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Hypatia: New Foes With an Old Face

by Charles Kingsley

Buy the book: Charles Kingsley. Hypatia: New Foes With an Old Face

Release Date: September, 1997

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Charles Kingsley. Hypatia: New Foes With an Old Face

A well crafted classic, polemic, & horrific history

I wish the Rev. Charles Kingsley were here to speak for his book ... but it's a century and a half since he wrote it ... I might not do it justice but I'll do what I can ...

I found a copy of this book at a garage sale and wondered what is Hypatia In Kingsley's preface he suggests that an innocent or tender reader might rather not know. It was a violent era, those first five hundred years after the time of Jesus. Kingsley is right. Even more than I wish I didn't know, I wish this didn't happen.

One of the best things the author says in the whole book is an aside to one of the faithful cautioning that this church might not be God's. You read it and see if you hear it that way. Probably Kingsley didn't like the Catholic Church anyway. I can't say that I blame him right now.

As the Roman empire settled into its form of Christianity, social conflicts resembled the teachings of Jesus not at all. They much more resembled issues of power, acqusition of land, holding of influence.

I wonder how I could live half a lifetime and not know Hypatia's story. For some reason, I am enraged to learn her story from a prolific church writer.

Kingsley writes well enough. He takes a true historical horror and wraps it in plot. I could point to the characters as archetypes and symbols that constellate around various types of betrayal of beauty or truth.

Kingsley creates a fiction to wrap the unthinkable truth. Then he messes a bit with the history and the clerical consciousness of the times and in that, he may be well informed.

Kingsley's portrayal of Hypatia's murder reads more euphemistically than the histories I found using a search engine online.

The already plundered and dominated pagans and Goths were fast becoming the 'minorities' subject to Roman ethnic cleansing. In fact, many of the seasonal celebrations of the pagan religions were co-opted as we know to drag people into the state religion.

Hypatia, the graceful, scholarly, astute, and renown daughter of a father who believed in education no matter the gender of the child ... Hypatia, called The Mathematician, becomes an illustrious teacher in Alexandria ...

her death at the hands of an enraged mob is seen as the end of the classical era and the beginning of the dark dark ages ... it is a dark story. I hate that this story can be true.

Kingsley gives us Hypatia as she lectures, counsels Orestes, and ignores the jealous and hostile church men who seem to play Iago/Saliere to her genius, health, and scholarly devotion. While Hypatia enrages them for her celibacy she is also suspected by them, Kingsley suggests, of sharing more than counsel with the governor. This fantasy of her influence may have been what made her dangerous enough to murder.

Who knows ... whether she was as dangerous as these hostile rivals found her to be. Certainly she threatened them to the extent that they had to look in her mirror and see themselves.

Kingsley's Hypatia's is tragic because her flaw is a pride in her aristocracy and freedom of thought and opinion. She either did not accept or did not notice the exclusive claims of this new religion on her mind and opinions.

Too bad for her, she gets murdered in the cruelest manner.

History speculates, but no one really knows, that Peter the Reader and Cyril the bishop (later St. Cyril I believe) intended to and did incite the mob against Hypatia. Thus ending the life of their rival for the governor's ear ... and the people's.

Kingsley apparently believes or allows the reader to speculate that the churchmen orchestrated this murder and blamed the mob for it.

Unlike St. Joan, Hypatia was not elevated later by a guilty church. I was surprised to find that Kingsley takes us, with one of his charaters, right into the church where Hypatia was dragged, defenseless, stripped of her clothing, and cut to pieces by a mob, we think, of Christians wielding tiles made of mollusk shells ... other sources say these people scraped her flesh from her bones with these weapons ...

Euphemistic as Kingsley's scene in the church is, Hypatia screams until she dies and then her body burned. I supposed this book needs to be read now, sickening and heartbreaking as it is, because now we need to look at our species and the things we have done in the name of righteousness.

When our conflicts are truly about power, resources, position, image, our righteousness is a poor disguise. No one believes it any more.

And hatred for independent thinking and aloof beauty, is, well, certainly not God's work or love's work, and is not welcome on the planet.

It is no wonder we've had to rehabilitate a belief in our little daughters that they can, after all, do math. There'a memory to heal by facing it.

Yes, the church tortured and burned women to death. And sometimes other people who were hated for some scapegoating reason ... This is true. In Hypatia's case, there's evidently no historical acknowledgement of the church's role.

Otherwise, Hypatia might also be sainted today. But I cannot think she'd like that. Do I recommend Kingsley's book? I cannot recommend it any more than Kingsley does in his preface.

But here is another dark truth we need to know. It is a part of who we are, I think.

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