In Her Philosopher’s Cloak

Barbara Graziosi

  • Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher by Edward J. Watts
    Oxford, 205 pp, £19.99, April 2017, ISBN 978 0 19 021003 8

‘On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the reader, and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster shells, and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames.’ This is Gibbon’s description of the murder of the mathematician and philosopher Hypatia in 415 ad. Some details stem from his imagination (‘her quivering limbs’); some from mistranslated Greek (his ‘oyster shells’ are probably roof tiles, the weapon of choice in ancient lynchings); but some match the ancient sources: Socrates Scholasticus, writing in the early fifth century, notes that she was killed by monks ‘in March, during Lent’.

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