Female Contributions to the Development of Mathematics Throughout History


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Female Contributions to the Development of Mathematics Throughout History”

Tanya Louise Perry
May 2003
Supervisor - Dr. M. Bartuccelli

Submitted as a report for the Literature Review for the BSc degree at the University of Surrey.


I would like to thank my supervisor Dr M Bartuccelli for his support, advice and his welcoming and kind attitude to any problems that I had whilst constructing this review. I would also like to thank family and friends for their support and encouragement. They both have been very much appreciated.


Acknowledgements 2
Abstract 4
Chapter 1 Introduction 5
Chapter 2 Hypatia of Alexandria

- Early Greek Mathematics 9
Chapter 3 Maria Gaetana Agnesi

- The Middle Ages/Renaissance Mathematics 16
Chapter 4 Sonya Kovalevskaya

- The French Revolution and 18/19th Century Mathematics 23

Chapter 5 Emmy Amalie Noether

- 20th Century Mathematics 38
Chapter 6 Olga Taussky Todd 46
Chapter 7 Conclusion 55
Bibliography 63


This review highlights a few of the great women mathematicians throughout history, from the stone age to the twentieth century. It details particular female mathematicians from each era and highlights the stages of their fight for education and recognition. There have been some very brave female mathematicians throughout history who have generally gone unnoticed, they deserve a lot more recognition for their motivation and stamina to succeed and overcome the obstacles that are laid out for them by the male academia. Let alone the great accomplishments that they achieved along the way. This review will reflect on the treatment they received from their male counterparts and their growing status throughout the generations. To then compare how over the centuries there treatment has really not been that different, and how still in the twentieth century women are struggling to fight the prejudices that have been bestowed upon them from the start of mathematics. What can be done to correct this? Unfortunately not all of the women who have contributed to mathematics can be discussed here, but it must be acknowledged that there are a great many of them who have contributed highly to our advance development of mathematics and science today. The women that have been researched are limited to those that have utilised their mathematical knowledge to develop aspects of pure and applied mathematics. There are many other women who have used their accrued mathematical ability to benefit other areas of applied science, especially astronomy and physics.



“ Female – Of the sex that bears offspring” [57]

At no point within this definition does it mention that a female intellect is inferior to that of a male. Unfortunately this is what has been strongly portrayed for the majority of mathematical history, by influential males of academia.
Males and females are supposed to be equals, but throughout history females have been treated as if they are far from equal on the intellectual scale. They have been squashed, deterred and legally stopped from engaging in the mathematical activities of males.
This prejudice against females seems to stem initially from the Pythagoreans in approximately 600 BC. They believed numbers possessed non-quantitative properties i.e. they had ethical and moral characteristics that would provide an insight into human behaviour [1]. They believed odd numbers were good and even ones were evil, a concept of dualism. Unfortunately for females the number two was associated with their sex, and correspondingly the number three was regarded as a male number. This then associated females with evilness as they were represented by an even number, and males as good. This developed to higher/better qualities being assigned to males and lower qualities being assigned to females. This dualism was then extended to heaven and earth, a theory adopted from Greek mythical cosmology, which was honoured before the eighth century BC. It was believed that the number two (the female number) also represented all matter, i.e. the earth. Whereas the number one (a male number) represented the immaterial divine, i.e. the heavens.

To make matters worse the Pythagoreans believed that all numbers belonged to the Divine realm, which was associated with maleness. This then enhanced a deep rooted feeling that the nature and practice of mathematics was in the male realm i.e. when studying mathematics it was the ‘male’ part of the intellect that was being utilised (the psyche). Consequently the female part (the body matter) was to be disengaged. In conclusion, they deciphered male minds were more naturally suited to practising such studies. At this point Pythagoreans did not mean to suggest that only males could practice mathematics, but it is interesting to note that it was females who were eventually denied access to it [1]. It could be suggested that the Pythagoreans original influence started the bias against females that affected women’s mathematical education for centuries.

Obviously the Pythagoreans cannot be blamed solely for the male dominated academia that developed. Another large factor appeared to be religion. This occurred in the high middle ages (1100 – 1400). The role of the church was enhanced with the birth of Christianity, but as a result women’s education was stunted.
Initially in the early middle ages double monasteries and nunneries meant that women were co-educated along with males. Unfortunately the late eighth century (what is referred to as ‘the dark ages’ for women’s education) saw the reform of Priesthood’s, and a better clergy was indicative of better-educated priests. Mathematics was the divine wisdom and classed as God’s ‘other book’, i.e. nature. Therefore it was important to educate Priest’s on this subject.
Under such reforming monasteries and cathedrals were set up to train and develop the Priests. Obviously women did not have access to these schools, as they were not to become priests. This meant that they were increasingly confined to their convents and their quality of education declined whilst males increased. This alienation was highlighted by the reintroduction of Latin as the official language of clerical learning. Women did not have access to Latin teachings so any education they did receive declined as it was all taught or written in Latin, limiting their opportunities somewhat!

Another aspect of religion in this period that disadvantaged women was the introduction of chastity within the clergy. This enforcement meant that any Priests that were married or/and with children had to hand over their property to the church and in some cases were even jailed. This put women in a bad position as it perceived them as the guilty party, and generated a feeling of hatred from Priests that had either been persecuted or carried the threat of persecution if they got involved with them. This influenced general male attitudes towards women, once again reflecting the fact that women were evil and hence should be segregated. One of the best methods of segregating them was denying them the power and status of knowledge. Therefore the late middle ages began the elitist viewpoint that religion and education should be male only. This shadowed many years to come.

Once such an attitude towards women was set within academia the male members appeared to do everything possible to segregate their female counterparts. This was achieved by proving that women were inferior to men and therefore should not be included in any form of education or power.
During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century’s scores of new religious sects developed, these occurred after the development of Renaissance magi where magic was introduced through nature to complement the divine wisdom and scriptures. These new sects preached equal religious rights for both sexes to interpret the word of God and in some cases women even became preachers. This activity caused much upset in Catholics/Protestants, and in England in 1543 an act of Parliament was passed to restrict women from reading the Bible. Only aristocratic women were allowed to read the sacred text in private, merchant class only could read it in the company of men, and lower class were prohibited to read it at all, or to do any sort of private reading. In some countries women were barred from even talking about the scriptures [1].

Coupled with the current intense hatred of magic (all documentation of it being prohibited in 1563), and the new female status in certain religious sects, the Catholics and Protestants took even further action to reform the situation. A lot of women practising/preaching religions were associated with witchcraft (witchcraft was prohibited, the penalty for practising it was execution), as a result it is estimated that approximately a million female ‘witches’ were executed. It is interesting to note that the majority of ‘witches’ were females not male (they could be either sex)! It has been suggested that any lower class women who were outspoken, behaved strangely or challenged males were automatically charged with conducting witchcraft, not the normal actions you would associate with a witch!

Therefore the church quickly squashed this short period of women’s equal status, if females demonstrated an intelligence/opinion, they were brutally killed. But why did males escape such a law when they also demonstrated such traits? Although it was not just the church that had such a poor opinion of females, the general attitude towards women was awful at this time. As a prime example in 1788 a professor at the University of Göttingen wrote a four volume history that he hoped would save Europe from the ‘calamity of pedantic women’ which speaks volumes, literally![1]
Much later on science also played its part in the demise of women. Scientific experiments were actually conducted to prove the theory that women were intellectually inferior to men. The complementarians, who believed highly valued qualities were associated with men, and low valued qualities were associated with women – although the two sexes were equal (!) – conducted these experiments. Scientists measured both sexes skulls and found that female skulls were smaller in proportion to their bodies than men’s. Therefore they concluded just from skull size that men had dominance in this field. It was discovered in the nineteenth century that these findings were incorrect, and women’s skulls were actually larger in proportion to their bodies than men’s. After questioning, scientists did not conclude therefore that women were more intelligent, but conveniently changed their opinion to suit the result they wanted. It was finally concluded that the larger head implied incomplete growth, they were compared to children who had not completed their growth and therefore their heads proportionally larger than their bodies, i.e. women had the intelligence of a child [1]. Once again the males intellect was conceded as greater.

Therefore even with scientific proof women were still not allowed to have equal or greater intelligence than males. It must be noted that the scientists conducting these experiments would have probably been male as females were not allowed into such a field of work, maybe a female scientist would have discovered a different conclusion!

Even as late as 1905 Lise Meitner, who was a great physicist was not allowed to carry out her research in the laboratories at Emil Fischer’s Chemical Institute, due to a male only rule. Meitner had to do her work out of sight in the basement, if she wanted to listen to any lectures being taught she would have to hide under the tiers of seats in the lecture theatre. Therefore to carry out her work and highly contribute to the field of science she had to be degraded and hidden. It was only sheer determination and the love of science on her behalf that kept her going, as it definitely was not any sort of respect or encouragement from her mentors. Her education and development was left to her own motivation [1]. Therefore not only did females have to be successful in their research, as successful as males, they had to have the extra stamina and fortitude to cope with the male prejudices against them. It is a miracle that they have managed to discover such profound mathematical theories and discoveries when they were denied any sort of education.
This awful ill treatment was even noticed by some male counterparts of academia. The great mathematician Gauss once wrote a letter to Sophie Germain (another outstanding female mathematician) expressing his remorse on the treatment of female mathematicians/scientists. In his letter he wrote –
“But when a person of the sex, which according to our customs and prejudices, must encounter infinitely more difficulties than men to familiarise herself with these thorny researches, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, then without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talent and a superior genius” [3]

As demonstrated here, females were not favoured in academia, increasingly they were ignored and hated. Even with such disadvantages they still managed to achieve great accomplishments. Although this sometimes was still not enough, as even when they did play a vital role in discoveries some history documentation’s do not accredit them with it because they are women. Therefore a lot of achievements weren’t, and still aren’t, widely advertised, once again keeping great females hidden. Generally if they were mentioned it was because they were linked by partner or marriage to a male mathematician being documented, not because of their individual achievements.

This review now commences to highlight five great pure and applied female mathematicians who span mathematical history. They demonstrate the obstacles and prejudices that all females, past and present, have had to encounter when entering primarily male dominated academia. These ladies are Hypatia of Alexandria, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Sonya Kovalevskaya, Emmy Noether and Olga Taussky Todd.


Hypatia of Alexandria – Early Greek Mathematics

The early history of mathematics (up to 2500 BC) can only be guessed at by researchers. A mixture of mythology, legend, fable and unavailability of scripts makes it hard to represent this period.

There is believed to have been several number systems in place by the late Stone Age and by 3000 BC stone buildings and sailing ships had emerged. Archaeologists discovered ancient writings on tablets and old calendars used by the Babylons as early as 4700 BC. The Egyptians had a calendar in 4241 BC and mathematical texts in 1650 BC. Other artefacts such as mathematical games for the family have also been discovered [2]. These activities all acquire a certain competence in mathematics therefore the subject was obviously being utilised at an early stage. It is unsure if women were participants in the advancement of it, but the family games may suggest more strongly inclusion in such events. Under Babylonian law women did have a reasonable status within the community, they had rights to financial support, business activities, and property ownership. Women were allowed to be judges, elders, witnesses and secretaries. There was also a religious Babylonian group consisting entirely of women. Subsequently Egypt also allowed women to inherit property and trade. A few women even became rulers i.e. Queen Nitocris, Hatshepsut and Tawosret. Although most Egyptian women did not learn to read or write and were not allowed to participate in Civil Government.

No female names associated with mathematics during this period have been discovered, but it is likely that women did have access to the available knowledge, although mostly they were considered as supplementary to males.
One of the main legendary icons of early history was Pythagoras, his followers regarded him as semi-divine, as he was supposed to have conversed with demons, and performed miracles. Our knowledge of Pythagoras is built upon reference to him from ancient sources. Pythagoras believed ‘all is number’ i.e. the Universe could be explained by the properties and relationships of number. He was born in 569 BC and travelled to Egypt and Babylon to learn of other religions and teachings. Eventually he established his own school in Southern Italy to share his knowledge and enable his followers to dedicate their lives to studying the numbers of the divine and religion in 539 BC. [1] [2]
The members of this community were either Akousmatics or Mathematikoi. The Akousmatics lived outside of the community and visited for guidance and teachings, whereas the Mathematikoi lived inside the community and completely dedicated their lives to the ‘Pythagorean Life’. It was only the Mathematikoi that studied such teachings as mathematics - the school is said to have created the science of mathematics. [1]

Pythagoras was classed as a ‘feminist philosopher’, he was keen to teach anyone that was interested, and therefore he was in favour of having women in the order even though it was referred to as a ‘brotherhood’. The understanding of mathematics was connected to such subjects as music, harmonies, dancing, songs and other pleasures. Women shared these activities with men and therefore it was believed that they should also share the mathematical connection within them. This equality of learning came at an opportune moment as there had been enhanced feminine intellect in Greece in the ascending centuries before the Pythagorean School. It has been indicated that there were at least twenty-eight female Pythagoreans in the school, it is also suggested that these women were allowed to become Mathematikoi. One woman who we are aware of is Theano, Pythagoras’ wife. She was a student of Pythagoras, becoming an active member and teacher within the school. She wrote treatises on mathematics, physics, medicine and child psychology. She is famous for her treatise introducing the principle of the ‘Golden Mean’ which was a major contribution to the evolution of social philosophy. Pythagoras and Theano’s children were a part of the community, and it is believed that at least two daughters helped to spread the school’s ethos. Theano and two of their daughters (three females!) carried on Pythagoras’s role at the school after his death. [1] [2]

Other Pythagorean women have also come to our attention in the later communities of fifth century BC, the schools spread over Greece and Egypt by teachers of both sexes for over one hundred years. Greek social thought was focused on the Pythagorean philosophy, so women’s contributions and influence were essential. Such women were Phintys, Melissa and Tymicha.
Therefore women did have roles in the Pythagorean communities, the gender inferiority argument began equal. Although at the start it was only Pythagoras’ views on women that allowed them to be involved. A lot of Pythagoras’s male associates in the early community were opposed to sharing their knowledge and school with women. Although the extent of their secrecy regulations meant that they did not want to share their knowledge with anyone!
The ancient mentor Plato was highly influenced by Pythagorean philosophy in the Hellenic age. He also believed females should be educated. He had a deep appreciation for their intelligence and therefore welcomed them into his academy. He taught both sexes in the disciplines of music, mathematics, literature, astronomy etc. Once again, like Pythagoras he believed both sexes experienced such pursuits and so should be taught in such subjects. Even though females were forbidden to attend public meetings by law, they flocked to his appealing and welcoming academy where they could be educated. Some of the most important mathematical work was achieved in the fourth century BC in Plato’s academy.

Plato, along with Socrates represented many women teachers, including Diotama, Perictione and Aspasia. Aspasia was an active and keen advocate of women’s education. She convinced the ruler Pericles that women should not be denied opportunities to increase their intellect. Socrates also named her as one of his teachers and she strongly influenced both his and Plato’s ideas. She also wrote many of Pericles’ speeches which emphasised women’s potential. Plato and Socrates also supported this in their extensive writings on social values. Unfortunately such opinions were obscure in this period - many of their contemporaries had a very different view. Most women were kept in seclusion and did not participate in such education. This secured Aspasia as one of the most well known women of her time and one of the most remarkable women Greece ever produced.

Following Pythagoras a Greek philosopher, Aristotle, had a major effect on women’s education. Unfortunately he became an opposing force to Pythagoras’s views, he rejected the idea of explaining the world through rational means and mathematics. He believed mathematics did not have the power to explain the true nature of things, it did not answer his (and commonly derived) questions, whereas his approach did. He believed everything in the World strove towards an ideal appropriate to it’s inherent nature [1]. Consequently the Greek’s began to reject mathematical science and supported Aristotle’s more obvious (although maybe not correct) explanation. Unfortunately Aristotle built a large following, initially from the Greeks, then the Medievals – he dominated European science up to the seventeenth century. Aristotle’s views also complemented the rise of Christianity, unlike Pythagoras’, this increased his support immensely.
This was unproductive to the cause of women’s equal education, as Aristotle believed women were mentally defective and less than fully human. As with many influential leaders his opinions were followed as strongly as his theories. This deterred many females in their search for education.

Due to Plato’s and Pythagoras’ schools women were able to pursue academic careers. Many women did just this but there is little information available concerning them. The first woman in mathematics there is considerable knowledge of is Hypatia of Alexandria. Unfortunately a lot of the information that is available derives from speculation and fictional, not historical, sources. There is only a small amount of true primary material. These sources were originally written in Patristic Greek, and the translation to English was not an easy feat, but hopefully an accurate on. There have been many books that romanticise the story of Hypatia. [7]

Hypatia was born approximately in 370 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. By this point Aristotelian hatred of women was widespread, so she had to rely on alternative means for her education. Fortunately her father, Theon of Alexandria, was a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Alexandria. He believed that his daughter should become a ‘perfect human being’, i.e. she would be wise, learned, virtuous and beautiful, which she was. From an early age she was developed in a stimulating family life of learning, questioning and exploration. Theon became Hypatia’s teacher – and an excellent one at that! He taught her mathematics, science and religion.
Most of Hypatia’s early life was surrounded by education. Theon became the director of the University of Alexandria, so she spent a lot of her time there, especially in the institute named the ‘museum’. The University was classed as the greatest seat of learning in the World, many scholars world-wide would visit it to exchange ideas and develop existing knowledge. This meant Hypatia was surrounded by the best learning facilities to enhance her already acquired intelligence.

For Theon to develop the ‘perfect’ human being he had to subject Hypatia to an emotional, intellectual and physical daily regime. Physically she was taught many sports such as rowing, horse riding, climbing and callisthenics, to ensure that her health would match the fitness of her mind. On an intellectual level she was taught about the differing religions that were currently being pursued, about the arts, literature, science, philosophy, and most importantly mathematics. (Theon’s love and enthusiasm for mathematics encouraged Hypatia to also have such a passion for it). Emotionally he taught her how to distinguish between knowledge that would aid or degenerate her beliefs, to be open-minded to all new aspects of religion, to think for herself, to have the ability to impress others by her personal presence (an art the Romans called Rhetor or Orator), and to utilise the power of words and hypnotic suggestion. He even trained her to speak in tones of a more gentle persuasion, which would be more pleasing and welcoming for the listener. These powerful tools of the mind were not taught without warning though, Theon was aware that even though wise, she was still only young and impressionable and such tools should only be utilised for the correct reasons.

Theon therefore gave Hypatia a wonderful and plentiful fund of knowledge, which took his lifetime to obtain, and which she was to base her adulthood on. Hypatia was then able to nurture the growth of this wisdom further, which is what she did. She grew up to become a sensitive, talented and great teacher.
Hypatia established her first teaching role after returning from a period of travel and study at the Athens school conducted by Plutarch the Younger and his daughter Asclepigenia. She became famed for her abilities in mathematics at the school and on her return to Alexandria she was asked to teach mathematics and philosophy at the University. [2]
Her home became a centre of learning for even the most challenging of students and scholars. Astoundingly it was given the same prestigious status of an ‘intellectual centre’ as the library and museum was. During her teaching career she lectured on the techniques Diophantus had developed in the ‘Arithmetica’ of Diophantus. Her passion for mathematics was reflected in her lectures creating a genuinity that resulted in students world-wide flocking to hear them. Eventually she taught from the chair that had seen the great scholars Ammonius and Hierocles teach. [2]
During her childhood mathematics was taught for calculating such things as the whereabouts of a given soul born under a certain planet at a given time. Mathematics was considered just a bridge between the science of astronomy/astrology and religion. Hypatia helped to develop the importance of mathematics by producing several treatises and teaching the next generation of its individual power and relevance.

As was the fashion at the time most of her treatises were commentaries on earlier mathematical giants’ works. Unfortunately a lot of Hypatia’s work has been lost or destroyed so it is hard to decipher what part she actually played in a lot of the works accredited to her. During the fifteenth century a fraction of her treatises concerning the ‘Astronomical Canon of Diophantus’ was found in the Vatican library, but her other works were destroyed due to the destruction of the library in Alexandria. Translations of the available Greek texts that detail Hypatia’s input are also misleading – some translations question her actual involvement. This has concluded in numerous discussions about the extent of her achievements.

Hypatia allegedly wrote a commentary on Diophantus’s ‘Arithmetic’. This text detailed Diophantine algebra, which tackled first-degree and quadratic equations. Hypatia is thought to have included alternative solutions and constructed new problems to challenge her more astute pupils. Some sources believe these additions were done by Diophantus in the original text and were already there. The translation of the Greek text references Hypatia to some of the contributions, although more recently the Arabic text has been found and a translation of this makes it clear that any work done by Hypatia is found in the Arabic version only. It only credits her with the detailed checking that is necessary for the solutions to be declared valid. [7]
Hypatia is also believed to have made a commentary on the ‘Conics of Apollonius’. This material was not developed any further until the first half of the seventeenth century, and so it is assumed that Hypatia’s writings would have been an important resource when conic sections were studied so much later in the history of mathematics. In fact most of her mathematical work was never progressed until the time when Descartes, Newton and Leibniz advanced it centuries later. Therefore it seems that her teachings influenced many mathematicians for many centuries – a great accomplishment! In addition to ‘Conics of Apollonius’ she is also believed to have written commentaries on the ‘Almagest’ (an astronomical canon at Ptolemy’s containing his observations of the stars).

In what would appear to be a rather obvious fusion of knowledge Hypatia co-authored treatises with her father, Theon, on the mathematical giants Euclid, and Ptolemy. Once again the issue of her input into the latter treatise is debatable. This stems from a sentence at the start of book III of Theon’s commentary. Some sources believe this sentence attributes authorship to Hypatia, indicating even that she developed an improved technique for long division, but others say that Theon just attributed the assistance he received in the preparation for the commentary to Hypatia.

A great source of information about Hypatia and her achievements comes from letters written by her most famed pupil, Synesius of Cyrene who later became the influential Bishop of Ptolemais. Hypatia was his only teacher and he respected and worshipped her intelligence and wisdom. The most enlightening letters are between Hypatia herself and Synesius. Synesius would write to her for scientific advice, as she was greatly interested in practical technology and mechanics, which complemented her mathematical mind. A letter of particular interest is the one where Synesius wrote to Hypatia to ask for help with the invention of the astrolabe – a scientific instrument designed for studying astronomy (it calculated time and measured the positions of the sun, stars and planets). Some sources believe Hypatia invented this instrument, but others believe she only helped in its design. She is also believed to have invented another such instrument called the ‘planesphere’ which was used for the same purpose. During Synesius’s final illness he wrote to Hypatia to request a ‘hydroscope’ (or aerometer). Hypatia fulfilled this request and designed the apparatus that would distil and measure the level of water, and determine the gravity of liquids, (it was later called a hydrometer). It is thought that Synesius as a sick man may have used this instrument to brew or distil alcohol-based medicines, or else to use it as a urinometer. Such an adaptable instrument! [7] [2]
Hypatia never married – although there is a lot of speculation that she did. She had many proposals by prestigious men but she declined them in favour of her commitment to her work. It is thought though, that she just did not find a male that would equal or challenge her intelligence, her stimulus was her work. Although she was linked to many love affairs though.

Hypatia’s reputation was immense, even her contemporaries could not fault her. Socrates, Nicephorus and Philostorgius wrote glowing accounts of her genius, teachings, ability, and personality. She was not only great as a mathematician but also as a philosopher. It is said that letters just addressed to ‘the muse’ or ‘the philosopher’ would be delivered straight to her proving the status and power she held. [2]
By the fourth century AD Alexandria was the remaining centre of Greek mathematics and science. It also supported the revival in the late Roman Empire of the Pythagorean thinking. Intellectuals supporting this movement were known as Neoplatonists, Hypatia was one of these intellectuals. This viewpoint directly rivalled the rising faith of Christianity, Pythagoras was even suggested as an alternative to Christ. Therefore this drew a distinct boundary between Neoplatonism and Christianism. This fateful situation was heightened by the appointment of a fanatical Christian, Cyril, in 412 AD to patriarch of Alexandria. Cyril quickly put in place a systematic program to oppress both the Jews and Neoplatonists, to enable Christianity to be all-powerful. This began the cruel demise of Hypatia. Unfortunately as a high profile member of Neoplatonism she was already at risk, but to add to her misfortune she was also great friends with the Prefect of Egypt who was the only opposing force against Cyril. Hypatia would not convert to Christianity so Cyril set about making an example of her, as a strong Neoplatonist, friend of the enemy, great philosopher, and a woman, she was threatening to Cyril and Christianity, and a hatred of her was easily provoked. Hypatia’s demise was a direct result of Cyril’s anger and jealousy, he wished to expel all Jews from the city and Hypatia’s ally the Prefect of Egypt prevented this, so Cyril had him assassinated, then he turned to Hypatia [8]. He believed that during such a time of political unrest the sacrifice of a virgin would serve him well [2]. In 415 AD, under Cyril’s direction, a mob of Christian fanatics set upon Hypatia whilst she was on her way to the University. They pulled her out of her chariot, stripped her naked, and dragged her into a nearby church where they inhumanely butchered her with broken glass, scraping her flesh from her bones, chopping her up, then after parading her remains through the streets, burned her.

No justice prevailed from this ghastly crime. The investigation into her death was repeatedly postponed for lack of witnesses. It was finally abandoned when Cyril claimed that Hypatia was fit and well in Athens and nothing of the sort had happened. The successor of the Prefect of Egypt was forced to comply with Cyril and a great injustice was done.
Cyril was not content with killing people that stood in his way, he wanted to kill the culture of Judaism and Neoplatonism. He destroyed their sacred temple the Serapeum, and the famous library of Alexandria. This sole action may have delayed the development of mathematics, as it is believed that the library contained a million works in many languages, and it was also used as a research centre. Here scientists had managed, with great accuracy, to measure the circumference of the planet and had proposed the heliocentric nature of the solar system sixteen hundred years before Copernicus even did! [8] If such information had been more readily available, the history of mathematics could have been a very different story. The destruction of these records also erases any information on female mathematicians that may have been involved with the Library’s research, there may have been more women like Hypatia that we will never know about. Any books that did survive were burned as fuel a couple of centuries later.
Hypatia’s death is said to mark the beginning of a barren period referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’, Neoplatonism could not survive and an end was drawn to the great period of ancient science. It is interesting to note that the era of Greek mathematical science began with the birth of a man, but finished with the death of a woman.

Hypatia was part of an era when women were able to make a place for themselves in the public domain, they were respected as teachers and philosophers, and it seems that they were equals. Unfortunately this did not last, one of the greatest female philosophers and mathematicians was abruptly murdered because she had an opinion on her religion, Cyril – as a male and apparently a misogynist – was jealous of her stature, wealth, power and popularity, she was a threat, so he eradicated her. The demise of Neoplatonism resulted in Cyril initiating the demise of women’s equal rights and education in Greece.

Hypatia was not even included in Raphael’s painting ‘School of Athens’. It is unknown why she was not included, but it still remains that once again she was eradicated from the Athens academia like Cyril had disposed of her from Alexandria. This pattern of events appears to be reflected in the careers of many future females in academia. The question must be raised, is it just a coincidence, or is there more to it?

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