« AnteriorContinuar »
but the glory of her sex. From her father she learned geometry and astronomy; she collected from the conversation and schools of the other philosophers, for which Alexandria was at that time famous, the principles of the rest of the sciences.
What cannot be conquered by natural penetration and a passion of study? The boundless knowledge, which at that period of time was required to form the character of a philosopher, no way discouraged her; she delivered herself up to the study of Aristotle and Plato, and soon not one in all Alexandria understood so perfectly as she all the difficulties of these two philosophers. But not their systems alone, but those of every other sect were quite familiar to her; and to this knowledge she added that of polite learning, and the art of oratory. All the learning which It was possible for the human mind to contain, being joined to a most enchanting eloquence, rendered this lady the wonder not only of the populace, who easily admire, but of philosophers themselves, who are seldom fond of admiration.
The city of Alexandria was every day crowded with strangers, who came from all parts of Greece and Asia to see and hear her. As for the charms of her person, they might not probably have been mentioned, did she not join to a beauty the most striking a virtue that might repress the most assuming; and though in the whole capital, famed for charms, there was not one who could equal her in beauty; though in a city, the resort of all the learning then existing in the world, there was not one who could equal her in knowledge; yet, with such accomplishments, Hypatia was the most modest of her sex. Her reputation for virtue was not less than her virtues; and though in a city divided between two factions, though visited by the wits and the philosophers of the age, calumny never dared to suspect her morals, or attempt her character. Both the Christians and the Heathens who have transmitted her bistory and her misfortunes, have but one voice,
when they speak of her beauty, her knowledge, and her virtue. Nay, so much harmony reigns in their accounts of this prodigy of perfection, that, in spite of the opposition of their faith, we should never have been able to judge of what religion was Hypatia, were we not informed, from other circumstances, that she was a heathen. Providence had taken so much pains in forming ber, that we are almost induced to complain of its not having endeavored to make her a Christian; but from this complaint we are deterred by a thousand contrary observations, which lead us to reverence its inscrutable mysteries.
This great reputation, of which she so justly was possessed, was at last, however, the occasion of her ruin. The person, who then possessed the patriarchate of Alexandria, was equally remarkable for his violence, cruelty, and pride.* Conducted by an ill-grounded zeal for the Christian religion, or perhaps desirous of angmenting his authority in the city, he had long meditated the banishment of the Jews. A difference arising between them and the Christians with respect to some public games, seemed to him a proper juncture for putting his ambitious designs into execution. He found no difficulty in exciting the people, naturally disposed to revolt. The prefect who at that time commanded the city, interposed on this occasion, and thought it just to put one of the chief creatures of the patriarch to the torture, in order to discover the first promoter of the conspiracy. The patriarch, enraged at the injustice he thought offered to his character and dignity, and piqued at the protection which was offered to the Jews, sent for the chiefs of the synagogue, and enjoined them to renounce their designs, upon pain of incurring his highest displeasure.
The Jews, far from fearing his menaces, excited new tumults, in which several citizens had the misfortune to fall. The patri
. For a character of St. Cyril, see Gibbon, vol. iv. p. 549, 4to. edit., 1788.
arch could no longer contain ; at the head of a numerous body of Christians, he flew to the synagogues, which he demolished, and drove the Jews from a city, of which they had been possessed since the times of Alexander the Great. It may be easily imagined that the prefect could not behold, without pain, his jurisdiction thus insulted, and the city deprived of a number of its most industrious inhabitants. The affair was, therefore, brought before the emperor.
The patriarch complained of the excesses of the Jews, and the prefect of the outrages of the patriarch. At this very juncture, five hundred monks of Mount Nitria, imagining the life of their chief to be in danger, and that their religion was threatened in his fall, flew into the city with ungovernable rage, attacked the prefect in the streets, and, not content with loading him with reproaches, wounded him in several places.
The citizens had by this time notice of the fury of the monks, they, therefore, assembled in a body, put the monks to flight, seized on him who had been found throwing a stone, and delivered him to the prefect, who caused him to be put to death without further delay.
The patriarch immediately ordered the dead body, which had been exposed to view, to be taken down, procured for it all the pomp and rites of burial, and went even so far as himself to pronounce the funeral oration, in which he classed a seditious monk among the martyrs. This conduct was by no means generally approved of; the most moderate, even among the Christians, perceived and blamed his indiscretion ; but he was now too far advanced to retire. He had made several overtures towards a reconciliation with the prefect, which not succeeding, he bore all those an implacable hatred, whom he imagined to have any hand in traversing his designs; but Hypatia was particularly destined to ruin. She could not find pardon, as she was known to have a most refined friendship for the prefect; wherefore the populace were incited against her. Peter, a reader of the principal church, one of those vile slaves by whom men in power are too frequently attended, wretches ever ready to commit any crime which they hope may render them agreeable to their employer; this fellow, I say, attended by a crowd of villains, waited for Hypatia, as she was returning from a visit, at her own door, seized her as she was going in, and dragged her to one of the churches called Cesarea, where, stripping her in a most inhuman manner, they exercised the most horrible cruelties upon her, cut her into pieces, and burnt her remains to ashes. Such was the end of Hypatia, the glory of her own sex, and the astonishment of ours.*
ON JUSTICE AND GENEROSITY.
Lysippus is a man whose greatness of soul the whole world admires. His generosity is such, that it prevents a demand, and saves the receiver the trouble and the confusion of a request. His liberality also, does not oblige more by its greatness, than by his inimitable grace in giving. Sometimes he even distributes his bounties to strangers, and has been known to do good offices to those who professed themselves his enemies. All the world are unanimous in the praise of his generosity; there is only one sort of people who complain of his conduct. Lysippus does not pay his debts.
It is no difficult matter to account for a conduct so seemingly incompatible with itself. There is greatness in being generous, and there is only simple justice in satisfying his creditors. Gene
(This horrible event took place, a. D. 415.-Sce Gibbon, ch. xlvii.]
rosity is the part of a soul raised above the vulgar. There is in it something of what we admire in heroes, and praise with a degree of rapture. Justice, on the contrary, is a mere mechanic virtue, fit only for tradesmen, and what is practised by every broker in Change Alley.
In paying his debts a man barely does his duty, and it is an action attended with no sort of glory. Should Lysippus satisfy his creditors, who would be at the pains of telling it to the world? Generosity is a virtue of a very different complexion. It is raised above duty, and from its elevation attracts the attention and the praises of us little mortals below.
In this manner do men generally reason upon justice and generosity. The first is despised, though a virtue essential to the good of society; and the other attracts our esteem, which too frequently proceeds from an impetuosity of temper, rather directed by vanity than reason. Lysippus is told that his banker asks a debt of forty pounds, and that a distressed acquaintance petitions for the same sum. He gives it, without hesitation, to the latter; for he demands as a favor what the former requires as
Mankind in general are not sufficiently acquainted with the import of the word justice: it is commonly believed to consist only in a performance of those duties to which the laws of society can oblige us. This I allow is sometimes the import of the word, and in this sense justice is distinguished from equity; but there
* (Goldsmith's justice, through life, seems to have maintained a constant, though ineffectual, contest with his generosity: none could read more impressive lessons on prudence, or practise them less. “Frugality, and even avarice, in the lower orders of mankind,” he writes to his brother in 1759, “ are true ambition. These afford the only ladder for the poor to rise to preferment. Teach, then, my dear sir, to your son, thrift and economy. Let his poor wandering uncle's example be placed before his eyes.”—See Life, ch. iv.]