Nick with Dr Jane Lomax-Smith and Kate Hawtin
I’m elated to see so many friends and colleagues. We should have these cultural evenings more often.
Most of you would know that Hypatia was an ardent supporter of Libraries because Libraries are stepping stones to new knowledge. I’m therefore elated that we are celebrating Hypatia’s book in a University Library. In that regard I would like to thank Ray Choate, and Paul Wilkins who availed the Bar-Smith Library for such a cultural event.
I decided to chronicle the life and times of Hypatia for many reasons. According to her contemporaries she had the mind of Plato and the figure of Aphrodite. I don’t disagree with that description but Hypatia of Alexandria was much more interesting. At 400 AD, for instance she led the Alexandrian groups of philosophers and astronomers. Hypatia’s career path, as you can understand, wasn’t what was expected of a lady.
More importantly however she was the philosopher humanist who clashed with monks possessed by religious fervor. It was a monumental feud between reason and dogma that unfolded in Roman Alexandria, the Pearl of the Mediterranean.
Alexandria deserved that accolade for three reasons. The Pharos, the most famous lighthouse of Antiquity and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world symbolized the commercial power of the city. Young men, bursting with talent and ambition came to Alexandria to join either the School of Alexandria, or the Royal Alexandrian Library. St Mark you’d recall founded the School of Alexandrian, the first Christian Institution of the Empire and the Ptolemies founded the famous Royal Alexandrian Library.
Nick during his book launch speech
“The Royal Library of Alexandria,” wrote Ferdinand Gregorovius, “diffused a splendor over the civilized world which lasted longer than any other university, whether Paris, Bologna, or Padua.”
And the late Professor Carl Sagan, was more specific.
“In the Alexandrian Library,” he told 600 million television viewers, “lived a community of scientists who discovered the sciences of physics, linguistics, medicine, astronomy, geography, philosophy, mathematics, biology, and geology. In that Library studies reached adulthood. Here genius flourished. Here in the Library of Alexandria were the first serious attempts to understand the world.”
After the Romans succeeded the Ptolemies, research in the Library declined because the Romans did not support research as much as the Ptolemies. Moreover Alexandria witnessed endless tit for tat clashes between Pagans, Christians, and Jews because the Alexandrians took religion seriously.
That is the mileu in which Hypatia’s Feud, a fictional work, unfolds.
Theon the last Librarian of the Royal Alexandrian Library tutors his daughter Hypatia in astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. Her eloquence, modesty, and beauty, combined with her remarkable intellectual gifts, attract a large number of pupils and by 400AD she leads the Alexandrian group of philosophers and the Hipparchus group of astronomers.
Hypatia researches the heavens and explores the everlasting questions of our existence when the Church preaches there is no need to probe into the nature of things.
She imparts new knowledge to the world when the churchmen counsel women to seek knowledge from their husbands.
She tutors Jews, Christians and Pagans while men of different religions wage wars.
Her dazzling career as researcher, teacher and humanist convinces every conservative in the Empire that women are not only intellectually equal to men but can also lead philosophers and astronomers.
Her feud with the Church reaches a climax during a debate with the Patriarch of Alexandria who believes the half a million pagan scrolls of the Royal Alexandrian Library prevent the populace from accepting Christianity.
“If we torch the pagan scrolls of the Library,” the Patriarch proclaims during the debate, “we would uproot the weeds of confusion in God’s New Jerusalem.”
“In the Elysian Fields,” Hypatia retorts, “myriad flowers bloom and Truth, like the flowers, is registered in the scrolls of the library.”
This is how the debate started and Kate Hawtin a fellow writer and poet will elaborate on how Hypatia defended the half a million scrolls of the Alexandrian Library.
Nick with Robyn Fourikis and Kate Hawtin
Pls welcome Kate to the podium.
“At the dawn of history,” my fellow Alexandrians, “the poets unveiled that Zeus ruled the heavens, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. The gods were powerful, looked like us, and shared all our foibles. In the Homeric poems, you’ll recall, the squabbling gods backed their favorite mortals. Besides, the gods with a keen eye for beauty seduced queens and princesses — they even fathered demigods.
“The mortals continued to appease the gods by sacrifices a long time after the Homeric times, but Aesop struck a dissonant note to our cozy relationship with the gods. “A wealthy Athenian, he wrote, was making a sea voyage with some companions when a terrible storm blew up and their ship capsized. All the other passengers started swimming but the Athenian kept praying to Pallas Athena, making all kinds of promises if only she would save him. Then one of the other shipwrecked passengers swam past him and shouted,
“‘While you pray to Athena, start moving your arms!’
“That was, my fellow Alexandrians, the first call in history for mortals to take charge of their lives. Not many paid heed to Aesop’s message and the gods continued to play significant roles in the lives of mortals until the Ionian philosophers entered the center stage of history.
“‘If we ask an ox to draw God, the ox will draw an ox,’
Xenophanes dared to tell us, and more dissent from the prevailing beliefs followed.
“‘We don’t need to attribute the fall of a sparrow to the intervention of Zeus.’
“That was the light-hearted sentence the daredevils of Ionia used to demolish the dungeons of poetic superstition where men and women lived since the beginning of time. And in the light of day, they edited the gods out of their daily lives.
“It matters not, my fellow Alexandrians, whether you prefer to take charge of your lives or lead your lives according to the revelations of a religion. In either case, the scrolls in the Royal Library will guide you along your journey. The scrolls therefore offer us the freedoms we dearly love everyone to enjoy.”
Kate Hawtin ladies and gentlemen. My book chronicles the life and times of Hypatia through the eyes of Aristos, a twenty two year old philosopher but the narration continues after Hypatia’s assassination through the Dark Ages up to the Dawn of the Renaissance when Reason once more prevailed.
From history we know that thousands of Christians perished during the Dark Ages because they did not adhere to the church’s dogma. Millions perished because they opposed the Fascist’s doctrine. Thousands disappeared in Gulags because they opposed the Communist ideology. And during our times we witness the carnage caused by this or that Holly War or Jihad. Lastly we all know what ethnic cleansing means.
For these and many other reasons it is always rewarding to re-visit Hypatia’s life. She was after all the quintessential philosopher-hero who not only proved that women can lead philosophy and astronomy groups but lived as a humanist in a world possessed by religious fervor.
It took me three years to write the book and during that time young women attacked me because I, a man, had no right to write a book about their hero. I wanted to tell them I had a classical education, that I spent many summers in Alexandria, I was an astronomer, and studied philosophy but didn’t, because Hypatia is now a citizen of the world. She came to this world an Alexandrian Greek but is now a citizen of the world
I hope that you will enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it. And thank you for coming along to celebrate Hypatia’s life.