The Killing of Hypatia

Soraya Field Fiorio in Lapham’s Quarterly:

One early spring day during the year 415 in the city of Alexandria—the intellectual heart of the waning Roman Empire—the pagan philosopher Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian men. These men, the parabalani, were a volunteer militia of monks serving as henchmen to the archbishop. Their conscripted purpose was to aid the dead and dying but they could be more readily found terrorizing opposing Christian groups and leveling pagan temples. At the urging of Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, they had already destroyed the remains of the Library of Alexandria. The parabalani razed pagan temples, attacked the Jewish quarters, and defiled masterpieces of ancient art they considered demonic by mutilating statues and melting them down for gold. They now set their gaze on the city’s beloved teacher of mathematics and philosophy, whose social ranking was on par with Alexandria’s most important men. Understanding nothing of her philosophy, they called her a witch. They pulled the elderly teacher from her chariot as she rode through the city and dragged her to a temple. She was stripped naked, her skin flayed with jagged pieces of oyster shells, her limbs pulled from her body and paraded through the streets. Her remains were burned in a mockery of pagan sacrifice.

Hypatia’s death marked the end of paganism and the triumph of Christianity, the final act of a one-hundred-year-old feud waged by the new religion against the ancient world.

More here.

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