Hypatia’s Past and Jordan Peterson’s Future

“Look, that’s on the back of the dollar bill…like the Egyptian Eye of Horus, so the idea here is kind of like, at the top of the hierarchy, not part of the hierarchy anymore.”

Jordan Peterson, speaking in a darkened lecture hall, points to the mystical symbol of the divine on the bright demo screen. He explained that the power evoked by these ancient symbols drives political and personal change: Egyptians saw that the attentive eye is what revives dead societies, so if you want to find the best place to start unraveling your The paralyzed quagmire of life, and then “Damn attention!”

Is there something special about our strange time that makes Peterson’s mythological approach appealing? Consider a similar figure from a similar age who is generally not associated with the right or traditionalists: Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 370-415 AD). Hypatia was a pagan philosopher best known today for being murdered by a Christian mob in AD 415, who seemed to want St. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, to be pleased. (Whether he’s still debating.)

But before the Enlightenment made her a martyr of “reason”, and before a feminist philosophy journal named after her (you may recall when it was published, then retracted, an article comparing transgenderism and transracism article) before Hypatia taught philosophy to conservative Christians in the early 5th century.

For most Americans over the age of 30, came to the early Christian era and realized that pagans and their open-minded Christian sympathizers were actually the cultural conservatives of their time, and the Christian fundamentalists who frequented the monks It was utopian radicals who spearheaded the Cultural Revolution.

But once we’ve established that, there are a lot of similarities to consider. In Hypatian Egypt, the concept of the divine was undergoing a fundamental change. Many temples, serving as reference points for cosmic order, were desecrated and returned to the prosaic chaos of mundane space after thousands of years.as Eliad sacred and secular.

In our time, the common consensus on what is sacred has been blown to smithereens. How many people now share a religion with their grandparents? Part of Jordan Peterson’s appeal is that in an age of uncertainty and spiritual fragmentation, he finds a illuminating message in traditional stories whose antiquity or status proves the content is timeless and universal.

In the face of rising religious fundamentalism in her late Roman world, Hypatia also promoted and inspired literature that digs deep into tradition. These include many philosophical allegories, especially the Osiris-Horus mythological cycle itself. Her life offers a lesson for contemporary traditionalists trying to stare at the cancellation mob.

Those who have been following Peterson’s work may have noticed that his take on the story of Osiris (and its peculiar symbol, the Eye of Horus) comes up fairly frequently. But for those who didn’t: In short, Osiris, the tragically good holy king of Egypt, fell prey to the tricks of his evil brother Seth.

In Peterson’s account, Seth is a symbol of the opportunistic careerist. He murdered King Osiris, which means that “the (static) idea of ​​governance, the valuation system, or the particular story…becomes more and more time-agnostic,” hence the king’s vulnerability to this rent-seeking bureaucratic type. Osiris represents order, but he is stupid, and when one “forgets or refuses to acknowledge the existence of evil immortal gods,” it indicates danger. (See Peterson’s meaning map.)

Although there is redemption. Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis (Isis is Chaos). With the help of his mother and the supernatural advice of his late father, Horus defeated Seth, losing his eye in the process, but then regaining it. Horus emerges as the ultimate paradigm of ruler, for the fully realized individual, synthesizing the opposites of order and chaos, wiser because of his pain.

Ancient Greeks, pagans and Christians alike, would call what Peterson did to this myth fable, the practice of pointing out that a story has more than its apparent meaning. As ancient philosophers and writers knew, allegory is best presented in a very, very old story.

Hypatia’s take on Osiris came from her student, a Libyan named Synesius. Around 400 AD, she sent him to Constantinople in an attempt to meet Emperor Arcadius, where he made influential friends who would aid their cause in Alexandria. Synesius turned to the myths and fables he had learned at the Hypatia school. He wrote an essay inspired by Plutarch’s story. Isis and Osiris, And introduce it to some newly learned friends in the courtroom.

In his fables, Synesius depicts contemporary court intrigues as if they were taking place in the time of the ancient pharaohs. Representing true Roman Christians on the Bosphorus are the mysterious Egyptian pagans (and minor gods) on the Nile.In the work, titled Providence, Synesius, using the story of Osiris and Seth, politely warns his court patron, an imperial bureaucracy: Osiris is like you, a good leader, a good man; but he refuses to face evil, so Seth destroys him . So, beware of conspiracies!

Unfortunately, Synesius’ patron, a man named Aurelian, was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the Roman Gothic Grand Marshal Gaïnas. But Synesius still managed to use his intelligence and Hypatia’s reputation to win friends for philosophy.

When it comes to philosophy, Hypatia has a place in the game.Daughter of one of the last confirmed members museum, an academic group linked to the famous Alexandria Library, Hypatia began teaching mathematics. But over the years, with her father’s brand of unassuming intellectuals, she built a prestigious school of philosophy that became an academy of refinement for ambitious young Greeks in the Eastern Roman Empire. Her students were an intersecting segment of the city’s elite at the time: Christians, pagans, and perhaps some Jews.

Hypatia watched the intricate sacred landscape of Greco-Egyptian cults and mysteries described by Herodotus in his writings history (Second book) and his own Plutarch Isis and Osiris, gradually desecrated and desecrated. Beginning with Constantine (306-337), Christian emperors cut funding for pagan temples and redistributed them to Christian churches. Pagan sacrifice was finally banned in the 390s, around the time Hypatia began to become an educator.

Like many philosophers of her time, Hypatia was loyal to the Old Gods. But most of her students are Christians. Still, they shared with her their interest in exploring ancient polytheistic legends for deeper meaning and universal value. This is frowned upon among more fundamentalist Christians. Like Tertullian centuries ago, Christians are still asking, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Sinesius, despite his polytheistic story, was a Christian.His other works such as about dreams, full of philosophical fables.Sometimes he even makes fun of overly exaggerated fables, such as in his satires bald compliment, which only shows how popular the practice was in his day. Nonetheless, Synesius and Hypatia seem to share a common cultural mission. Their goal is to produce and sponsor inspiring literature that both pagans and Christians can enjoy. Allusions to Homer, Plato, and classical culture abound in Synesius’ work, not as antique relics or intellectual cult objects, but as part of an ambitious, living, creative project for the present.

Any moral and theological claims he makes are generally suitable for both Christianity and paganism. “God” usually occurs in the singular. But it’s a threat to some radical, progressive Alexandrian Christians who believe Christians should demolish temples and do away with literary and physical monuments of the past. Other, more traditional Christians see no harm in keeping old statues and want to keep reading classics like Homer and Aristophanes. To them, the Synesius-Hypatia agenda may seem harmless, perhaps even a healthy exercise in consensus-building. If the old religion is dying and its dwellings are filled with goats and grocers, then at least some of the old stories can be brought to life, even sacred, because they are still “divided” and given a deeper meaning.

Judging by the large number of medieval Byzantine manuscripts that preserve the pagan canon, the power of sympathy for Hypatia and Sinesius finally opened up a healthy future for the expansionary traditionalism of the Eastern Roman Empire. In Byzantium, this traditionalism or Christian classicism more or less coexisted with the occasional fundamentalist tendencies in society. Unfortunately, the awakening fundamentalists of our time seem unlikely to compromise.

Fundamentalism is a model in which humans adhere to a limited set of simple precepts or documents to seek salvation, excluding the distractions, delusions, and vanities of all others. It’s a response to chaos and confusion, an attempt to discern a signal in the noise. This is the religious frenzy that fuels ancient and modern cancellation thugs. It is the opposite of the generous traditionalism espoused by Hypatia and Jordan Peterson as many would say today.

Hypatia’s political influence, and possibly her opposition to fundamentalism with Christian support, culminated in her being lynched on the streets of Alexandria by an angry mob in 415. Let’s hope a better fate for the controversial traditionalists of our time.

Alex Petkas (@costofglory) is a former tenured professor. He produced The Cost of Glory podcast, which retells Plutarch’s life for the average modern listener. He has a Ph.D. MA in Classics from Princeton University.

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