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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Hypatia opens the eyes of a madcap in love young

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A young disciple confessed to his teacher Hypatia its on love because of her beauty, but the teacher bluntly disabused him of the truth of beauty and mere appearance.

This anecdote, that I will develop, reminds me another similar happened in Madrid in the time of the Habsburgs.

All great  cities have  a "sub urbe" or underground world of tunnels, passageways, and various pipelines. One of the first major pipelines and soundness is, for example, the "Cloaca Maxima" of Rome  to clean up the marshy valley of the "forum".

Madrid, capital of Spain, is, like Rome, built on "seven hills" and like any big city, it is  pierced by hundreds of kilometers of pipelines with different galleries and purposes. On many of them there are fantastic stories, full of imagination at times and at other times with historical foundation, though it may seem curious.

Among those tunnels they have always generated great curiosity that united the palaces castles with exits to the outside walls or entries in special enclosures. One of the most curious in Madrid is apparently it that linked the “Alcázar de los Austrias”, precursor of the current Royal Palace, with the Convent of the Incarnation. By it kings were traveling to attend religious services.

According to one of those apocryphal or imaginative stories, King Philip IV inter alia transited the tunnel to visit a beautiful convent novice of  San Placido because he felt attracted to her.  The novice found an effective way to end the harassment of lubricious monarch : she called for, before the visit of the monarch, she was dressed in the shroud of dead and was placed in a lit by torches coffin faking the funeral of her death.

This fictional or real story remember, as I said, another less extreme attributed to the famous philosopher and mathematical Hypatia of Alexandria, a victim of the intransigence of a group of Christians in the V century under religious and social conflicts fueled by the intransigence of some leaders like bishop Cyril. Hypatia was brutally murdered in 415.

Her figure, long forgotten, was then and still it is now the subject of many opposing interpretations, about  which probably I will talk in another time, and interest in modern media and art (remember the famous movie “Agora”, directed by  Alejandro Amenabar released in 2009 with great success, despite also notable historical errors.

Well, Hypatia joined her womanhood, the wisdom, illustration, philosophy, virginity and beauty.  Virginity will come in part imposed by his absolute dedication to science and philosophical reflection, which require continuous attention . Apart by her neoplatonic philosophical orientation, she  was interested in the ideal world of ideas and not in that of the miserable matter.

It is said that  a giddy and inexperienced young, madly in love with her, insisted on his amorous desires. Hypatia let him see his condition of mortal and imperfect being, like the nun although with a less drastic method: she showed the young the sanitary napkin with which young wiped menstrual blood that, monthly, as the name suggests, expels the status of women in fertility, saying:  "dear young man, this is actually what you love, not beauty in itself" or according to another version "this is what you love, young, and it is not beautiful" .

The story is told by the Athenian Damascius, in his book  “Alexandria”:

She used to wear her mantle of philosopher and stroll through town performing publicly Plato and Aristotle, and the works of some other philosophers whom  wanted to listen her. In addition to his teaching ability, she stood at the pinnacle of virtue. She was fair and always remained chaste and virgin. It was so beautiful and well made that one of his students loved her and being unable to control himself, he showed a sign of his enchantment. Hypatia, tried unsuccessfully to calm him through music. Actually she took some cloths stained with menstruation and said "this is what you love, young, and this is not beautiful." He felt so ashamed and frightened by the horrible sight that he experienced a change on his  heart and quickly became a better man.

So Hypatia was both intelligent and eloquent in his speeches and courteous in their actions. The whole city loved  undoubedly her and the  had great veneration for her, but the rulers of the city envied her from the beginning, that often occurred in Athens also. But if philosophy had perished, yet its name still appeared grand and venerable to men who exercised leadership in the State (Alexandria2: 1993, 57-58)

Note: The text is reproduced by Amalia Gonzalez Suarez, who published first it in "La otra Historia", Another  History. Ed Tertulia Feminist les Comadres, Gijón, 2003. The author Maria Dzielska, author of Hypatia of Alexandria (Ed.Siruela) locates the event in Damascius, frag. 102, pp-17-77.15

Also the Suda (Byzantine Greek encyclopedia of X century with over 30,000 entries) says about this word Hypatia, Ὑπατία:

In addition to her teaching, attaining the height of practical virtue, becoming just and prudent, she remained a virgin. She was so very beautiful and attractive that one of those who attended her lectures fell in love with her. He was not able to contain his desire, but he informed her of his condition. Ignorant reports say that Hypatia relieved him of his disease by music; but truth proclaims that music failed to have any effect. She brought some of her female rags and threw them before him, showing him the signs of her unclean origin, and said, "You love this, o youth, and there is nothing beautiful about it." (Suda online, Upsilon 166)

The story may seem grotesque, but it increases its chance considering the interest in Platonic philosophy by Hypatia. The sanitary napkin is the symbol of materiality and imperfection of the female body in front of the perfection of beauty itself that is sought by the  philosopher. Interestingly, the name Hypatia etymologically means "the perfect, the sublime, the high". Naturally, today it is very different the consideration of the matter against the spirit and the perfection or imperfection of the female body. The ideas can only be explained and understood in its historical context.
 

   
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