Sunday, 20 March 2016

Hypatia (LIE): Personality Type Analysis

Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 4th - early 5th century, when Egypt was a Roman province. The reliable facts about her life are limited, but they arguably suffice for an idea of her type.

Hypatia was the head of the Platonist school of Alexandria; her father, Theon, was also a mathematician who edited and commented on Euclid's works. No works by Hypatia herself survive but besides some historical narratives we have the letters her former student Synesius, as bishop of a neighboring province, wrote to her. They include a request for her to build him a hydrometer, the earliest historical mention of that device, and a discussion on astrolabes. From his letters, and the accounts, it is clear that Hypatia was highly respected not just because of her academic standing but as a person of wisdom and integrity. It is also likely that many among the upper classes of Alexandria had been among her students, or their children. She was therefore seen as having easy access to the local ruling elite. She was described as "in speech articulate and logical, in her actions prudent and public-spirited, and the rest of the city gave her suitable welcome and accorded her special respect" and also that she was noted for "self-possession and ease of manner".

Hypatia's unusual, perhaps unique, status as a female leading mathematician, scientist, and philosopher in one of most prestigious centers of learning of the time already gives further hints to her character and personality. First, already very unusual for anyone of the upper classes, and extremely unusual for a woman, she never married. Apart from deep personal issues we can't be aware of, this suggests that she preferred to maintain her personal, professional, and even financial independence (as at the time she would legally fall under the authority of a husband). On this, there is further the story that she rebuffed the romantic overtures of a student by handing him her menstrual rags and saying "this is what you're in love with".

Alexandria in Hypatia's time was going through intense political and religious turmoil which included gangs of the different communities - Christian, Jews, pagans - viciously fighting one another and also against the secular authorities. Eventually there was a sort of showdown between the bishop, Cyril, and Orestes, the prefect, the official authority of the Roman Empire. Hypatia was known to be often sought by Orestes for advice. She was therefore blamed by Cyril's 'paramilitary force', the parabalani, for Orestes's refusal to make a deal (i.e. share power) with Cyril. The parabalani - perhaps on Cyril's orders - attacked Hypatia on the street, took her inside a church, and lynched her to death.

A hostile Christian writer described her as "pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments". It is interesting that not even a hostile account accuses her of having an affair with Orestes.

What we have, then, is a fiercely independent woman with a strong interest in science and practical inventions, who was respected by her students as a teacher and source of advice (as per Synesius' letters) and who obviously maintained good personal relationships with selected individuals. But also a person uncomfortable with the idea of romantic relationships and who preferred to rebuff advances with blunt, even rude gestures that made very clear what she thought and did not try to spare others' feelings.

Further, Hypatia comes across as a person who was probably seen as very cold and aloof by those who did not know her closely; a person lacking in obvious charm (so she could only have had influence on Orestes through 'magic' etc.) and also someone seemingly unconcerned with her public image, and not aware of the political danger she was getting into simply by being seen as giving advice to Orestes.

What we can conclude about Hypatia gives us the image of a person with the Gamma and especially LIE and SEE inclination for personal independence, weak and non valued E, weak but valued R, not valued S, and very confident in P and L. What we know of Hypatia fits LIE best.

Recommended reading and sources: due to the scarcity of primary sources, the best place to start in Hypatia's case is indeed her entry in Wikipedia, and the links there. Synesius's letters, including those to Hypatia, are available at .

To learn more about LIE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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