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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who was Hypatia? Probably not Rachel Weisz ...

You've probably never heard of Hypatia. Nearly 1600 years after her murder, Rachel Weisz will play this amazing woman in the historical-drama, Agora. Perhaps we should be just a little skeptical that the female lead in the Mummy franchize will be playing a woman living in Egypt after its conquer by the Romans. It should be clear where this is going.
Hypatia was actually a remarkable woman. Born in Alexandria in the 3rd century to noted mathematician, Theon, Hypatia was a scientist, mathematician, astromomer, and philosopher in her own right. She was also not prisoner to many of the existing mores for women in Alexandria during her time; she walked the streets without male companionship and wore the clothes of a male scholar.

You would figure you might have heard about her right? After all, Hypatia was one of the first recorded female scientists and also a bit of what we would call a radical feminist/womanist. It has been reported that she rebuffed a suitor by showing him her menstruation rags and warning him about carnal desire. However, Hypatia was a "pagan" who stood in conflict with the bigotry of an early Christian sect. Uncomfortable with her ideas, this group brutally murdered her by sheering the skin from her bones with oyster shells and finally burning her alive. This history is not one that would be easily reconciled in today's Christian world.
There is still at least one other reason Hypatia is not widely popular. I am quite sure Hypatia's racial/ethnic background will not be explored in the new Rachel Weisz film. It is certainly possible that she was ethnically Greek. She lived in Egypt after the Greek invasion and during the subsequent Roman period. It is also possible that she was a Black woman--an argument that historians Ivan Van Sertima and George Sarton both posit. It is likely that Hypatia's father, Theon, was an African. I will eagerly await his depiction in the film.
With all of the reasons Hypatia should be a household name, it is still clear that an honest recounting of her ideas and linage are still uncomfortable topics. I think the words of the Chief Priestess of Shrine of Ptah are appropriate here: "They say our way is dead. They say ou way is no more. That the Nile Valley Legacy all ended thousand of years ago. But we are here ... and we remember." Shem em Hetep (Go forward in peace)!

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