Hypatia of Alexandria
The Legendary Women of World History #8
by Laurel A. Rockefeller
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Teacher. Philosopher. Astronomer.
Born in 355 CE. In the aftermath of Constantine's reign Hypatia of Alexandria lived in a collapsing Rome Empire, a world where obedience to religious authorities trumped science, where reason and logic threatened the new world order. It was a world on the edge of the Dark Ages. As libraries burned, she dared defend the light of knowledge.
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One year later Hypatia sat at a small wooden table. Carefully copying letters from a baked clay tablet, she etched practice lines of each letter into the wax sheet in front of her. Theon bent over her shoulder, “Excellent, except your lower case xi ξ and zêta ζ need work. Here, let me show you.” Picking up a second tablet and stylus from the table, Theon slowly transcribed the two characters in front of her. Hypatia copied her father. Theon smiled with approval, “Much better. Practice those until it fills up your tablet. After dinner, I will bring you up to the roof for more lessons.”
Three hours later Hypatia followed her father up the stairs to the roof, grateful for her heavy woollen palla which warmed her against the autumn night chill. Above them the stars wheeled majestically. Hypatia smiled at the beauty of the sky. Theon stepped to a small table and picked up his cross staff. Turning to the north he put the cross staff up to his cheek and measured the angular distance between Polaris in Ursa Minor and Alpha Ursae Majoris in Ursa Major.
Hypatia walked up to him, “What are you doing?”
“Measuring the distance between the pole star and that bright star near it.”
“May I try?”
Theon lowered his cross staff and handed it to Hypatia, “That star is called Alpha Ursae Majoris. It’s part of a constellation called Ursa Major –the big bear. Callisto was a beautiful nymph sworn to Artemis. One day Zeus fell in love with her and she conceived a son. Hera of course was very angry that her husband had cheated on her again and turned her into a bear. One day her son, a young man named Arcas, met her in the forest. Naturally he was afraid that she would kill him—as bears often do when humans get too close. So, Zeus intervened and put them both in the sky. The mother is the great bear Ursa Major and the son is the little bear Ursa Minor. Callisto’s body is formed by many stars, Alpha Ursae Majoris being the closest to Arcas’ tail. If you will look here, the tip of that tail is the current pole star, Polaris.”
Hypatia smiled, “It’s beautiful! Why do you say ‘current’ pole star?”
“Because Polaris is not always the pole star. Sometimes it is Alpha Lyrae. About six hundred years ago, Hipparchus of Nicaea discovered, almost by accident, that the spin of the Earth is imperfect. Like a top, it wobbles so that the pole star alternates between Polaris and Alpha Lyrae. It takes a very long time, of course. The wobble is very slight – about one degree every seventy-two years. So as far as we need to be concerned Polaris is the pole star—and will continue to be for a very long time.”
“So if I want to find north, all I need to do is look for Alpha Ursae Majoris and I will quickly find Polaris?”
“Yes. It is as easy as that—at least at night it is.”
“This is amazing, Father! I had no idea there was so much to learn about the stars!”
“The discoveries have only begun, Hypatia. Perhaps you will make discoveries that will change the world.”
“I would like that very much! To learn all about the stars, all the secrets of the heavens and the earth. Will the gods reward me or punish me if I make this my life’s work?”
“That is a question you must answer for yourself. But I think this is the path for you, Hypatia, if you want it badly enough.”
“What must I do?”
“Right now, you must go to bed. I have kept you up far too long. When you are older we can spend more time studying the sky. Go to sleep. In the morning, we will work on your reading and I will teach you some basic mathematics that you will need to understand before you can study the stars.”
Born, raised, and educated in Lincoln, Nebraska USA Laurel A. Rockefeller is author of over twenty books published and self-published since August, 2012 and in languages ranging from Welsh to Spanish to Chinese and everything in between. A dedicated scholar and biographical historian, Ms. Rockefeller is passionate about education and improving history literacy worldwide.
With her lyrical writing style, Laurel's books are as beautiful to read as they are informative.
In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time with her cockatiels, attending living history activities, travelling to historic places in both the United States and United Kingdom, and watching classic motion pictures and classic television series.
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