This compelling poetry collection presents Hypatia of Alexandria (355–415 CE) the Egyptian Neoplatonic philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician. Often credited as the first female mathematician, little else is known about Hypatia, leading to many false and fanciful representations of her. Hypatia’s Wake addresses these and the reliable truth about her life and death.
The double bind, a situation in which a person is given two different messages one of which negates the other, features largely in Hypatia’s Wake. It links Hypatia’s life and example to the philosophical theory of contemporary French feminist Luce Irigaray, which examines the uses and misuses of language in relation to women. If we make amends to history and the river of time by waking Hypatia’s death, we wake up to her life—and the significance of our loss.
“Hypatia’s Wake is a gorgeous and indispensable recalibration of Hypatia of Alexandria’s consummate genius. As always, Susan Andrews Grace’s poetry is fiercely intelligent with biting dashes of wit and playfulness. Andrews Grace loosens the historical stranglehold on Hypatia’s legacy and revitalizes this important thinker in one dazzling, ‘vastly feminine cosmos.’”
—Sylvia Legris, author of Garden Physic and Nerve Squall
“‘Language lost, signs buried, maps ript’—such is the trace, in history, of the unspoken and unspeakable. For Susan Andrews Grace, this is the woman and her mother. In composing Hypatia’s Wake, the poet performs the feminist work of retrieving and sifting through the fragments that remain of Hypatia of Alexandria, Neoplatonist philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer—who in 415 AD was murdered (flayed, dismembered, and burned) by a mob of Christian monks. Andrews Grace brings Hypatia back from dereliction, composing her scattered parts into a beautiful, complex portrait of the philosopher-teacher. History is cut and woven with speculation; patriarchal ‘knots’ and ‘double binds’ are teased out. The ‘wake’ (a vigil for the dead) floats in the long ‘wake’ of Hypatia’s death. In terms of style, Andrews Grace takes great care with the page, with spacing and indentation, delighting the reading eye. Here, she has written such elegant poems—recalling, for me, the grave style and timeless matter of H.D.’s later poetry.”
Inter-twining rope, one free end
being passed through a loop
drawn tight, but also
A lump thus made or
Ornamental bow of silk, lace, braid
or other narrow goods or
A hard, gnarled portion of a tree or
Cross-grained mark on lumber sawn or
Cluster or group of things or
People such as those on the church steps
After the wedding ceremony,
A bond or union, the marriage knot
Enlargement in a muscle or
A problem, something not easily
In nautical terms, a division of log time,
marked by pieces of cloth
or knotted strings
at equal distances, and
used to determine the rate
of a ship’s motion
which followed the stars
above and made
THE WOMAN AT ALEXANDRIA—DAUGHTER IN DÉRÉLICTION
Alexandria forever is Alexandria minus Hypatia.
Think of the day after Hypatia’s murder—
water, universal solvent, rain,
pools and puddles diluted her blood,
and sorrow between paving stones.
Solution of condolence equals water of equivalency.
Hypatia’s first Alexandria was her mother’s womb
her mother’s waters were the great fluidity
their placenta was negotiation
woman is watershed plus dividing rivers of water and air.
Woman philosopher equals watershed plus no return.
“NOTHING IN EXCESS” and “KNOW THYSELF”,
most famous adages at the Oracle of Delphi, were
taken seriously by Hypatia: she lived as a cultural Greek
in cosmopolitan Alexandria.
A wedding body of white,
shiny, plastic grocery bags
caught in a chain-link fence,
suspends prairie wind, abrading its gloss,
tearing spaghetti-like cells
from each other, impossible
It’s not the dress but the body
for the wedding, walks down the aisle,
death and re-birth
hover in tulle.
What a modern bride
can learn from Hypatia’s life
what history and plastic carrier bag
have in common, how
we bring forth to mother.
HEGEL’S VICIOUS CIRCLE, AS PERTAINS TO HYPATIA
Woman is a woman and therefore
incapable of governing
because she is a woman.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich’s Antigone makes clear Hypatia’s mistake—
Hypatia had no religion so she could not bury
her dead brother for religious reasons.
She did not have a brother
and he did not die.
Hypatia’s mistake was to live to be old
without a husband to baby or a brother to bury,
or an uncle to disobey.
Hypatia lived beyond these, dared to be
philosopher, death knell to her pleasure, divinity.
Hypatia, an old woman, rejected freedom to kill herself,
her life not a tragedy while alive, she had influence
and lived to the last moment of her murder.
Hypatia taught in a closed circle. Her students
came to her house daily and followed a secret schedule.
Hypatia, a Platonic scholar, taught the history of
philosophy, and followed in Plotinus’s Neoplatonism.
Something in Hypatia leapt to the dust
and profusion of ethers and storms
to joy of knowing the stars,
superstition about planets swept aside.
Hypatia may have known earth is a planet too
in harmony with other geometries—
bodies fall down, not up, and spheres play
in harmony, Earth a province of the cosmos.
Fallible order includes famines
in every time.
Nothing changes Hypatia’s wake.
The moon passively white and cratered, revolves
force behind the fall,
Isaac’s genius discovery in his miracle year of 1666
rested upon Hypatia’s work: Euclid’s Elements of Geometry.
Hypatia fell into history’s abyss.
Isaac’s posterity good, standing
on a giant or two. We swim the rivers
materia and consciousness
their plait of time, delight upon awakening,
meeting again, ancient and current
we know but we don’t know we know
our blue jewel
HYPATIA’S STRING THEORY
The varieties of science, rolled up
like thread on spools, infinitesimally small,
cloud spun into small and smaller dimensions
pull of moon and stars
equal to the distance from Earth’s pull
(we’re talking gravity here, not gravitas)
ends and depths of existence
are closer than we think
if we could only see
outside the slice of discovery. Our galaxy turns
inside-out like an Egyptian pillowcase in Hypatia’s house
feathery geometry falls, snow of particles,
hints for the dubious, along a membrane of doubt,
as time unwinds
and atoms unite, re-unite, and break apart.
Girls fall into galaxies
gravity acts according to laws
a girl in late antiquity or modern Egypt
nearly always obeys—not only nature
but limits on thought relative to the moon’s force,
thought’s acceleration—smaller than the apple in her hand.
Seed, germ, cell,
charm—I think therefore I am.
seeds in the girl/fruit of the womb/
thought in the man: we are
alike, light instant.
Time dilates at high speed,
specularization of mother
nature, René and I/eye,
science slips by.
Isaac’s second law of motion, F=ma
equivalent to the girl’s attraction to earth, as she
to be continued