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Hypatia through Laertius

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Diogenes Laertius wrote in a less structured way than Ronchey wrote, not going in chronological but instead moving from subject to subject giving different quotes from the person he was writing on and the people that interacted with them to show their character. Instead of just telling the reader about the people he was writing about Laertius puts you into their mind and shows you their feelings through stories and quotes. We can see an example of this when he is writing about Pythagoras’s feelings on sexual relations; “Asked once when a man should consort with a woman, he replied, “When you want to lose what strength you have” (329 Laertius). Many writers would have just simply stated that Pythagoras does not advise sexual relations but Laertius finds the readers get to know how the people felt better by showing them what they had to say on the matter. He uses this same technique again to show Diogenes’ quick wit; “Being asked whether death was an evil thing, he replied, “How can it be evil, when in its presence we are not aware of it?” (69 Laertius). If writing about Hypatia Laertius defiantly would have put more direct quotes like the ones above to illustrate how she thought. Through quotes Laertius could have shown how Hypatia was able to stand up to the men of her city and prove her worth. He also could have shown us how she able to be such a great teacher, so much so that her students fell in love with her. Last he could have showed the reader what she thought about the Christian takeover and her pagan roots. Laertius also would have direct quotes from people such as Cyril and the bishops to show the reader what their thinking and motives were behind Hypatia’s murder. Helping the reader to fully understand the story behind why Hypatia was murdered.

The other main technique used by Laertius to describe his subjects was using quotes from other philosophers and people that interacted with his subject everyday. We see him use this technique when he takes a quote from Aristippus of Cyrene to show Pythagoras’s commitment to telling the truth and how he received his name; “he was named Pythagoras because he uttered the truth as infallibly as did the Pythian oracle” (339 Laertius). If Laertius was going to use this technique with Hypatia we can imagine that he would give quotes from students of Hypatia to show the reader how intelligent and beautiful she was. We do see some examples of this in Ronchey’s writing including quotes from Synesius a student of Hypatia who believed her teachings to be the greatest gift of his life; “Believe me, you are the only treasure that, together with virtue, cannot be taken away from me” (182 Ronchey). This is the type of quote that Laertius would have put in his biography because it shows us how Synesius actually feels about Hypatia and it proves to us that she truly was a remarkable teacher instead of just telling us like some biographers do. However he also would have added interactions between the two of them so we could see how Hypatia was able to have such an effect on him.

Another person that Laertius probably would have quoted is Hypatia’s father, in Ronchey’s writing we never get a sense of what type of role he played in her life. For example we do not know how much he taught his daughter about philosophy or how he felt about his daughter surpassing him in the skill of philosophy (or if he even believed she did). Another example of Laertius using this technique is when he cites a poem written to describe Heraclitus’ “discourse”; “Do not be in too great a hurry to get to the end of Heraclitus the Ephesian’s book: the path is hard to travel. Gloom is there and darkness devoid of light” (Laertius 423). Quotes of this nature would have been used by Laertius to show the readers what Hypatia was really like in her day-to-day life and teachings. For example he could have used quotes from the other philosophers in her circle to show us what they thought of her philosophy, were they jealous or did they believe she truly deserved her respect?

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