Theon of Alexandria and Hypatia

Theon of Alexandria and Hypatia

By Michael Lambrou

Creative Mathematics. Vol.12 (2003)

Introduction: The mathematician and philosopher Hypatia flourished in Alexandria from the second part of the 4th century until her violent death incurred by a mob in 415. She was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria, a mathematician and astronomer, who flourished in Alexandria during the second part of the fourth century. Information on Theon’s life is only brief, coming mainly from a note in the Suda (Suida’s Lexicon, written about 1000 AD) stating that he lived in Alexandria in the times of Theodosius I (who reigned AD 379-395) and taught at the Museum.

He is, in fact, the Museum’s last attested member. Descriptions of two eclipses he observed in Alexandria included in his commentary to Ptolemy’s Mathematical Syntaxis (Almagest) and elsewhere have been dated as the eclipses that occurred in AD 364, which is consistent with Suda.

Although originality in Theon’s works cannot be claimed, he was certainly immensely influential in the preservation, dissemination and editing of classic texts of previous generations. Indeed, with the exception of Vaticanus Graecus 190 all surviving Greek manuscripts of Euclid’s Elements stem from Theon’s edition. A comparison to Vaticanus Graecus 190 reveals that Theon did not actually change the mathematical content of the Elements except in minor points, but rather re-wrote it in Koini and in a form more suitable for the students he taught (some manuscripts refer to Theon’s sinousiai). His edition became the classic text, far overshadowing any other version.

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