Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

HYPATIA.

I will suppose that Madame Dacier had been the finest woman in Paris; and that in the quarrel on the comparative merits of the ancients and moderns, the Carmelites pretended that the poem of the Magdalen, written by a Carmelite, was infinitely superior to Homer, and that it was an atrocious impiety to prefer the “Iliad” to the verses of a monk. I will take the additional liberty of supposing that the archbishop of Paris took the part of the Carmelites against the governor of the city, a partisan of the beautiful Madame Dacier, and that he excited the Carmelites to massacre this fine woman in the church of Notre Dame, and to drag her, naked and bloody, to the Place Maubert — would not everybody say that the archbishop of Paris had done a very wicked action, for which he ought to do penance?

This is precisely the history of Hypatia. She taught Homer and Plato, in Alexandria, in the time of Theodosius II. St. Cyril incensed the Christian populace against her, as it is related by Damasius and Suidas, and clearly proved by the most learned men of the age, such as Bruker, La Croze, and Basnage, as is very judiciously exposed in the great “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” in the article on “Éclectisme.”

A man whose intentions are no doubt very good, has printed two volumes against this article of the “Encyclopædia.” Two volumes against two pages, my friends, are too much. I have told you a hundred times you multiply being without necessity. Two lines against two volumes would be quite sufficient; but write not even these two lines.

I am content with remarking, that St. Cyril was a man of parts; that he suffered his zeal to carry him too far; that when we strip beautiful women, it is not to massacre them; that St. Cyril, no doubt, asked pardon of God for this abominable action; and that I pray the father of mercies to have pity on his soul. He wrote the two volumes against “Éclectisme,” also inspires me with infinite commiseration.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25