“What one studies matters less than the pursuit of knowledge. The gods gave us the power to think, to feel, to reason…”
· Title: Hypatia of Alexandria
· Author: Laurel Rockefeller
· Published: 2017
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Hypatia of Alexandria is a narrative fiction piece that follows the life of Hypatia, an accomplished neoclassical philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, which at the time was part of the Eastern Roman Empire. There is a prologue and epilogue that frame the story very nicely. Saint Hildegard, a German abbess, receives several volumes that contain information about Hypatia. The story begins and ends with Hildegard’s exploration of Hypatia’s life and teachings.
The book especially excels at conveying the culture and society of Alexandria in the fourth century. The author does not shirk away from exposing unsavory information about Roman society. For example, it is made clear that as a woman, Hypatia was considered property of her father. The silver lining is that Hypatia’s father seemed to successfully twist a draconian system to support progressive ends, where Hypatia was made his protégée. Hypatia’s father worked and taught at the Library of Alexandria.
The story culminates with the unconscionable violence that occurred while the Roman government weakened and Theophilus controlled the archdiocese in Alexandria. The violence is not skirted around, but it is tastefully handled and never graphic, making the book quite suitable for a younger audience.
As a child, Hypatia meets and befriends Rachel, a Jewish girl close to her own age. Their friendship continues throughout Hypatia’s life, and while never converting to Judaism, Hypatia embraces Rachel’s Jewish heritage and even attends synagogue. Their friendship is what connected me the most to the book on an emotional level. The section where the great Library of Alexandria burns is also an especially well written scene where the reader can could emotionally connect with Hypatia.
One area for improvement might be to temper the background information included in the dialogue with more realistic dialogue. For example, when Hypatia is five years old the conversation she has with her father is too advanced for a five year old. Cultural and historical background information may be best presented in other ways. There is also a stray typo here and there, though it did not bother me while reading and did not get in the way of the content or understanding.
Hypatia is the latest release in Rockefeller’s Legendary Women of World History series, and loyal readers of the series will appreciate that Hypatia includes a hat tip to Boudicca, the Celtic queen of the Iceni and another heroine in the series.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thanks for reading! And many thanks to Laurel Rockefeller for sending me a free e-book to read. If you enjoyed this review, please share or follow for more book reviews.