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Hypatia IX

Continued from Part VIII

The Mean Streets of Old Alexandria: Part IX
The Sources



The Sources are listed in their chronological order, starting with Synesius' Letters, which preceded the assassination of Hypatia, followed by Socrates Scholasticus and Philostorgius of Cappadocia, who were reasonably contemporary, with the proviso that Philostorgius exists only as a 10th century epitome (or digest).



  1. Synesius. The Letters. Contemporary. The primary source for Hypatia’s teachings. Some interpretation is required because Neoplatonists kept their teachings largely occult. The letters do not cover the events in Alexandria leading up to her murder.

  2. Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History. Contemporary. He covers major events preceding and including the murder and provides a context. He was a lawyer in Constantinople, well-informed about goings-on in the Church and Empire. His informants on the character of Hypatia were likely Ammonias and Helladius, who would have known her before they fled after the Serapeum riots. He is somewhat hostile to Cyril because of his treatment of the Novatians.

  3. Philostorgius of Cappadocia. Ecclesiastical History [Contemporary]  Exists only in an epitome compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, centuries later.

  4. Damascius. Life of Isidore. Two generations later (5th, early 6th century). This is a brief mention in passing and gives few details. Studied in Alexandria and became the last master of the Athenian Academy before it was closed. Deeply hostile to Christianity and suggests that Cyril directly engineered the murder. Disagrees with Socrates on the place of the murder and gives no other details. Original lost; reconstructed from fragments quoted by others. Provides no thoughtful characterization, no description of her philosophy, no review of her writings.

  5. John Malalas. Chronographia. 6th century. Antioch. Two sentences. Info on her lifespan, fame, popularity. His book is “a curious farrago of fact and fancy.”

  6. Hesychius of Miletus. Onomatologus. 6th century. Short bio. Original lost; survives as fragments quoted by others. Contains info on titles of her works. Reports she was married to Isidore, a fragment repeated in The Suda, but which is in error. Isidore lived in the wrong generation.

  7. John of Nikiu. Chronicle. 7th century. Survives in Ethiopian translation of Arabic translation of Coptic original. Local author (Lower Egypt) born during Arab invasion. May have had access to now-lost records of Alexandrian church. Clearly biased, pro-Cyril. Follows John Malalas and a second, now lost work. Only source that calls Hypatia a pagan and a witch. Celebrates her murder but does not say that Cyril planned or knew.

  8. The Suda. 10th century. Byzantine encyclopedia. Combines fragments of Heysichius and Damascius. The encyclopedia is regarded as unreliable and repeats the story that Hypatia was married to Isidore.

  9. Other accounts are fully derivative of the above.

On-Line Resources
Listed in story order.

  1. List of Roman Emperors

  2. List of the Popes of Alexandria

  3. Tidbits of Neoplatonic philosophy Part III, with links to Parts I and II

  4. The Historia Augusta (a “mockumentary” or satire, not always reliable) on the Egyptian character

  5. Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian

  6. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 7 and 10: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian and the murder of the virgins of Heliopolis.

  7. Rufinus of Aquileia: Ecclesiastical History, On the Destruction of the Serapeum

  8. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 16: On the Destruction of the Serapeum

  9. Synesius, Letters.

  10. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, ch. 13-15: account of Hypatia and the events leading up to her murder.

  11. The Suda Lexicon (Contains a fragment on Hypatia from Heysichius of Miletus and a longer fragment from Damascius’ Life of Isidore.)

  12. Photius. Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, cf. Book VIII, ch. 9

  13. John of Nikiu, Chronicles 84.87-103, On the death of Hypatia

  14. Catholic Encyclopedia (1914), Cyril of Alexandria.

  15. Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2 ch. V and VIII, on the murder of bishop Proterius.

Tags: history, hypatia
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