Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Lynée Lewis Gaillet

Second Advisor

Beth Burmester

Third Advisor

George Pullman

Abstract

Re-Membering Ancient Women: Hypatia of Alexandria and Her Communities is a recovery of Hypatia of Alexandria (355-415 ACE) as a skilled rhetorician and instructor of note who taught in Alexandria, Egypt. This work addresses Hypatia as a missing female figure from the history of rhetoric and follows the work of feminist historiographers in the field of Rhetoric and Composition including Andrea Lunsford, Jan Swearingen, Susan Jarratt, and Cheryl Glenn (among others) who note the exclusion of women from ancient schools of rhetoric, yet assert their participation in rhetorical activities. In its recovery of Hypatia, the work recreates the historical milieu of Roman Alexandria including Alexandria’s ethnically and religiously diverse population. As a woman of Greco-Egyptian decent, Hypatia’s public work was supported by Egyptian, Greek, and Roman legal and social customs that enabled her to lecture in public and private, administer her own school, and advise high-level political leaders. Using feminist and post-modern theories as a lens and fusing disciplines such as Rhetoric and Composition, Classics, History, Philosophy, Communication Studies, Critical Theory, and Women’s Studies, this project demonstrates that although primary texts authored by women are scarce, historians may still recover women and their activities for expanded historical traditions of rhetoric by examining secondary texts. The concept of community is used as a heuristic in order to discover communities in which Hypatia engaged and led to the discovery of women Neoplatonists of the fourth century ACE and Neopythagoreans from the sixth through second centuries BCE. The Neoplatonists and Neopythagoreans usually married only those who shared their belief system; hence, women were commonly educated and participated in their communities to secure the survival of their respective group. Included is a sustained critique of historiographical methods that may allow feminist historiographers to return to the ancient period to conduct much needed further research.

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