Tonight we tell the story of Hypatia of Alexandria.

This is the Playlet we present preceding our Ritual honoring 
Hypatia of Alerxandria.

MN: By the end of the 4th century A.D., the Roman Empire was on the
verge of collapse. Yet Alexandria, in the Province of Egypt, still
retained much of its splendor. It boasted one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world, the legendary lighthouse, as well as the
greatest library on Earth. The mother library having been destroyed
400 years ago during the conquest by Julius Caesar. 

Hypatia was a Pagan philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician
teaching in Alexandria at the great library.

(Hypatia steps forward carrying a scroll, looks around at the
audience, and reacts to the narrator's description.)

FN: So why honor Hypatia at Samhain? Well, she was called a witch.
She died the death of a Witch. She is a long time dead. Hypatia
studied with her father, Theon, and with many others including
Plutarch the Younger. She herself taught at the Neoplatonist school
of philosophy. She became its salaried director. In her time, the
Roman Empire was converting to Christianity and the Christian
Patriarch Cyril was plotting her downfall.

MN: This was a time before machines when slavery was accepted as
the normal way to get tasks done. No one wanted to be a slave, and
slavery had nothing to do with race, but everyone accepted slavery
as a fact of life.

(The slave Davus steps forward. Hypatia hands him the scroll to

MN: The rocket science of the day was the study the movements in
the heavens. Now, we do black holes and quasars. In Alexandria, the
quest was to figure out the mathematics behind the wanderings of
the planets:  Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.... They did
not cross the sky like the Sun or the Moon. There was believed to
be an order to this perfect universe. The challenge was to discover
the why behind these exceptions of the wanderers.

FN: Hypatia: [Looking up at night sky] "If I could just unravel
this just a little bit more, and just get a little closer to the
answer, then... Then I would go to my grave a happy woman."

(Slave puts down scroll on side table and picks up four queue

MN: The circle was considered the most perfect of shapes. Six
hundred years before, the mathematician Apollonius of Perga, had
described the circle as one of a family of curves which can be
created by slicing a cone from different angles. By slicing the
Apollonian Cone one could produce a Circle -- Ellipse -- Parabola -
- or a Hyperbola.

(Hypatia gestures around a large cone. Davus holds up posters of
the four shapes, one at a time.)
MN: Who remembers their high school geometry class?

FN: Hypatia: "Why does the circle coexist with such impure shapes?"

MN: This was an idealism that blinded philosophers to what was
going on around them.

FN: The library was not just a place for storing scrolls. It was
more like a university of today and a cultural symbol. And
knowledge is power.

MN: The invention of writing meant that knowledge could expand
beyond only than what one mind could remember. There was great
respect for the scholars of past generations. The library was the
storehouse of this knowledge. Hypatia's students, or shall we say
disciples, were the rising elite of the community, both Pagan and

(Students slide in.)

FN: Hypatia: "Reserve your right to think, for even to think
wrongly is better than not to think at all."

MN: Under the laws of the times, in marriage Hypatia would have
become subject to a man. With no freedom to teach, or even to speak
her mind, she, the most brilliant philosopher in Alexandria, would
have to give up her science? No, that would be death to her.

MN: Hypatia's students were in awe of her. When one of them gave
her a gift and asked her to marry him, 

(Student kneels and makes gesture of offering.)

she publicly gave him the gift of a handkerchief:

(Hypatia pulls a handkerchief from her garment.)

FN: Hypatia: "This is for you. It is the blood of my cycle. You say
that you have found harmony in me. Well, I am suggesting that you
look elsewhere because I think that there is little harmony or
beauty in that."

MN: The library was not only a cultural symbol, but also a
religious one, a place where Pagans worshipped Serapes, a Greco-
Egyptian god, invented 700 years before on the orders of Ptolemy,
the first Greek ruler of Egypt. He did this to unify the Greeks and
Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in
appearance, but with Egyptian trappings signifying both abundance
and resurrection. During this Roman period, Serapes continued to
increase in popularity, often replacing Osiris as the consort of
Isis in non-Egyptian temples.

FN: By the time of our story, the city's long-established Pagan
cult was challenged by the Jewish faith and a rapidly spreading,
until recently banned, --- Christianity.

MN: Where was Hypatia in the midst of all this religious turmoil?

FN: Hypatia: "All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must
never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final. As for me,
I believe in philosophy!"

MN: In 391 the Christian Patriarch Theophilus led a mob in storming
the library. A stand-off ensued. Paganism had recently been
abolished by the Roman Emperor Theodosius. Thus when the Roman
Prefect arrived upon the scene, he let the mob in. They pulled down
the statue of Serapes and burned all the scrolls they could find.

FN: Hypatia fled to her home with Davus carrying what precious
scrolls they could.

(Hypatia and Davus carry off scrolls.)

MN: After the storming of the library, many Pagans converted to
Christianity, among them, the former slave Davus. 

(Davus strides off. Hypatia sadly watches him leave.)

MN: Alexandria enjoyed a time of peace. Pagan worship was outlawed
throughout the Empire.  Hypatia continued her teaching and
research, while her former disciples occupied important posts among
the social elite.

MN: Twenty years pass. The Roman Empire finally spit into two
parts. Many Christians saw this as a sign of the end of the world
and decided to prepare themselves by living holier lives.

(Costume change: Students change to black to become mob.)

FN: An order of monks known as "parabalani" took charge of
patrolling the streets to safeguard Christian morality. They
willingly cared for the sick and the burial of the dead. They also
served as attendants, police, and bodyguards to the local bishops.
They shared a fondness for stoning and bore a certain resemblance
to the modern Muslim Taliban.

MN: Now with Pagan worship banned, Christian morality was
complicated only by the presence of the Jews. Violence erupted, and
the Jewish population was expelled from Alexandria.

FN: Ever since the storming of the Library, only Christians were
permitted to enter it. This library, that had always been a
religious symbol, a place where Pagans once worshipped, had now
been converted into a Christian church.

MN: Hypatia rejected Christianity. She was labeled an un-godly
woman and a witch. She was then accused of believing in absolutely
nothing. Her response:

FN: Hypatia: "You don't question what you believe, or cannot. I
must. To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in
another world is just as base as to use force. I believe in

MN: The patriarch Cyril spoke out against her. And the day came
that the parabalani captured her and brought her to the library.

(Hypatia is grabbed by the mob. Davus steps up and holds her while
the others gather their stones.)

FN: Hypatia: "Your god has yet to prove himself more merciful than
his predecessors."

FN: She was saved from experiencing torture and stoning by her
devoted former slave Davus, who was now among the parabalani. While
the others were gathering stones, he suffocated her and thus spared
her from the pain of torture.

(Lights go dark.)

MN: Hypatia's mutilated body was dragged through the streets and
burnt on a pyre.

FN: Although none of Hypatia's works have survived, it is known
that she was an outstanding astronomer and renowned for her
mathematical studies on conic curves.

MN: 1200 years later, in the 17th century, the astronomer Johannes
Kepler discovered that one of these curves, the ellipse, governs
the motion of the planets.

(Lights back on. Hypatia stands at center.)

FN: So on this evening we honor and invoke a Great Lady. 


MN: We honor the scholar, the philosopher, the teacher, the
role-model, and the woman. 

Hypatia: "Let us now enter Circle, the most perfect of shapes!"

(Davus places queue cards at Quarter Altars:)






4 Queue Cards: Circle, Ellipse, Parabola, Hyperbola
Large Cone
Handkerchief, stained
Handkerchief, clean


Male Narrator - 
Female Narrator -
Hypatia -
Davus -
Students/Mob - 


Agora, the DVD on Amazon about Hypatia:

Movie Review of Agora:

Hypatia and Alexandria, the Documentary:

Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press
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