Hypatia: Or, New Foes with an Old Face Places Discussed

Charles Kingsley

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Alexandria. Egyptian port city founded by the Greeks some three hundred years before the Christian era and named after the great leader and conqueror Alexander. The Greek foundation still survives in Kingsley’s fifth century city in its language, basic town-plan, museum, and lecture halls, where a form of Greek philosophy known as neoplatonism, was expounded, particularly by Hypatia, a young goddesslike and charismatic philosopher. Alexandria also has Roman buildings, notably the Caesarium, now being used by Christians as their main church, and the port, which is crucial to Rome, for through it pass grain supplies and much of Africa’s exported wealth. A Roman military garrison occupies the city, which is governed by a prefect appointed by Rome. The Roman games, or circus, are still used by the prefect to keep the mob on his side.

Two other cultures also compete for influence. Traditionally, Alexandria also had an influential Jewish population, academic and financial by nature. Kingsley shows the devious nature of this influence, and the destabilizing effect when its financial basis is largely destroyed by the mob. The “mob” is, in effect, a Christian one, comprising some two thirds of the city’s population. They are led by Christian monks and church officers under the authority of Archbishop Cyril, the metropolitan of Egypt and third-most powerful figure in fifth century Christendom. The mob also destroys Hypatia...

(The entire section is 518 words.)