Alexandria, the city named after Alexander the Great, once hosted over a million scrolls at the Great Library of Alexandria. The library was created in 3rd century BC by King Ptolemy I, the successor of Alexander.
Hypatia, the first female mathematician of the world, was born in the very same city in 370 AD. An extremely beautiful woman by all accounts, she was once the head of Neo-Platonic school at Alexandria and contributed largely to the library through her research in mathematics, astronomy & philosophy.
The Library of Alexandria housed the greatest Scientists of antiquity. The heliocentric model of our Solar system was first proposed here, however we lost that proposition and went on living with an incorrect model with Earth at the center for over 1700 years. Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth here, the fact that stars undergo cycles of birth & death was first established here, other fields of healing, anatomy, geometry, geography, physics, physiology, medicine, etc. came of age at this library over 2000 years ago. Other notable classical thinkers at the library included Euclid, Archimedes, Herophilus, Pappus, Theon, Hypatia & Aristarchus of Samos among many others.
The last known scientist who worked at this library was Hypatia. This was an age when woman practically had no rights and were considered as a property. Hypatia was unmoved by this social stigma & freely roamed around & ventured in to all fields & Sciences which were male dominated.
This was a time when slavery was rampant & religious fanaticism had ripped off the society from scientific advancements. The scientific achievements of the library were not brought to the general people. The hunger for power & religious dogma prevailed over scientific progress. The growing Christian community was consolidating its power by eradicating paganism & its influence on the society.
At that time a grave conflict arose between Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria & Orestes, the Governor of Alexandria. This personal ego was given the name of religion. Jews killed Christians & later the surviving Christians exterminated the Jews. Christians rose to power under the leadership of Cyril and tried to abolish paganism completely. Hypatia was considered as the symbol of Science & learning and these were the characteristics attributed to non-believers & Paganism. In grave personal danger, Hypatia continued to teach & publish until one day in 415 AD she was abducted by a mad fanatical mob consisting of the followers of Cyril.
The mob took her to a church, stripped her naked & murdered her with tiles. They also went on to tear her flesh from her bones, mutilated her & burned her limbs off separately. Her work was destroyed & the name forgotten. And Cyril went on to become a Christian Saint!
The last remains of the library of Alexandria were destroyed in the same year. The glory of the great library is nothing but a memory. Nothing exists. All the public knowledge is gone symbolizing the greatest loss of cultural knowledge.
“It was as if the entire civilization had undergone a self-inflicted radical brain surgery so that most of its memories, discoveries, ideas & passions were irrevocably wiped out” – Carl Sagan
There have been various instances in the history of our species wherein we have suddenly lost all the accumulated knowledge & information in our mindless pursuit of power, propaganda, ego, national interests or religious fanaticism.
Surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Science, learning & free thinking!
Check out the trailer of movie ‘Agora’, based on the life of Hypatia
“Hypatia” (1853) written by Charles Kingsley
“Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” by Carl Sagan. Episode 13 is dedicated to the life & death of Hypatia.