths and other Barbarians, but which received considerable Relief from his Solicitations. It was then that with greater Boldness than any of the Grecians (as he tells us himself) he pronounced before the Emperor, that extremely fine Oration concerning Government; which, in a Country so justly fond of Liberty as ours, I wonder has never been translated. This defect I have supplied, and will impart it to the Public on a proper Occasion. As for Synesius’s being consecrated Bishop of Ptolemais, notwithstanding his Protestation, that he disbelieved some of the most essential Articles of the Christian Religion, we spoke enough to that Point at the latter end of Clidophorus; only we shall observe in this Place, how Petavius, the Editor of his Works, affirms, that, in some of the Books written after 11his Profession of Christianity, he appears as very a Heathen as ever. But this being no Prejudice to his Parts, however it may affect his Salvation, is none of our present Business to examine; much less to adopt the pitiful Excuses, or rather Prevarications, invented by some learned Men to defend him from this Imputation. The principal is Baromius.


Synesius’s Testimony to the Learning and Virtue of Hypatia. Some Account of his Writings and other Works.

The Thing which our Design obliges us not to pass over slightly is, the greatful Testimony he every where bears to the Learning and Virtue of Hypatia, whom he never mentions without the profoundest Respect, and sometimes in Terms of Affection coming little short of Adoration. In a Letter to his Brother EuoptiusSalute (says he) the most honoured and the most beloved of God, the Philosopher; and that happy Sodality or Fellowship, which injoys the Blessing of her divine Voice. In another to his said Brother he mentions one Egyptus, who sucked in the Seeds of Wisdom from Hypatia. And thus he expresses himself writing to OlympiusI suppose these Letters will be delivered by Peter which he will receive from that sacred Hand. I send them from Pentapolis to our common Instructress, and she will intrust them with whom she thinks fit, which I am sure will be to one that is well known to her. In a Letter addressed to herself, he desires her to direct a Hydroscope to be made and 12bought for him, which he there describes. Petavius thinks it was a sort of Level, and others an Hour-Measure. That famous Silver Astrolabe which he presented to Peonius, a Man equally excelling in Philosophy and Arms, he owns to have been perfected by the Directions of Hypatia. In a long Epistle he acquaints her with the Reasons of his writing two Books, which he thereby sends her. The one was his mystical Treatise of Dreams, and the other his Dion. This last is a most ingenious Apology for Learning against two Sorts of Men, who by very opposite Lines tended to the same Center of Ignorance. The one, that under Pretence of being reserved towards unworthy Hearers, concealed their Want of real Knowledge, did accuse him of being two Communicative, and of prostituting Philosophy. The others would have him to be eternally prating like themselves, not that they studied more than others, nor yet so much, to be furnished with Matter of Discourse; but that talking by Rote out of certain Systems, the Truth of which they took for granted, and which no Body must contradict, they could tire the Patience of their Hearers, without making these or themselves a whit the wiser. Both Sorts charged him with studying Elegance and Oratory in his Compositions; for the Divines of that Time were substituting apace to Philosophy and other Learning, Legends and Enthusiasm, Fables and Fancies, which they sanctified by the Name of Divine Contemplation. Metaphysical Distinctions about the Trinity, and extravagant Notions about the Essence of GOD (whose Majesty they blasphemed by their profane Definitions) was all the Study then in Vogue, to the irreparable Damage of polite and useful Letters.



Synesius submits his Book of Dion to the Judgment of Hypatia; his Description of his Censurers.

Of his Dion therefore he begs Hypatia’s Judgment, resolving not to publish it without her Approbation. He informs her moreover, that she’s the first among the Greeks, or rather the Heathens, to whom he communicates his Treatise of Dreams; and that he might complete, he says, the sacred Number Three, he adds to these two his Account of the Astrolabe presented to Peonius. It will not be a Digression altogether foreign to the Subject (as we shall see hereafter) if we insert here part of the fine Description, which he has given of the second Sort of those that censured him; “who being full of Ignorance (says he) yet armed with Confidence, are readier than all other Men to discourse concerning GOD; and if you happen to light upon them, you will strait hear some of their unreasonable Reasonings, which they will needs obtrude, on such as are desirous of no such Matter; because, I suppose, it is for their Interest so to do. For on the Score of such Things they are made Preachers in Towns, which is the same Thing as to enjoy Amalthea’s Horn or Plenty of all Things, which these think themselves obliged to use. I fancy by this Time you perceive, what this forward Generation of Men may be, that blame my generous Purpose. They invite me to come into their Discipline, promising, that in a short Time I shall appear most confident in Things relating to GOD, and ever after be capable to dispute incessantly 14both Night and Day.” I believe this Race of Men is not yet extinct; but another Time they may hear of a certain Speech addressed to them by the same Truth-telling Synesius.


Synesius’s Misfortunes; his Letter of Complaint to Hypatia.

On his Promotion, or, as he accounted it himself, his Banishment to the Bishoprick of Ptolemais, he was forced to quit the Fellowship of his Condisciples, and the Presence of his dear Hypatia. As an Augmentation of his Affliction he soon lost his Wife, with his Children in a little Time after, whom he very tenderly loved, and whose Death he did not bear with the same Fortitude, that is reported of some other Philosophers. On this Occasion, and a fancied Neglect of his Friends, he wrote the following Letter, “To Hypatia the Philosopher (that I may use the very Words of the Inscription.) I salute you, happy Lady, and by your Means the most happy Companions. I have of a long Time had an Intention to chide, by reason I have received no Letters from any of you. But now I perceive that I am neglected by all, not that I have in any Thing failed of my Duty; but that I am in many Respects unfortunate, and indeed as unfortunate as any one can be. Nevertheless, could I be thought worthy of receiving your Letters, and of being informed how you lead your Lives (being confident however it is after the best Manner that may be, and that you fail not to exercise a sprightly Genius) I should only think myself 15unhappy by Halves, while I enjoyed any Happiness on your Account. But now I must reckon this also, as one of the Misfortunes wherein I am involved. For I am not only deprived of my Children, but likewise of my Friends, and of every body’s Kindness; nay, what is more than all, of your most divine Soul, which only Thing I flattered myself would continue stedfast to me, in Spite of the Injuries of Fortune, and the Storms of Fate.” One would think that he could not better express, in so few Lines, the good Opinion he had of his Teacher; yet he’s still more pathetical in other Letters, which, because serving to give us the fuller View of Hypatia’s Character, I shall produce as essential to my Subject.


Synesius’s Grief for the Death of his Children, brings upon him a Fit of Sickness; his Letter of Complaint to Hypatia in his Illness.

Continuing therefore to grieve for the Death of his Children, he fell into an ill State of Health, which he signifies to his Mistress (whom in all his Letters he stiles The Philosopher) and to the beloved Companions of his Studies, in these Words. “Being confined to my Bed I have dictated this Letter, which may you receive in good Health, my Mother, my Sister, and my Instructress! in all which Respects you have been my Benefactress, or if there be any other, either Name or Thing, that is more honourable. The Weakness of my Body proceeds from the Anguish of my Soul. The Remembrance of my deceased Children consumes me by little and little. 16Synesius ought only to have lived so long, as the Evils of Life were unknown to him. Afterwards it has happened to him as to a Stream that is stopt; it rushes over its Dam on a sudden, and forces all the Pleasure of Life before it. Let me cease to live, or to remember the Burial of my Children. May you enjoy Health yourself, and salute in my Name the happy Companions, beginning with Father Theotecnus, and Brother Athanasius, and so proceeding to the rest. Or if any other be since associated to them, who is agreeable to you (and to whom, for this very Reason of pleasing you, I ought to stand obliged) salute him also from me, as one of my dearest Friends. If what relates to me be of any Concern to you, ’tis well done; though, even then, I shall be insensible to this Favour.” What can be more affectionate, what can be more tender, what can be more benevolent or candid? The Soul speaks here in every Line. A while after, the Calamities of War being added to all his other Sorrows, he writes her this Letter, beginning with a couple of Lines out of Homer, changing only a Word or two.

Tho’ ’mong the Dead profound Oblivion reigns,

E’en there my dear Hypatia I’ll remember!

“I, who am surrounded with the Miseries of my Country, and who am thoroughly weary of it, since I daily see hostile Arms, and Men slaughter’d like Beasts; that I breathe Air infected with the Corruption of dead Bodies, and that I hourly expect the like Fate myself; for who can hope well, where the very Face of the Sky is most lamentable, being darkened by the Shadow of carnivorous Birds? Yet, notwithstanding all this, I retain an Affection for the 17Country; nay, how can I do otherwise, being a Lybian by Nation, and born in this Place, where I behold no ignoble Sepulchres of my Ancestors. For your Sake alone I fancy I can set light by my Country, and, as soon as Leisure offers, will banish myself out of it.” In Clidophorus I shew’d the like Resolutions out of some of his Letters to others: but whether he ever executed them, or how long he lived, or where or in what Manner he died, is not recorded by any Author that I remember.


Hypatia is esteemed and caressed by the Publick; is consulted by the Magistrates in all important Cases, and sometimes sat among them.

All this, some will say, we readily grant, that Hypatia was a Lady of most eminent Learning, and that Synesius, with probably not a few of her other Disciples, esteemed her to be a Miracle of Virtue and Prudence; but what did the rest of the World think of her Conduct, what Marks of Approbation or Favour did she receive from the Publick? To this Inquiry, which is very natural in this Place, we answer; that never Woman was more caressed by the Publick, and yet that never Woman had a more unspotted Character. She was held an Oracle for her Wisdom, which made her be consulted by the Magistrates in all important Cases; and this frequently drew her among the greatest Concourse of Men, without the least Censure of her Manners. The Proof of so rare a Felicity we chuse to give in the Words of the 18Historian Socrates. “By reason of the Confidence and Authority (says he) which she had acquired by her Learning, she sometimes came to the Judges with singular Modesty; nor was she any thing abashed, to appear thus among a Croud of Men; for all Persons, on the Score of her extraordinary Discretion, did at the same Time both reverence and admire her.” The same Things are confirmed by Niceforus CallistusSuidasHesychius Illustris, and indeed by whom not? So far was she from that blameable Timidity, which is contracted from a wrong Education; or from that conscious Backwardness, which is inspired by Guilt. That the Governors and Magistrates of Alexandria regularly visited her, that all the City (as Damascius and Suidas relate) paid Court to her, is a Distinction with which no Women was ever honoured before. And to say all in a Word, when Nicephorus Gregoras, above quoted, intended to pass the highest Compliment, on the Princess Eudocia, he thought he could not better hit, than by calling her another Hypatia.


Synesius’s recommendatory Letter to Hypatia, in Behalf of two young Gentlemen, on a Suit depending at Alexandria.

It was during this prosperous Gale of publick Favour, that Hypatia’s devoted Friend Synesius sent her this recommendatory Letter on the Behalf of two young Gentlemen, that had a Claim depending at Alexandria. “Although Fortune cannot take every thing from me, yet she has a mind to strip me of all she can; she that


“Of many Sons, and good, has me bereft.

“But to be ambitious of doing the best Things, and to assist the unjustly Oppressed, is what she shall never take from me; for far be it from me, that she should ever be able to conquer my Mind. Therefore I hate Injustice, since this I may do still; and am also desirous to repress it, but that is one of the Things taken out of my Power, and which I lost before my Children.

“Once the Milesians valiant were.

“Time also was, when I could be useful to my Friends, and when you were wont to call me Others Good; as turning to the Profit of other Men my Interest with Persons in great Authority, whom I made to serve me as so many Hands. Now I am left destitute of all, unless you have any Power; for you, together with Virtue, I reckon a Good, of which none will be able to rob me. But you have, and will always have Power, by reason of the excellent Use you make of your Credit. Wherefore let Niceus and Philolaus, virtuous Youths and Relations, return Masters of their own, thro’ the Care of all who honour you, whether private Men or Magistrates.” Thus, as a necessary Part of her History, I have inserted at Length, all the Letters written to Hypatia by Synesius, except the 15th, whereof I have given the Substance; and the 33d in the Collection of his Letters, which is too short to contain any Instruction; as likewise the 154th, which, being too long, I have abridged above.



Hypatia married, yet said to die a Maid. Isidorus, her Husband, the most eminent Philosopher of his Time.

It would be as great a Prodigy in Nature as Hypatia was herself, if a Lady of such Beauty, Modesty, Wisdom, and Virtue, were not by many eagerly sought in Marriage: And, in Effect, we find that she was actually married to the Philosopher Isidorus, tho’ Suidas says she died a Maid; which is not so irreconcilable a Thing, as People may be apt to imagine on first Thoughts, but, as we shall shew, very likely to be true. This Isidorus succeeded Marinus in the School, and his Life has been written by Damascius, one of Theon’s Scholars, who therefore had all imaginable Opportunities to know whatever regarded Hypatia and Isidorus. His Life was abridged by Photius, but we have it not so perfect as he left it; for besides the extreme Confusion and Incorrectness which appears thro’ the whole, the learned Valesius gave the World Expectations, that he would, one Time or other, publish it twice larger than that we read now in Photius. However, in such as it still is, Damascius bestows such Elogies on Isidorus, as put him almost above Humanity; yet, no way concerning Hypatia, I pass them over in Silence. I frankly confess, that I more than suspect many of the Things he reports as knowing that Damascius was a great Visionary, and, like Philostratus with respect to Apollonius Tyaneus, designed to oppose Isidorus to those Christian Saints, who were celebrated for their miraculous and supernatural Attainments. But this ought not to affect his Credit in Matters of an ordinary Nature, and therefore 21I do not in the least hesitate to believe him, when he positively affirms that Hypatia was Wife to Isidorus.


In what Sense it might be said, that tho’ Hypatia was married, yet she died a Maid.

Suidas likewise makes her the Wife of the same Isidorus, tho’ he be the very Man who tells us she died a Virgin. That Matter, considering the great Uncertainty in which we are left by the meditated Destruction or casual Decay of authentick Writers, I conceive to stand thus. Damascius says, that Isidorus had another Wife, whose Name was Domna, by which he had a Son call’d Proclus. She died the fifth Day after her Delivery, and, according to his Panegyrist, she rid the Philosopher of an evil Beast and a bitter Wedlock. Now supposing this to happen some Time before the tragical End of Hypatia, and that the latter was betrothed to Isidorus, it might very well be said that she was his Wife, and yet that she died a Maid. The Author of an Epigram, that was made upon her, seems to have been of the same Opinion.

The Virgin’s starry Sign when e’er I see,

Adoring, on thy Words I think and thee:

For all thy vertuous Works celestial are,

As are thy learned Words beyond compare,

Divine Hypatia, who dost far and near

Virtue’s and Learning’s spotless Star appear.

The Allusion, I say, to the Constellation Virgo, and the Epithet of Spotless, would induce me to believe that the Writer reckoned her a Virgin as well as Suidas; but I shall conclude nothing from 22so slender a Conjecture, besides that her Character is no way concerned in this Particular, tho’ as a Historian I would omit nothing that might illustrate my Subject. For this Reason it is, that I cannot pass over uncensured a Reflection of Damascius, who gravely says, that Isidorus was far superior to Hypatia, not only as a Man to a Woman, but as a Philosopher to a Geometrician. Good and egregious Reasoning! as if her Skill in Geometry or Astronomy, had been any Hindrance to her Improvement in every Part of Philosophy, wherein she is by so many confessed to surpass those of her own, if not of former Time; or as if we in England, for Example, did reckon King James superior to Queen Elizabeth; because the first, forsooth, was a Man, and the last a Woman. But I observed before that Damascius was a sad Visionary.


Hypatia’s Lovers, one of whom she cured of his Passion, in a very particular Manner.

A Lady of such uncommon Merit and Accomplishments as Hypatia, daily surround with a Circle of young Gentelmen, many of them distinguished by their Fortune or Quality; besides her frequently appearing in publick Assemblies, and receiving Visits from Persons of the first Rank, could not possibly fail being sometimes importuned with Addresses of Gallantry. Such Attempts the severest Virtue cannot avoid, tho’ it can deny Incouragement, and make Success to be despaired. How many Trials of this kind Hypatia may have overcome, we are left to imagine rather than to know, thro’ the Silence of Historians, who either thought it below their Gravity to record such Things, or 23that the Works of those who descended to Particulars are lost. One Instance however has escaped the common Wreck of good Books; nor can I doubt but several others might be contained in the Life of Isidorus, out of which there is Reason to believe, that Suidas picked what I am going to relate. He acquaints us therefore, that one of her own Scholars made warm Love to her, whom she endeavoured to cure of his Passion by the precepts of Philosophy; and that some reported she actually reclaimed him by Musick, which he judiciously explodes; Musick having ever been deemed rather an Incentive to Love, than an Antidote against it. But he says, with much greater Probability, that the Spark vehemently soliciting her (not to be sure without pleading the irresistible Power of her Beauty) at a Time when she happened to be under an Indisposition ordinary to her Sex; she took a Handkerchief, of which she had been making some Use on that Occasion, and throwing it in his Face, said; This is what you love, young Fool, and not any Thing that is beautiful. For the Platonic Philosophers held Goodness, Wisdom, Virtue, and such other Things, as by Reason of their intrinsick Worth are desirable for their own Sakes, to be the only real Beauties, of whose divine Symmetry, Charms, and Perfection, the most superlative that appear in Bodies are but faint Resemblances. This is the right Notion of Platonic Love. Wherefore Hypatia’s Procedure might very well put a Student of Philosophy at Alexandria to the Blush, and quite cure him too (which Suidas assures us was the Effect) but would never rebute a Beau in St. James’s Park, nor perhaps some Batchelors of Divinity at our modern Universities.



The close Intimacy between Hypatia and Orestes the Governor of Alexandria, very displeasing to Cyril the Bishop.

At the Time that Hypatia thus reigned the brightest Ornament of AlexandriaOrestes was Governor of the same Place for the Emperor Theodosius, and Cyril Bishop or Patriarch. As Orestes was a Person educated suitable to his Rank, he could not but take Notice of those Perfections in Hypatia, which all the World admired; and, as he was a wise Governor, he would not be so far wanting to his Charge, as not to ask her Advice in Matters difficult or dangerous, when every Body else consulted her as an Oracle. This created of Course an Intimacy between them that was highly displeasing to Cyril, who mortally hated Orestes. But because this Emulation proved fatal to Hypatia, I shall take the Subject a little higher. ’Tis observed by SocratesNicephorus, and others, that Cyril (who was elevated to the See by Sedition and Force against one Timothy an Archdeacon of no extraordinary Reputation), intermeddled more in temporal or civil Matters, than his Predecessors took upon them to do, and that the Example was greedily followed by his Successors; who not keeping within the Bounds of their Priestly Ordination, took upon them an arbitrary kind of Principality, and the absolute Disposal of Affairs. The first Act of Authority that Cyril exercised was, to shut up the Churches of the Novatians, from which Step he proceeded to seize upon their sacred Vessels and Church-Ornaments, till at length he robbed their Bishop Theopemptus of all he had. Yet these Novatians 25profess’d the same Doctrine to a Tittle that he did, and differed only in some Points of Discipline. But they must be mere Novices in Ecclesiastical History, who know not that Discipline has been ever reckoned of greater Consequence than Doctrine; if one may judge by the Commotions that have happened in Churches, or the Durations of their Schisms. The Reason is obvious. For if a Man believes otherwise than his Teacher, and yet prudentially conforms to the publick Ritual and Discipline, or perhaps eagerly stickles for it, as thinking it the most conducing to Order, be his Speculations what you will, still he preserves the Unity of the Church; or, in other Words, he obeys his Spiritual Governors, and teaches others by his Example to do the like; whereas if his belief be ever so right, or at least ever so agreeable to that prescribed in the Society whereof he is a Member; yet if he boggles at any Part of the publick Ritual and Discipline, he then promotes a Spiritual Rebellion, and rends the Unity of the Church; that is, he weakens the Government of the Clergy. These were the Maxims of those Times, and hence it sprung, that Schism is counted so damnable a Sin in their Writings, a Sin more dreadful than any other, that it may the better serve for a Scare-crow.



Cyril expels the Jews out of AlexandriaOrestes complains to the Emperor; Cyril and Orestes become irreconcileable Enemies.

One main Reason why Cyril could not bear the Governor, as we are told by Socrates, was, that Orestes hated the Principality of the Bishops; as well because they transferred to themselves much of the Power belonging to those appointed Governors, by the Emperor; as, in particular, because Cyril would needs be prying into his Actions. Their Enmity became sufficiently known to the Publick, by a Sedition raised against Orestes, occasioned by one Hierax a pitiful School-Master, but a profest Admirer of the Bishop, and a most diligent Attendant at his Sermons, where he was sure to clap and reclap, according to the rare Custom of those Times. The Jews spying him in the Theatre, while the Governor was there on some publick Business, cryed out, that he came purposely thither to cause Mischief; and the Uproar, whereof the Particulars may be read in the just quoted Socrates, terminated in this, that Cyril expelled all the Jews out of the City, where they had liv’d in great Opulence from the Time of Alexander the Great, to the no small Benefit of the Place. Were I not accustomed to read monstrous Lies of this unfortunate Nation, especially that thread-bare Fiction of crucifying a Child (objected to them here as a thousand Times afterwards) I should think them very rightly served. But even in that Case, who can justify Cyril’s licensing the Multitude to seize on their Goods? And yet why do I ask such a Question; when this has ever been the true Motive 27of the Barbarities to which they have been exposed, tho’ Zeal for Religion has been as shamelessly as wickedly pretended. Orestes, as became a good Governor, being grievously concerned at what had happened (to speak in the Words of the Historian) and sadly afflicted, that so great a City should be so suddenly emptied of such a Multitude of Inhabitants, gave the Emperor an Account of the whole Matter. We might be certain, were we not expressly told it, that Cyril was not behind Hand on his Part. Yet conscious of his Guilt, as every Reader may collect, he would fain make up with Orestes, and conjured him by the holy Gospels to be Friends; being constrained to this, as Nicephorus observes, by the People of Alexandria, who loved their Governor. But this last knew him too well to trust him, upon which their Difference became irreconcileable. You may therefore expect to hear of Vengeance from the Priest, whom the same Nicephorus represents proud, seditious, a Boutefeu, a Persecutor: while the Emperor might thank himself for the Disorders that desolated one of his principal Cities; for where was it ever otherwise, when the Clergy were permitted to share in the Government of civil Affairs.


Orestes the Governor, assaulted by the Monks; their Captain racked to Death, but esteemed as a Martyr by Cyril.

Now the Revenge which Cyril took of Orestes, being the Prelude to poor Hypatia’s Tragedy, I chuse to relate it, as I have done other Passages, 28in the Words of honest SocratesCertain of the Monks (says he) living in the Nitrian Mountains, leaving their Monasteries to the Number of about Five Hundred, flocked to the City, and spied the Governor going Abroad in his Chariot; whereupon approaching, they called him by the Names of Sacrificer and Heathen, using many other scandalous Words. The Governor therefore suspecting, that this was a Trick plaid him by Cyril, cryed out, that he was a Christian, and that he was baptized at Constantinople by Bishop Atticus. But the Monks, giving no Heed to what he said, one of them, called Ammonius, threw a Stone at Orestes, which struck him on the Head; and being all covered with Blood from his Wound, his Guards, a few excepted, fled some one Way some another, hiding themselves in the Croud, lest they should be stoned to Death. In the mean while the People of Alexandria ran to defend their Governor against the Monks, and, putting all the rest to Flight, they apprehend Ammonius, and brought him before Orestes; who, as the Laws prescribed, publickly put him to the Torture, and racked him till he expired. Not long after he gave an Account of all that was done to the Princes. Nor did Cyril fail to give them a contrary Information. He received the Body of Ammonius, and, laying it in one of the Churches, he changed his Name, calling him Thaumasius, and ordered him to be considered as a Martyr; nay, he made his Panegyrick in the Church, extolling his Courage, as one that had contended for the Truth. But the wiser Sort of the Christians themselves did not approve the Zeal, which Cyril showed on this Man’s Behalf; being convinced that Ammonius had justly suffered for his desperate Attempt, but was not forced to deny Christ, in his Torments. This Account requires no Commentary. I shall only observe with a Heathen Philosopher, that at that Time the Monks (the fittest 29Executioners of Cyril’s Cruelty) were Men indeed as to their Form, but Swine in their Lives; who openly committed Thousands of execrable Crimes, not fit to be named. Whoever, says he, got on a black Habit, and would make a Grotesque Figure in Publick, obtained a tyrannical Authority; to such a Reputation of Virtue did that Race of Men arrive. This Picture, tho’ drawn by an Enemy’s Hand, is allowed by all good Judges to be done to the Life; and we shall presently have Reason, more than sufficient, to be of the same Opinion.


Hypatia’s tragical Death, perpetrated by Cyril’s Clergy, who hated her for Intimacy with Orestes.

But Cyril’s Rage was not yet satiated. Tho’ Orestes had the good Luck to escape being murdered, Hypatia must fall a Sacrifice to the Prelate’s Pride and to the Ghost of Ammonius. This Lady, as we mentioned above, was profoundly respected by Orestes, who much frequented and consulted her; for which Reason, says Socrates, she was not a little traduced among the Mob of the Christian Church; as if she obstructed a Reconciliation between Bishop Cyril and Orestes. Wherefore certain hot-brained Men, headed by one Peter a Lecturer, entered into a Conspiracy against her, and watching their Opportunity when she was returning Home from some Place, they dragged her out of her Chair; hurried her to the Church called Cesar’s, and stripping her stark naked, they killed her with Tiles. Then they tore her to Pieces, and carrying her Limbs to a 30Place called Cinaron, there they burnt them to Ashes. Nothing short of this Treatment, not to be parallelled among the most savage Nations against Woman (and against a Woman of such Distinction scarce credible, did not two or more of her Contempories attest it) nothing, I say, but the Blood of Hypatia, shed in the most inhuman Manner, could glut the Fury of Cyril’s Clergy, for these were the Monsters, that putting off all Humanity, committed this barbarous Murder. Socrates, ’tis true, distinctly Names but one Clergyman, Peter the Lecturer; but Nicephorus expressly tells us, that the Zealots, led on by this Peter, were Cyril’s Clergy, who hated her for the Credit she had with Orestes; that they were these, who imputed to her the Misunderstanding between the Governor and their Bishop; and finally, that they butchered her the Time of solemn Fasting; which, added to their sanctifying of their Villany by perpetrating it in a Church, shews the glorious State of Religion in those pure and primitive Times; as some, no less hypocritically than falsely, are pleased to stile them. The Citizens of Alexandria, on whom certain Persons would fain lay this Act of popular Heat, as they speak by way of Extenuation, were too great Admirers of Hypatia’s Virtue, and too much in the Interest of Orestes, to have any Hand in so foul a Business, however prone to Tumults. All the Circumstances accompanying the Fact, clearly prove this; not to repeat the Assault so lately made by the Nitrian Monks on the Governor, whom the People rescued; tho’ I will not answer for all the Mob, especially when the Clergy loo’d them on.



Cyril the main Instigator of Hypatia’s Murder, being envious of the Fame she had acquired by her Learning and Philosophy.

Be it so that the Clergy of Alexandria were the Murderers (some may say) and that their Affection for Cyril transported them beyond what can be justified; how does it appear that he himself had any Hand in this black Deed, which perhaps he neither knew nor could prevent? For the Sake of our common Humanity (since true Christiany is not at all concerned) I wish it were so; but there is such Evidence as will not let any Man, if not wilfully shutting his Eyes against Truth, to believe it. Damascius, who is the other contemporary Witness of her Murder, I meant besides Socrates, positively affirms, that “Cyril vow’d Hypatia’s Destruction, whom he bitterly envied;” and Suidas, who writes the same Thing, says, that this Envy was caused by her extraordinary Wisdom and Skill in Astronomy; as Hesychius, when he mentions her Limbs being carried all over the City in Triumph, writes, that this befel her on the Score of her extraordinary Wisdom, and especially her Skill in Astronomy. For Cyril was a mighty Pretender to Letters, and one of those Clergymen who will neither acknowledge nor bear the Superiority of any Laymen in this Respect, be it ever so incontestable to others. But some Circumstances of Hypatia’s Death, not mention’d in Socrates, are preserved in the Abridgment of Isidorus’s Life in Photius, such as Valesius had it; and which I here give you, Reader, though it should cost you the Tribute of one Tear more to her Memory. “Upon 32a Time (says DamasciusCyril, passing by the House of Hypatia, saw a great Multitude before the Door both of Men on Foot and on Horseback; whereof some were coming, some going, and others staid. When he inquir’d what that Croud was, and what occasioned so great a Concourse? he was answered by such as accompanied him, that this was Hypatia the Philosopher’s House, and that these came to pay their Respects to her. Which when Cyril understood, he was moved with so great Envy, that he immediately vow’d her Destruction, which he accomplish’d in the most detestable Manner. For when Hypatia, as was her Custom, went abroad, several Men, neither fearing divine Vengeance nor human Punishment, suddenly rush’d upon her and kill’d her: Thus laying their Country both under the highest Infamy, and under the Guilt of innocent Blood. And indeed the Emperor was grievously offended at this Matter, and the Murderers had been certainly punished, but that Edefius did corrupt the Emperor’s Friends; so that his Majesty it’s true remitted the Punishment, but drew Vengeance on himself and his Posterity, his Nephew paying dear for this Action.” This Nephew Valetius believes to have been Valentinian, whose Mother Placidia was Aunt to Theodosius.



The Death of Hypatia brought an Infamy on Cyril and the Christian Church: She was no Catholick, but a Heathen.

Thus ended the Life of Hypatia, whose Memory will ever last, and whose Murder happen’d in the fourth Year of Cyril’s Episcopate, Honorius being the tenth Time and Theodosius the sixth Time Consuls, in the Month of March, in the Time of Lent, and in the Year 415. “That Action (says Socrates) brought no small Infamy not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Church of Alexandria; for Slaughters, and Fightings, and such like Things, are quite foreign to the Christian Institution.” There’s nothing surer, there’s nothing truer; but of genuine Christianity there remain’d very little at that Time, unless Christianity be made to consist in the bare Name and Profession; for, were I disposed to take this Trouble upon me, I should think it no difficult Task to shew, that neither the Doctrines nor Distinctions then in Vogue were ever taught by Christ or his Apostles; and that the Ceremonies injoined or practised were all utterly unknown to them. No, no, they were no Christians that kill’d Hypatia; nor are any Christian Clergymen now to be attack’d through the Sides of her Murderers, but those that resemble them; by substituting precarious Traditions, scholastick Fictions, and an usurped Dominion, to the salutiferous Institution of the holy JesusPhotius is very angry with Philostorgius, whom he stigmatizes as an impious Man, for saying that the Homoousians, or the Athanasian Trinitarians, tore her to Pieces; but 34is he not an impudent Man, or something worse, that dares to deny this? when none were more remarkable Sticklers for the Homoousian, than Cyril and his Adherents. This only the Truth of History requires to be specially noted; for with me the Homoiousion and the Homoousion are of no Account, in Comparison of the Bible, where neither of them are to be found. In the mean Time ’twill not be amiss to hear Gothofred on this Occasion. “Observe here (says he) the Arian Poison of Philostorgius against the Homoousians, or Catholicks; as if the Murder of Hypatia were the Crime of the Catholicks, and not of the indiscrete Populace. Thus much however may be gathered from this Passage, that this same Hypatia was no Catholick.” Admirable Gothofred! Not to say any thing to your Arian Poison, for which I am not a whit concern’d neither of the People’s Guilt, whom I have sufficiently clear’d before; nor yet of the nice Distinction between the Populace and the Catholicks, as if the Bulk of the Catholicks were not the Populace: Your Conclusion that Hypatia was not a Catholick is unspeakably acute, when in Reality she was not as much as a Christian; her Father having been a Heathen Philosopher, and herself the Wife of one, without the least Appearance that she was ever any other with regard to her own Persuasion. As for a ridiculous Letter, pretended to be written by her to Cyril, about the Paschal Cycle, ’tis a manifest Forgery; for she was murdered the sixth Year of Theodosius, and therefore one and twenty Years before the Exile of Nestorius, who yet is mention’d in that Letter under the Epithet of impious.



The making Cyril a Saint a Dishonour to Religion. Three Sorts of Persons canonized for Saints.

And now that Cyril’s Name puts me once more in mind of him, how insufferable a burlesquing of God and Man is it to revere so ambitious, so turbulent, so perfidious, and so cruel a Man, as a Saint? since History shows that this was his just Character. But in good Earnest this same Title of Saint has not seldom been most wretchedly conferred; for the greatest Part of the Saints after Constantine’s Reign, and especially since Canonization came in Fashion, are made up of three Sorts of Persons, the least of all others meriting Veneration. First, Men have been dubbed Saints, for promoting the Grandeur of the Church by all their Endeavours, especially by their Writings; which, instead of employing for the Happiness or Instruction of their Fellow Citizens, they prostituted to magnify spiritual Authority, to the debasing and enslaving of their Spirits. The second Sort that have been honoured with Saintship, were Princes and other powerful or rich Men, however vicious or tyrannical, who gave large Possessions and Legacies to the Church; or that with Incapacity, Faggot, Gibbet, Sword, and Proscription, chastised the Temerity of such as dared to question her Decrees. The third Sort, were poor groveling Visionaries, boasting of their delirious Enthusiasms and Extasies; or imposing on the ignorant by formal Mortifications, falsely reputed Devotion, and were recompensed with this imaginary Reward, by those that despised their 36Austerity, at the same Time that they mainly thrived by the Credit of it. It is no Wonder then, that when the Epithet Saint, which peculiarly belonged to Piety and Innocence, was thus pompously bestowed on Vice and Impiety, there should prevail that Deluge of Ignorance, Superstition, and Tyranny, which overwhelmed almost the whole Christian World. All the Persecutions that ensued, were so many forcible Means, employed to suppress any Efforts that might be used for the restoring of Virtue and Learning. By that Antichristian Spirit fell Hypatia, to whom the Clergy of her Time could never forgive, that she was beautiful yet chaste, far more learned than themselves, not to be endured in the Laity; and in greater Credit with the civil Magistrate, whom the Clergy of that Time would needs drive or lead as their Pack-ass.


Transcriber’s Notes

  • Silently corrected a few typos; did not modernize spelling.
  • Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook is public-domain in the country of publication.
  • In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by _underscores_.