When the vile monks of Nitria
butchered the chaste philosopher
their new God triumphed, so it seemed:
the old ones had forsaken her.
This murder took place years ago,
in March, anno domini 415,
during the holy time of Lent.
Alexandria was the scene.
Hypatia the neoplatonist,
while driving to her school to teach,
was cornered by the filthy swarm
who cursed her for a pagan bitch
and pulled her from her chariot.
The woman was without defense:
she’d scorned the warnings of her friends,
relying on her innocence.
They dragged her to the nearest church
(it seemed the most appropriate place)
and stripped her naked there, and jeered,
howling with glee at her disgrace—
then beat her down to the sacred floor
and hacked the live flesh from her bones
with tiles and shards and oyster shells—
then hoisted high the sad remains
and marched in triumph up and down
the city’s colonnaded ways,
shouting the praises of their God
and vengeance on his enemies.
They burned all that was left of her—
last of the great Plotinian line,
Theon’s daughter, Synesius’ friend,
humbled to dust by Coptic swine.
The bishop who had egged them on,
Cyril (later canonized),
made known to all the outside world
he was displeased, shocked, mortified
by this excess of righteous zeal.
Still, he kept safe his scurvy crew
by bribing all the magistrates:
he’d have more work for them to do …
And that was it. Hypatia died.
The old gods faded past recall.
A new god triumphed—if new he was,
and not the oldest one of all.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 10 Number 9, on page 40
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