Saturday, July 14, 2012

More of Hypatia -- brave, smart woman

Poet and blogger Ellen Moody offers a lively and informative feature on poet Elizabeth Tollett (1694-1754); Tollett, too, wrote of forebears she admired, including Hypatia (c. 370 C. E. - 415 C.E.) -- who has been described as the first woman to make a substantial contribution to mathematics. In contrast with Anne Harding Woodworth's focus on the tortured death of Hypatia, Tollett's lines portray the struggles of her life.

    Hypatia     by Elizabeth Tollett

    What cruel laws depress the female kind,
    To humble cares and servile tasks confined!
    In gilded toys their florid bloom to spend,
    And empty glories that in age must end;
    For amorous youth to spread the artful snares,
    And by their triumphs to enlarge their cares. 
    For, once engaged in the domestic chain,
    Compare the sorrows, and compute the gain;
    What happiness can servitude afford?
    A will resigned to an imperious lord,
    Or slave to avarice, to beauty blind,
    Or soured with spleen, or ranging unconfined.
    That haughty man, unrivalled and alone,
    May boast the world of science all his own:
    As barb’rous tyrants, to secure their sway,
    Conclude that ignorance will best obey.
    Then boldly loud, and privileged to rail,
    As prejudice o’er reason may prevail,
    Unequal nature is accused to fail.
    The theme, in keen iambics smoothly writ,
    Which was but malice late, shall soon be wit.

    Nature in vain can womankind inspire
    With brighter particles of active fire,
    Which to their frame a due proportion hold,
    Refined by dwelling in a purer mould,
    If useless rust must fair endowments hide,
    Or wit, disdaining ease, be misapplied.
    ‘Tis then that wit, which reason should refine,
    And disengage the metal from the mine,
    Luxuriates, or degenerates to design.
    Wit unemployed becomes a dangerous thing,
    As waters stagnate and defile their spring.
    The cultivated mind, a fertile soil,
    With rich increase rewards the useful toil:
    But fallow left, an hateful crop succeeds
    Of tangling brambles and pernicious weeds;
    ‘Tis endless labour then the ground to clear,
    And trust the doubtful earnest of the year.
    Yet oft we hear, in height of stupid pride,
    Some senseless idiot curse a lettered bride.

      "Hypatia" is found in Tollett's collection,   Poems on several occasions. With Anne Boleyn to King Henry VIII. An epistle. (Gale ECCO, 2010).    
     Original mathematical work by Hypatia has not survived but she has been cited in MacTutor as an excellent compiler, editor, and preserver of earlier mathematical works.
     Here is a link to an important article by Judy Green, "How Many Women Mathematicians Can You Name?"  Green, now an emeritus professor at Marymount University, opens her article (first published in Math Horizons in 2001) with the admission that until her last undergraduate semester the only female mathematican she could name is Emmy NoetherGreen's article, and a book she has co-written (with Jeanne LaDuke) and its companion website, help to remedy such situations for others.  There are many important math women to know!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. More people should know about this remarkable woman. I've had a couple people ask about who featured Hypatia in poetry and new I can tell them!

    I ‎posted a few months ago about Hypatia's contributions to mathematics. I good biography is Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr by Professor Michael A. B. Deakin (Prometheus Books, 2007). I've reviewed that book and another biography on my blog. Thanks again!