The inspiring account of two women who defied the gravity of patriarchy draped in the robe of “Religion”.
Alexandria city, the land of magic and knowledge, buried two female treasures who fought the curse of patriarchy with the sword of religion. Both of them sacrificed their lives for the sake of their beliefs. They chose to value themselves until their last breath and ended up being Martyr Heroines…
In their time, women who achieve superiority over men are considered a dangerous threat. Men think of them as the character of Pygmalion; they are simply created to satisfy their sexual fantasies with charming beauty. The existence of a female in the middle of their arena is undesirable, especially when she snatches the limelight away from great philosophers, wise men, or scientists of her period.
For Hypatia and Saint Catherine, the matter differed. They survived patriarchy by belonging to noble families. Their intelligence was nurtured with exceptional education but faded in their Pagan and Christian robes.
In the novel Azazeel, by Youssef Zidan, the Hypatia of Alexandria is a famous character. In fact, she is a standalone legend. She was born between 350-370 AD to philosopher Theon who educated her in the fields of philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. She gave students lectures at the school of Plato, teaching his principles and thoughts until she became the head of the school. She also contributed to the scientific field with two inventions: the Astrolabe and the Hydrometer. Socrates stated that “she was known for being well-mannered… she acquired cultivation of mind”.
Emperor Theodosius published an edict, prohibiting the Pagan worship in the city and ordered the Christian extremists to embark on a campaign to destroy Pagan sites of worship. Hypatia rejected the emperor’s wishes, refusing to be deprived of her religion. However, she eventually faced a very brutal fate. In spite of all of this, she defied male dominance. Not only was she a faithful and diligent supporter of Plato, but she also refused to marry and keep her chastity.
Socrates describes the scene of her death with these words: “They dragged her and stripped her from the carriage. They took her to a church called Caesarean where they cut her body into pieces mangling her limbs in a palace called Crianon”.
The Second figure is Saint Catherine of Alexandria. She was the daughter of a very aristocratic family in the 13th Century. She was known for being “virtuous and wise”. As a Christian Saint, she had the ability to conduct scientific discussion and arguments with great philosophers to prove the existence of God. Taking the path of opposition was not her choice. She used her mind, critical thinking, and manipulation skills to create well-established conversations. Saint Catherine did not meet the threat of the act of Emperor Maximian to “adore pagan idols”. Instead, she won the debate between 50 philosophers and they announced their intentions to convert to Christianity.
The emperor decided to punish Catherine and ordered the prisoners to be decapitated and to move her body to Sinai Mount.
Both women met their deaths because the emperors had their “own divinities”. Hypatia went against the wind and chose to remain pagan, insisting on doing her job with courage and transparency. Saint Catherine used the weapon of speech, a very convenient behavior which suited her mentality. Both of them challenged their situations, attacking with silence and words.
We should follow our own way in life as they did. Do not underestimate your power. They objected to patriarchy with their special swords. What about you?
Samaa is a Cultural Specialist for UNESCO and a women’s activist for the UN.