“I know immediately who the men are who face me. None are Imperial soldiers who dragged Zenobia through the streets of Rome clad only in chains of purest gold. None are the Emperor Aurelian who freed the warrior queen, though by her actions she had caused him to raze the splendid Bruchion of Alexandria, destroying even the translucent tomb of Alexander. These are Cyril`s private army, the monks from the mountains of Nitria, each hidden in his robe of black. But here they show their faces: ignorant, brutal, half mad faces made hideous with noxious belief, thwarted ambition, repressed sexuality. How ironic these call themselves Christian, that they name themselves after one who would not recognize them. If the man they love stood here speaking of what truly was and what truly is, they would no more hear him now than any who listened then. They would not hear the companion he loved whose worth is forgotten: Mariamne Magdal-eder, the Magdalene.”
Flow Down Like Silver is a novel by Ki Longfellow which chronicles the extraordinary life of Hypatia of Alexandria (c. AD 370-415). Alexandria, named after it`s founder, the fabled Alexander the Great, was the queen of the Mediterranean world before the rise of the Roman Imperium, and it`s half million emotionally and politically turbulent inhabitants included Jews, Egyptians and Greeks, all concentrated in their own particular cultural ghettos. Into this volatile social mix by the end of the 4th century can be added another numerous and religiously aggressive element – the Christians.
The glory of ancient Alexandria was it`s Museum and Great Library; both were founded by the city`s Ptolemaic rulers, and patronized by them and latterly by Roman emperors. The Great Library`s raison d`etre was the study of science, mathematics, literature, rhetoric and philosophy, and was open to members of the Museum who had the inclination, the wit, and an open mind sufficient to learn. By the time of Hypatia, Alexandria`s cultural smorgasbord was under threat from an Imperial decree to close down all pagan sites; to all practical purposes, this meant that the Great Library and it`s sister building, the Museum, by implication, were associated with pagan thought and paraphernalia.
“The most important concept ever put forth was that matter, ALL matter, with no exceptions from stone to star to student to sovereign, is as divine as all else in the cosmos, for all flows from Consciousness, the Word that came before the World – and all, in time, will flow back.”
The Great Library at it`s height would have contained around 100,000 – 700,000 papyrus scrolls: there were two smaller libraries in the city which were open to the general public. The Library had suffered from continual deprivations during the long length of time from it`s creation, up until the period of Hypatia; but the greatest threat to it`s existence probably came with the destruction caused by the emperor Aurelian`s devastating re-conquest of Egypt in AD 270: the majority of the Library`s books were probably lost forever thanks to the merciless efficiency of the emperor`s legions.
So, the Library Hypatia knew and loved, was probably the dregs from the left-overs of the night before: a shrunken, tiny island of besieged ancient wisdom, surrounded by a vast sea of impinging religious darkness. In this intellectually, and physically threatening world, Hypatia struggled to teach the ancient knowledge to her students; to broaden and exercise their young minds; to pass down the torch of learning for the sake of learning, and not to bow the knee to intimidation from religious dogma which demanded the extinction of all that didn`t fit in with it`s version of the Truth and the Way.
Hypatia was the daughter of the philosopher and mathematician Theon of Alexandria, and it`s certain that she received a rigorous intellectual education second to none: her vast knowledge was acknowledged by her becoming head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in AD 400, where she lectured on philosophy and mathematics. Hypatia has been lost to the world at large for some 17 centuries, yet during her lifetime she was famed throughout the Mediterranean world as a beauty and a genius; now, thanks to Ki Longfellow, this remarkable woman can live again. She stands alone in a world which is changing from one which acknowledged intellectual curiosity and reason for it`s own sake, into one of ignorance and fear of everything she loves, lives and breathes for.
The lights are going out and Hypatia`s religious enemies are gathering around her, hedging her in; trying to deny her words light and air to live: she is a woman of sublime intelligence and reason, a woman who thrives on argument and discussion to educate and discern the right way forward. She ranks not only above all women, but all men: Christianity had very quickly developed a misogynistic dogma after the death of Jesus, and by the late 4th century, a woman like Hypatia would have been seen as an abomination to this religious sect which had gained control of the world`s greatest super-power. Hypatia dazzled the world with her brilliance, and was courted and drooled over by men who wanted to be near this incredible philosopher-mathematician. And yet her epic, dramatically intense and vibrant life has lain in the forgotten dust of history.
Ki Longfellow gives us a heart rending love story in the midst of intolerance; a warm, generous and open heart brought down by ignorance, darkness and fear. She strove to remain a beacon of light in a world where the flame of open minded knowledge was guttering and dying in the cold wind of religious dogma.
“I have no illusions. There will be no gold chains. There will be no emperor to bestow upon me a villa where I might live out my days in peace and beauty. Peter and his men have come to do me great harm. Synesius is gone, as is Bishop Theophilus, as is Flavius Anthemius. There is only Minkah. And Felix Zoilus. But they are not here……..Yet here they are now, the haters: the ignorant, the fanatic, those without questions, those who follow, those who believe the answers given by others. In these, a true thought is as alien as the stars. With pity, I watch them come, each trapped in the darkness of a shadowed mind. There is no way out for any, no way home.”
The mob came for Hypatia and using the broken shards of pots, they murdered her by slicing off her flesh. Those dark, shadowed minds now resided in a place and time of ignorance of their own devising; the light had been extinguished……….Now all was shadows and dust.