a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Another novel about the historical figure Hypatia of Alexandria whose murder by Christian zealots as the Ancient Greek culture faded away makes her a good subject for authors with certain political and religious agendas. In most cases, the fact that she was known as a mathematician and/or teacher of mathematics (we're really not all that sure what she did) is beside the point. That appears to be the case in this adaptation of the story as well. Although it does mention mathematics (along with philosophy) as one of her interests, nothing much is said in particular about mathematics or her contributions to it.
(Thanks to Marge Bayer for suggesting this book for inclusion on the website!)
I did not read this book for its mathematics but I did find mathematics in it. While it's true that serious math was not really discussed, it is also true that the place of mathematics and a bit of its history was included - and of great interest to me. Hypatia may have been a mathematician. She was surely a philosopher. In her day mathematics was an amalgam of philosophy and numbers. We like to think there is such a thing as "pure" science. I don't believe there is because all science is human based and is therefore tainted by our hopes and beliefs. In Hypatia's time, no one pretended there was anything like pure science. This book makes that clear and that alone makes it interesting to open minded mathematicians. Other than that, it's a great read and full of fascinating ideas clearly expressed.
How can one expect a historical novel to be full of what today's mathematicians think of as mathematics? This is not a book on the history of mathematics and since so little is known about Hypatia's work in this field, it would be as much guessing as anything. The central theme of the book is the repression of questioning by a new religion that felt all questions had been answered. I also get quite tired of how we look at other cultures at other times in the assumption they were just like ours. In Hypatia's time, magic and divination were practiced by "mathematicians." And then there's philosophy. This too was full of numbers which were often "sacred." Pythagoreans, for instance . This book spoke about these things, to my mind, properly. Those who try to force a woman of her times into our times are fooling themselves, and us. I don't require an answer. I'm merely stating my opinion.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)