Hypatia: proto-modern or arch-traditionalist?

    Sometimes, as a thought experiment, I have wondered what the ancient philosophers might do if they were to come and live in the modern day.  Since in those days philosophy was a profession, a religion, a community, and even a family all in one.  Here are two passages anecdote that illustrate this from the biography of the fifth century philosopher Proclus

"For on his [Proclus's] arrival the goddess advised him to devote himself up to philosophy, and to attend the Athenian schools.  So he said farewell to rhetoric, and to his other former studies, and first returning to Alexandria, he attended only what philosophical courses were there given.  To begin his study of Aristotle's philosophy he attended the instruction of the Younger Olympiodorus, whose reputation was very extensive.  For mathematics, he trusted himself to Heron, a very pious person, who possessed and practiced the best methods of his art. 

These teachers were so charmed with the virtues of this youth that Olympiodorus, who had a daughter who was acquainted with philosophy wished to betroth her to him; and Heron did not hesitate to initiate him into all his ideas about religion, and to make him his continuous companion 

Now it seems that Olympiodorus possessed such a gift of speech, that he talked too rapidly and indistinctly, and only a few of his auditors understood him. One day, at the close of the lecture, Proclus repeated the whole lecture to his fellow students, word by word, from memory. It had been very long, but Proclus missed nothing, as I have been informed by one of the other auditors, Ulpian of Gaza, who had also devoted his whole life to philosophy."  


"It is fortunate that I should have been led to mention his trait of sympathy, which swayed him more powerfully than any other known man. Never having tasted the joys of family or of marriage,----that is, because he so elected it, having received many propositions very favorable from the standpoint of birth and fortune----having, therefore, remained free from these bonds, he showed such a solicitude for his pupils and friends, and even for their wives and children, that he was looked upon as a common father and as the author of their existence. If any one of his acquaintances fell sick, he implored the gods on his behalf with ardent piety in sacrifices and hymns; then he visited the patient with a zealous solicitude, convoked the physicians and urged them without delay to apply their art, and himself suggested some more efficacious remedy, and thus saved many sick people in most dangerous crises.

As to his humanity towards his most familiar servants, it appears from the last will of this perfect good man. Of all the people he knew, the one he loved best was Archiadas, and after him, those who belonged to his family, especially because he belonged to the family of the philosopher Plutarch, and then because he had been his fellow student and teacher; for of these two forms of friendship which are so rarely recorded among the ancients, that which bound them seems to have been the most profound. There was nothing that Archiadas desired that Proclus did not desire, and reciprocally."

and yet since all this is gone, it is difficult to say what they would do.  They would be forced to find something new.  Ironically, the pagan philosophers of the latter days of paganism are often held up in opposition to the Christians and yet, if there were to come back now, there is no doubt what side they would be on.  

    A representative case is Porphyry, who lived in the third century AD and was the student of the celebrated Plotinus.  Porphyry did not admire Christianity.  Eusebius quotes Porphyry on Plotinus's teacher Ammonius and the theologian Origen: "For Ammonius was a Christian, brought up in Christian ways by his parents, but when he bagan to think philosophically he promptly changed to a law-abiding way of life.  Origen on the other hand, a Greek schooled in Greek thought, plunged headlong into un-Greek recklessness; immersed in this, he peddled himself and his skill in argument."

However, one only needs to quote a few passages from Porphyry's letter to his wife Marcella to demonstrate that his attitude towards life is completely opposed to modernity: 

"Never use thy bodily parts merely for the sake of pleasure, for it is far better to die than to obscure thy soul by intemperance . . . . correct the vice of thy nature. . . "


"For no two things can be more entirely opposed to one another than a life of pleasure and ease, and the ascent to the gods. As the summits of mountains cannot be reached without danger and toil, so it is not possible to emerge from the inmost depths of the body through pleasure and ease which drag men down to the body. For 'tis by anxious thought that we reach the road, and by recollection of our fall. Even if we encounter difficulties in our way, hardship is natural to the ascent, for it is given to the gods alone to lead an easy life. But ease is most dangerous for souls which have fallen to this earthly life, making us forgetful in the pursuit of alien things, and bringing on a state of deep slumber, it we fall asleep beguiled by alluring visions."

    Another example is the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria who is often imagined or spoken of as some kind of proto-modernist, primarily because she was a female philosopher and was killed by Christians.  But in fact, I think the moderns who praise Hypatia would be horrified if the could meet her.  To begin with, she was celibate, possibly a vegetarian and certainly endorsed the same austere lifestyle as Porphyry praises above.  Second, Hypatia did not study mathematics and astronomy to go against her culture.  She deliberately followed in the footsteps of her father Theon.  What could be more traditional?  

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