The unvoiced thoughts and ideas of a septegenarian.


on February 23, 2012


Since the beginning of time mankind has faced tragedies – famine, war, ghettos and more.  I have always felt the burning of  the Alexandria Library to be one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall mankind.

This story introduces children to Hypatia, the first notable woman in the field of mathematics, teacher of Plato, who also taught philosophy and astronomy. The Royal Library of Alexandria was a major center of scholarship from its construction in the third century BC  until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC when it was burned to the ground. It’s contents – works from scholars throughout the ancient world – were lost. It was like all the works of Shakespeare having been consigned to a fire, leaving only one of his plays.  Hypatia was attacked by a mob of Christians and slaughtered.  I like to think of her as the founder of the women’s movement.

This story is suitable for children about five to eleven and serves as a basis for discussion of Greek history for older kids.



            “It’s not going to happen,” Hypatia said to the Old Witch. “Those two little girls are not going to be left to the teachers to squash their intellect and their curiosity. I’m not going to allow it!”

The Old Witch took three steps back and sat down on the edge of Hypatia’s bed. Underneath Hypatia’s words she sensed a feeling of boredom. It seemed to her that Hypatia wanted to feel useful.

“I see,” said the Old Witch. “Just what do you intend to do about it? I don’t think their parents would take kindly to removing them from school.”

“Oh, they don’t have to do that, Miss O.W.  They can just come here – come to my school – after their school or after dinner. I just need one or two hours a day with them. Do you remember Sally saying she liked a challenge and they both wanted to try to make that Spelling Bee?  Well – I’m going to challenge them all right!”

The Old Witch said, “Do you think they’d want to do that Hypatia?”

A big question mark came over Hypatia’s face. She crossed her fingers on both hands and said, “I surely hope so. First, I’m going to actually apply for the job. Will you please send a telepathic message to Sally asking her to bring Sara and come to see me tomorrow?”

“I’ll do that,” said the Old Witch. “We’ll talk more about this later.” Then she stood up and headed for the door but Hypatia called out after her, “Oh – one more thing Miss O.W. I’m going to need two desks or a long table, a couple of bookcases and a big blackboard.”

The Old Witch nodded her head and gave Hypatia a  thumbs up signal.

As soon as the Old Witch was gone, Hypatia pulled a chair up to her desk and began to plan. The first thing she did was to compose a resume that listed all of her experience and qualifications. When the girls came tomorrow, she wanted to impress them and apply for the job.  Here is what she wrote.

Name:                          Hypatia

Age:                             About 1660 years old

Place of Birth:              Alexandria,Greece

Position Applied For:    Tutor, Bee coach for Sally the Sagacious and Sara the Smart


Qualifications:               Teacher of mathematics, philosophy, astronomy.

Head of Platonist school atAlexandria,Greece

Author of many commentaries on mathematics, astronomy

Teacher of Plato

Knows 94 languages

Other Qualifications:     Excellent teacher: can teach anything

Loves words

Stimulates imagination

Patient, understanding

Capable of teaching anything

Loves children – especially little girls

Salary Desired: One box of chocolate covered cherries per month

Expected Outcome:      Two brilliant girls capable of winning any Spelling Bee,

Getting A’s in all classes, graduating at the top of their class from an Ivy League university or Oxford

Candidates for the Nobel Prize!

Proofreading what you write is very important so Hypatia read the resume over a couple of times, made a few minor changes, and printed three copies. Then she took inventory of her library. She had hundreds of books.  Most of them were pretty sophisticated and not suitable for an eleven year old but she could quickly glance through them, make a few notes and teach the basic concepts.

If the girls did come tomorrow, she wanted to have a lesson ready for them so she dug out the brochures from the spelling bee they had attended and spent a hour on her computer going through the words used in that contest. Then she made two lists of words: one not too difficult and the second a little harder. Each list had twenty-five words. The      easy list included gambit and substantial. Words like opulence, triadic and ponderous were on the more difficult list.

She thought some more and said to herself, “I’m going to the library tomorrow morning first thing. I want copies of COSMOS. That videos is good for stimulating imagination and Carl Sagan is a genius! We’ll have a few lessons about astronomy and the universe.”

It was onlyfour o’clockbut she wished it was the next day.

When she sat down at the dinner table, she waited for the Old Witch to tell her whether Sally had received the message and if they were coming.  She kept looking at the Old Witch and raising her eyebrows, twitching in her chair, and finally she couldn’t wait any longer. “Well, Miss O.W.” she said, “are they coming or not? I have to know right now!”

The Old Witch smiled and said, “My, you are anxious, aren’t you? Yes, Hypatia, they’ll come after school, about3:30or4:00.”

“Who’s coming,” asked Count Morbid the Chef as he placed his famous Shepherd’s Pie on the table.”

“Oh boy,” shouted Rumple. “One of my favorites!”

“You don’t get any unless you eat your salad first, Rumple,” said Count Morbid.

“Nuts! Okay, gimme some – just a little bit – one bite of lettuce, one slice of cucumber and one teeny, tiny tomato.”

Everybody at the table laughed as they watched Count Morbid dish up a full portion of salad and put it in front of Rumple. “Sorry, fella, you gotta eat the whole thing!” said the Count. Rumple wished there was a dog or a cat under the table he could sneak some of that green stuff to.

“Yeah, who’s coming?” echoed Mr. Clean.

“A couple of my favorite people,” said the Old Witch. “Sara and her friend Sally. Hypatia wants to talk to them about becoming their tutor – coaching them for a very important national spelling bee. That’s a great idea, don’t you all think?

“Three cheers for Hypatia,” called out Xerxes. “She can do it!”

The Shadow leaned forward, looked Hypatia straight in the eye, and said, “Is this going to be an open classroom? Can any of the rest of us join you and maybe learn something?”

Hypatia hadn’t thought about that so she didn’t answer for a minute. While she thought about it she heard several of the others echoing the Shadow’s question.

Finally she said, “I think that would be all right but only after I’ve had a couple of sessions alone with the girls first.  I have to see just how much they want to do this, what they want to learn and we need to establish some kind of schedule – a  routine – so everybody knows what to expect. I’ll let you all know when we’re ready.”

Dinner was soon over and after the table had been cleared the Old Witch blew her whistle. When everyone was paying attention she said, “I’ve been thinking about a strange thing that happened to me a long time ago. Would you like to hear the story?”

“YEAH, Let’s go,” shouted Rumple. “Me and the Count – sorry, the Count and I – will make popcorn!”

When they were all comfy-cozy in the living room, the Old Witch began the story.

“This happened about three hundred years ago,” she said. “There I was, just taking a walk through the woods on a beautiful fall afternoon and suddenly, with no warning, two knights in shining armor jumped out from behind an oak tree and grabbed me by the arms.  I was pretty scared. They didn’t look like they were playing a game. This was serious with a capital S.

“Let’s go,” one of them said and then he let out a very loud whistle and a beautiful black horse came trotting out from the forest.  “Hop on, Old Witch,” he demanded.

“Now wait a minute,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere until you  tell me what this is all about and where you think you’re taking me and why. Moreover, I’m scared to death of horses and I’m not getting on that thing! Definitely not going to do it.”  I stamped my foot a few times good and hard so he’d understand I meant it.

“The Queen demands your presence,” he said. “We’re going to her castle – in Scotland.”

I had never met a queen before so that sounded pretty interesting but I still wanted to know why. It’s always good to ask why, don’t you think?

“Yep, it is,” said Mr. Clean. “Like why can’t you people leave your muddy shoes outside the door – why can’t you hang up your wet towels?  The problem is even if I ask why, I don’t get a decent answer.”

Xerxes interrupted. “Sometimes, Mr. Clean, you do get good answers when you ask why and then you learn something.”

“All right,” said the Old Witch. “Let’s go on with my story.”  She looked around the room and saw about half of her friends beginning to nod and decided she’d finish the story another time. It was getting late and they all looked tired. “If Count Morbid isn’t too tired, maybe he’d make us all some hot chocolate before we say goodnight and I’ll finish the story another time,” she said. “Some of you are looking pretty weary and ready for bed.”

“Nuts,” said Rumple. “We haven’t even finished the popcorn yet.”

“That’s okay, Rumple,” Skinnieminnie said. “I am tired and we can take the popcorn out to the yard and feed the birds. That’ll be our good deed for the day.”

“Good idea, Skinnie,” said Miss O.W. Well, good night everyone. Have pleasant dreams.”

Julie Rose



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