Plato, as we know, told tales of an abstract realm beyond the senses, a realm beyond the dim and dark cave we call “the world.” It was a realm of forms, first glimpsed through the discipline of mathematics, and more thoroughly known through philosophical cross-examination, or dialectic. It’s not clear just how much religion there was in Plato’s own philosophy, but that philosophy certainly was enlarged into mystical proportions by the time of Plotinus (204-270 c.e.).
We can get a richer sense of this notion – that the pure intellect can grasp divinity – by exploring the life of Hypatia, a mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who lived in the great city of Alexandria about a century after Plotinus. Hypatia was brilliant and utterly dedicated to the life of the intellect. She was famous as a philosopher and mathematician, and a school formed around her. She was also beautiful (it is said), and attracted many suitors; but she resisted them all in deference to the requirements of her philosophy. She became caught up in a power struggle between the city’s governor and its Christian bishop, and met a grisly death at the hands of the bishop’s supporters.