Hypatia of Alexandria (around 370 - 415) female mathematician

The life of Hypatia can be characterized in one expression: a passion for knowledge. She was the daughter of Theon, who was considered one of the most educated men in ancient Egyptian Alexandria. Hypatia received thorough education (some believe that her father tried to raise the perfect human) and became a mathematician, a scientist and a Platonic philosopher. She made extraordinary accomplishments for a woman in her time.

Most historians think that Hypatia surpassed her father's knowledge at a young age already. Theon tutored Hypatia on the different religions of the world and instructed her how to influence people with the power of words. He taught her the fundamentals of teaching, making Hypatia a profound orator. People from other cities came to study and learn from her.

Hypatia's studies included astronomy, astrology, and mathematics. Synesius, one of Hypatia's students, claims Hypatia to be the inventor of the astrolabe, a device used in studying astronomy. Other sources (Claudius Ptolemy for instance) date this instrument back at least a century earlier however.

She was known more for the work she did in mathematics than in astronomy, primarily for her contribution to the ideas of conic sections introduced by Apollonius. She edited his work On the Conics, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This concept developed the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. Hypatia's made the concepts easier to understand, subsequently making the work survive through many centuries. Hypatia was the first woman to have such a profound impact on the survival of early thought in mathematics.

There are many uncertainties of Hypatia's life. Her date of birth is unknown. Some historians state that she was born in the year 370, but others argue that she was an older woman (around sixty) at the time of her death, making her birth some fifteen years earlier. We do know that she lived in Alexandria when Christianity started to dominate over the other religions. Cyril, a leader among the Christians, and Orestes, the civil governor, opposed each other. One of Orestes' friends was Hypatia and it is believed that Cyril spread hostile rumours about her. In 415 AD, while Hypatia was on her way home, a mob attacked her, stripped her and dragged her body to a church where they mutilated her flesh with sharp tiles and burned her remains. Later, the mob of Christian monks dragged her through the streets.

Hypatia's life therefore ended tragically, but her life's work remained. Later, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, and Gottfried Leibniz expanded on her work.

"And in those days there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honoured her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic."
John, bishop of Nikiu