Around 415 CE, the pagan Alexandrian mathematician Hypatia (b. c. 360 CE) was murdered by a Christian mob. With her died the old line of Greek science. It was almost 1600 years ago, but we shouldn’t ever forget the evils a combination of certainty and unreason can do.
* * *
the hymn of a melancholy mathematician
Oh, Hypatia, the mathematician, the last light of the Greek world of calm reason. The brutes, the crowds, the ignorant reason-haters killed you, and as if that had not been enough, later they tried to remember you as one of them: they tried to say you turned to Christianity, while the only turning thing were the knives of the Christians who murdered you.
You were killed by a mob, mutilated and torn and burned, and they said you were a witch for you were different, evil for you disagreed with them, a devil for you dared to doubt.
For a thousand years after you reason was trod down by the monstrous unreason of Christianity, full of hate and fear and certainty, and now that reason and science have risen again, that same old ugly lie tries to say it always was their loving patron. Are there no limits to the hypocrisy and self-delusion of men?
Oh, Hypatia, you were the best flower of your age: you were curious, you were intelligent, you were not afraid. The world darkened when you were gone. The world darkened into a nightmare of the fist, the pyre and the cross, for a thousand years, when you were gone. The world darkened into war, pestilence, famine and death, with the distorted face of their misery-loving Lord Jesus hovering above it all, slavishly licked by the fires of their Hell… when you were gone.
Oh, Hypatia, I adore thee. And I shall not forget thee, nor forgive the murderous brutes, nor ever tolerate their factless certainties. Their bloody book has no words in the praise of intelligence or curiosity, and too many in mindless adulation of their capricious and nonexistent heavenly Tyrant. Your writings did not survive their torches and knives; the last surviving copy was wiped to become the prayer-book of some stunted monk, robbed of reason and life.
Oh, Hypatia, one thousand years was enough to show that an age ruled by the unreason of religion is indeed nothing but a Dark Age.
Your people rose out of barbarism, and with you fell back into savagery and hatred. Is that the way we all must go? Is our lot an eternal struggle of reason and faith, sight and blindness, love and hatred? Must crass ignorance always triumph over subtle wisdom, must the rose of reason always crumple in the fist of holy war and holy lies? Must we always fail twice for each success? Must the names of all our poets and scientists be forgotten, while the greatest killers are glorified forever?
Sometimes I despair, but then I remember that you were not afraid.
Oh, Hypatia, you are centuries dead, but as long as your killers live, you must not be forgotten.
Oh, Hypatia, you are long gone, to the emptiness from where there is no return, but as long as there are women and men who love reason and truth like you, you shall not be forgotten.
* * *
Apologia: If you were offended by the half-poetic hymn above, then I apologize, but also beg to point that passionate honesty doesn’t come in easy doses. And I know I generalized some things, but outside the strict realm of mathematics it is difficult to be both honest to passion and accurate on details. And I’ve got nothing against people, just against false and dangerous ideas, such as every religion ever conceived.
(I’ve written about Hypatia before, too.)