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Feminist Questions, and a Visit to Hypatias World

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Title: Feminist Questions, and a Visit to Hypatias World


1
Feminist Questions, and a Visit to Hypatias
World
2
1. How are women and men both part of every
question affecting human society?
  • Examples of questions why does war exist?, how
    is wealth created?, who are the most famous
    people in history?, how do people obtain their
    daily needs?, etc.
  • If men and women are both part of every question,
    they must both be part of every answer too.

3
2. In any situation, structure, or history, who
is excluded, marginalized, silenced, or erased?
  • Look for multiple vectors, not just one - for
    instance, if women are marginalized, does that
    affect poor and rich women equally? Black and
    white women equally? Lesbians and heterosexual
    women equally? If all women are denied all
    education, the answer is no but if wealthy women
    have access to education, the equation changes.
    And if wealthy women only have access to
    education if they are married, the equation
    changes once again.

4
3. Who set up this social system? Who benefits
from it? Who had no say in how it works?
  • This may be the most significant of all the
    guidelines, because if you answer this one you
    have an angle to answer all the others.
  • When asking this question, always look beyond the
    rationale of those who benefit from the system.

5
3a. Example of Rationalization
  • The metaphor that Hindu Brahmins (priests) have
    articulated for representing the caste system
    analogizes the social body to the human body.
    Note that neither the sudras (legs in this
    picture) nor the outcastes (not pictured, but you
    can imagine where/what they would be) designed
    this system, which benefits the head that
    developed it.

Illustration of Caste System, from ISKON website
6
4. Who is structurally ensured to have their
interests represented? Who is structurally
ensured of having their interests ignored? Who
has to negotiate, and how, to have their
interests represented?
  • Example While we in the US think we live with a
    one person, one vote system of democracy, are
    there people who get more political say than just
    their one vote? Consider, for instance, CEOs,
    lobbyists, homeless people, super delegates

7
5. In any given system, who/what is at the
center, who/what is at the periphery/margin?
Can/does the periphery influence the center, and
vice-versa?
Periphery margin that which is marginalized
is often devalued. However, there may well be
more energy on the edge than in the center
consider how circular movement works…
8
6. What is the relation between the structure of
a system, and the personal relations within it?
  • This is important as it defines the difference
    between structural inequality and personal
    animus.
  • This question also lets us know that having good
    personal relations within a bad system is
    insufficient to address the social inequities
    having a good master does not justify slavery.

9
7. Is there a distinction between the public and
private spheres? How is it articulated, and who
is assigned to each sphere?
  • Remember that one of the key insights of the
    Womens Liberation Movement of the 1960s and
    1970s was the personal is the political
  • Consider how pets are placed in the private
    sphere while feral dogs and cats are placed in
    the public sphere (albeit as a nuisance)

10
8. What is natural? When the natural is defined,
what is made unnatural? Who names these
distinctions?
  • Religious cosmologies often declare what is
    natural as well as what is out-of-harmony with
    the natural order.
  • If womens function is cosmologically
    circumscribed as being about reproduction only,
    then biology destiny. Alternatively, this
    could be critiqued as a false naturalism
  • Quote of shame Robert A. Wilson, author of
    Feminine Forever wrote that "The unpalatable
    truth must be faced that all postmenopausal women
    are castrates"

11
Hypatias Alexandria
12
Hypatia of Alexandria (ca. 360-415)
  • Daughter of Theon
  • A philosopher, teacher, astronomer, and leading
    citizen of a multi-cultural Alexandria
  • Practitioner of Roman paganism
  • Philosophically a neo-Platonist
  • Brutally murdered by a mob of Christian monks

There is no known portrait of Hypatia, this one
is often used because it shows a middle-aged
woman of that time period..
13
Hypatias father, Theon
  • Hypatia was the daughter of the last head of the
    Library at Alexandria, the geometrician Theon
    (ca. 330-ca.405). Theon is most famous for
    editing the edition of Euclid that survived until
    modern times. The Library was closed by an edict
    of the Roman Emperor, meant to favor Christianity
    (which had become the official religion of the
    Empire in 315).

14
Emperor Theodosius and the Decree of Bishop
Theophilus
Emperor Bishop Theodosius
Theophilus
standing
atop the
ruins of the
Serapeum
  • In 391 the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius
    declared all pagan temples must be destroyed
  • Bishop Theophilus used this order to destroy the
    Serapeum, a principal part of the Library of
    Alexandria

15
Neo-Platonism
  • A panentheistic school of philosophic thought,
    launched by Plotinus (204-270).
  • Neo-Platonism stresses the emanational sequencing
    of the universe, and provides for mystical union
    with the source of all existence.
  • Neo-Platonism, while starting from Pagan sources,
    has been influential in Christianity, Judaism,
    and Islam, as well as hermetic schools of magic
    and American Transcendentalism
  • Hypatia is one of the most significant ancient
    Neo-Platonists.

Bust of Plotinus
16
The Astrolabe
  • An instrument for mapping astronomical bodies in
    relation to earth
  • Known from ancient times, and used in navigation
  • Theon wrote a manual on how to use the
    instrument.
  • Hypatia is credited with technological advances
    in the instrument, by her student Synesius of
    Cyrene (ca. 373 - ca. 414).

17
Hypatia as a teacher
  • Hypatia conducted classes in philosophy and
    science, probably from her house, as was the
    practice time then.
  • Christians, Pagans, and likely Jews were among
    her students
  • There is no evidence either way if her classes
    had men and women or were for males only the
    students whose names we know are all men, but
    that could well be epiphenomenal to how history
    is recorded

Scholarly re-imagining of one of the rooms of the
Library of Alexandria, based on its recent (2004)
rediscovery
18
Synesius of Cyrene (ca. 373-ca. 414)
  • Student of Hypatias
  • His admiring letters to her are a chief primary
    source for her life
  • He had been a Christian most of his life, but was
    still surprised when asked to serve as bishop of
    Cyrene he had to get special papal dispensations
    to soothe his philosophic conscience.
  • He served as bishop during a time when Cyrene was
    under attack.
  • Most scholars think he died before Hypatia,
    because it is unimaginable that he would have
    kept quiet about her death (as other bishops did).

The Palace of Apollonia, from which Synesius
likely ruled as bishop
19
Hypatia as a Public Figure
  • Hypatia was friends with the various civic
    officials, called Prefects, who governed
    Alexandria
  • Her philosophy and scientific studies were
    intended for the upper-classes, which gave her
    politically significant contacts throughout the
    north African part of the Roman Empire.

Eastern Mediterranean part of Roman Empire,
showing Alexandria and Syrene
20
Origen, Theophilus, and his nephew, Cyril of
Alexandria
  • As bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus was in a
    position of structural importance as a leader at
    a time when Christian doctrine was being
    officially articulated through a series of
    conferences.
  • He publicly opposed the Christian followers of
    the Neo-Platonic church father Origen (185-214)
  • He was aided by his nephew and eventual
    successor, Cyril of Alexandria

Origen Cyril of Alexandria
21
Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 378 - ca. 444)
  • Cyril became bishop of Alexandria upon his uncle
    Theophilus death in 412 in a partisan and
    combative election.
  • He quickly became embroiled in tense city
    politics.
  • He encouraged a quarrel between Christians and
    Jews that resulted in the exile of the Jews from
    Alexandria.

22
Orestes Cyril
  • Alexandrias Prefect, Orestes, objected to what
    he saw as Cyrils power grab.
  • Modern scholars think that Orestes and Cyril
    represented two different parties, one moderate
    and the other more dogmatic, among Christians
  • Cyril praised Ammonius, a would-be assassin of
    Orestes, declaring him a saint after his
    execution.

Ammonius had thrown a rock at Orestes. It
hit the Prefect in the head. The Prefect
survived, Ammonius did not…
23
Desert Monks
  • Orestes had reason to be concerned about Cyrils
    power, because the bishop had a rather large
    personal armed force at his disposal students of
    Christian theology and desert monks who came to
    the city for major feasts.
  • Known as the parabola (parabolan/parabolia), they
    were nominally under the command of the bishop,
    but did not always wait for his orders.

The desert monks are romantically portrayed as
old men. But most were highly volatile youthful
men during the fourth fifth centuries
24
The Conflict Thickens
  • By the spring of 415, Orestes was looking for a
    way to reconcile with Cyril, probably in time for
    the Easter season
  • Some sources allege that Hypatia, as a friend of
    Orestes, counseled him against any such
    rapprochement. He took this advice.
  • Hypatia likely did not trust Cyril. As an
    intellectual alive when the Serapeum was
    dismantled, she would have known that the bishop
    did not respect her interests, nor those of her
    class, or of her philosophy.

25
Bishop John of Nikiu, 7th century Christian
Chronicler
  • John of Nikiu wrote of Hypatia she was devoted
    at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments
    of music, and she beguiled many people through
    Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city
    honored her exceedingly for she had beguiled him
    through her magic. And he ceased attending church
    as had been his custom….And he not only did this,
    but he drew many believers to her, and he himself
    received the unbelievers at his house.
  • If Orestes was not attending church, he may not
    have known that Cyril preached against Hypatia.

26
A Horrifying Denoument
  • A gang of parabolia intercepted Hypatia when she
    was riding in her chariot. They dragged her to a
    church, and murdered her by pulling the flesh
    from her body with tiles and/or shells.
  • The murderers were never apprehended or
    prosecuted, though their identity was well-known.
    Orestes and Cyril reached a public compromise.
    Orestes never mentioned the murder of Hypatia in
    any official document.
  • These events happened in 415.

The famous Caesareum was likely the church where
Hypatia was murdered. The site, too, of
Cleopatras suicide, it would still have had the
two tall obelisks, covered with hieroglyphics,
which now have been taken to London and New York,
todays imperial centers
27
Ramifications of Hypatias Death
  • No other pagan philosophers are associated
    with the city after her death.
  • Her works were most likely destroyed at the very
    least they are lost to us, with their titles
    alone being known.
  • Many, including Carl Sagan, feel that science
    itself was exiled from medieval Western culture
    with the violent death of Hypatia.

28
Ramifications of Cyrils Victory
  • While Cyril backs off from endorsing street
    violence later in his career, he is known for
    pugnacious theological disputations, primarily at
    the First Council of Ephesus, where he triumphed
    with arguments against the Nestorian heresy in
    431.
  • Nestorians believed that Mary was not the mother
    to the divine part of Jesus, therefore calling
    into question the doctrine that Jesus was always
    fully human and fully divine.

29
Cyrils Vision of Woman
  • Cyril built his argument against the Nestorians
    by stressing that Mary was the Mother of God as
    well as the Mother of Jesus as a human being. He
    used the word Theotokos rather than
    Christotokos to describe her. All later
    Orthodox and Catholic theologies of Mary are
    dependant on the arguments made by Cyril.

Early Christian Catacomb painting of the Virgin
Mary with her son Jesus
30
Cyrils Victory
  • The first Christian historian who recorded
    Hypatias murder (ironically named Socrates!)
    said these events would disgrace Cyril.
  • But since then, Cyril has had a legion of
    defenders, both academic and among the faithful.
  • Cyril is a Saint in both the Roman Catholic and
    Eastern Orthodox churches

31
Patriarchy in Cyrils Schizophrenic Theology of
Women
  • Because male dominance still requires the
    presence of women, a tension in patriarchal
    societies exists between valorized, abstract
    imagined woman and devalued, actual living women
  • The abstract Virgin Mary theorized by Cyril was
    more to his liking than Hypatia, a living woman
    with whom he disagreed.

32
Tensions in Patriarchal Imagining of Women
  • This gap between the abstracted ideal and living
    women generates other further dichotomies, such
    as virgin/whore, saint/witch, allegorical
    goddesses of wisdom contrasted with denying
    living women access to education.
  • The murder of Hypatia by Cyrils parabolia is
    merely a dramatic example of a bifurcation we all
    know experientially. Consider the supermodel vs.
    actual women…

33
Catherine of Alexandria
  • St. Catherine of Alexandria, for whom no historic
    evidence exists, was a highly honored saint
    through the second millennium of Christianity.
    Reputedly learned in both philosophy and
    theology, she was able to defend herself against
    pagan philosophers who tried to convert her away
    from Christianity. When she refuses to marry the
    Emperor, she is condemned to be torn apart on a
    torture wheel, but it breaks when she touches it
    her persecutors then behead her. The lack of
    historicity in the story (alleged to have
    happened in the 4th century) led to her being
    dropped from the list of saints in the twentieth
    century.

34
There are Too Many Parallels
  • HYPATIA
  • Learned woman
  • Virgin (allegedly)
  • Philosopher
  • Able to withstand proselytizing by enemies intent
    on killing her (a.k.a. Cyril and Theophilus
    before him)
  • Torturously martyred
  • CATHERINE
  • Learned woman
  • Virgin (allegedly)
  • Philosopher/theologian
  • Able to withstand proselytizing by enemies intent
    on killing her (Pagan philosophers of the
    Emperor)
  • Torturously martyred

35
How Catherine and Hypatia Differ
  • Roman paganism and Neo-Platonism do not call for
    martyrs Christianitys entire narrative depends
    on martyrdom.
  • Civil authority attacks Catherine religious
    authority attacked Hypatia.
  • Catherines legend includes her reaching out to,
    and converting, many women Hypatias narrative
    contains no other female names.

36
Why was Catherine Created?
  • Many scholars have noticed the similarities in
    their stories, and believe that Catherine is
    either a Christian appropriation of an excellent
    martyr story they had created, or that
    Catherines story created a necessary foil to
    Hypatias life and death for a homogenous
    medieval European Christian culture (a culture
    which had created a refuge for intellectual women
    in convents).

37
Why was Catherine Created?
  • The invention of Catherine of Alexandria also
    illustrates a principle that undergirds the logic
    of oppression reversal and projection. An
    unattractive characteristic in ones self, or
    ones group, is dimly perceived, but not
    acknowledged by the one who has the flaw.
    Instead this same flaw is projected onto another
    individual or group. Once it has been projected
    outwards, it can be destroyed by destroying the
    other who holds the characteristic. Notice,
    for instance, how anti-Semitic discourse thinks
    Jewish people are greedy, or racist discourse
    claims Blacks are not intelligent. Clearly these
    are examples of projection, because all large
    social groups include individuals who are greedy,
    or not very bright. Yet this kind of projection
    is effective for the same reason there are
    always examples of the castigated characteristic
    among the target group as well as among the
    projectors, which lends credence to the
    accusations.

38
Why was Catherine Created?
  • In the case of Catherine of Alexandria, the good
    characteristics of Hypatia are assimilated into a
    Christian narrative, while the pagans and Roman
    civil authority are made into the tyrants who
    would silence learned women. Whether she was
    intended as a baptized version of Hypatias
    story, or as a counterweight to her, the meaning
    of Catherines story reverses (and erases) the
    meaning of Hypatias life and death.

39
How You Know Cyril Won
  • Hes called by the honorific title of Saint
  • His name and theological deeds are widely known
    in Eastern Orthodox circles
  • If youve ever heard Mary referred to by the name
    Mother of God, youve been influenced by
    Cyrils thought
  • If youve ever heard of The Catherine Wheel,
    youve been influenced by the mythology of
    Catherine of Alexandria
  • If youd heard of Hypatia before this class, you
    are the exception (or a philosophy major or
    womens studies student!)

40
Hypatias Legacy
  • Renaissance thinkers were aware of Hypatia, as
    noted by her presence here in Raphaels famous
    School of Athens
  • Romantic thinkers portrayed her story in novels
    and paintings
  • Bertrand Russells wife Dora Russell wrote on
    Hypatia
  • As previously noted, Carl Sagan boosted her
    reputation via his fame as a popularizer of
    science in late twentieth-century America

41
Hypatias Legacy
  • Feminists have uncovered her numerous art works
    and philosophic tomes have cited her as an
    important foremother.
  • Foremost among these was her inclusion in Judy
    Chicagos celebration of womens history, The
    Dinner Party (1979).

42
Tough Questions
  • Does the story of Hypatia illustrate
    exceptionalism?
  • Who and what is marginalized in this story?
  • Who and what is erased by this story not being
    common knowledge?
  • What social systems are in play in this story,
    who set them up, and who benefits from them?
  • Whose interests were heard?
  • Is there a public/private split here?

There are no easy answers here some of these
questions would require extensive research to
determine.
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