August 29, 2012

Connected Women

One woman leads to another and all women flow in a circle. I am drafting a historical novel about Elena Piscopia, the first woman to receive an academic degree and she was on my mind when I was reading Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. When he referenced Hypatia I saw an immediate connection to Elena (see previous posting). Curious, I explored Hypatia’s story further and uncovered a reference to Catherine of Alexandria. Because I had selected Catherine of Alexandria as the patron saint for another of my protagonists, all my novel women became connected.

Intrigued, I questioned the relationship between Catherine of Alexandria and Hypatia and found they have similar biographies. Both were beautiful, virginal, well-educated women murdered for their beliefs. Their lives diverge somewhat because Catholics murdered Hypatia and pagans murdered Catherine.

Now I read that historian Harold Thayler Davis and others believe that the Catholic Church invented Catherine to counteract the popularity of Hypatia. In 1969 the Church removed Catherine’s feast day from the church calendar, so perhaps they had compunctions. She was restored in 2002, but only as an “optional” celebration.

Upon further investigation of Catherine of Alexandria, I learned that she was one of the three saints, along with Saint Michael and Saint Margaret, to appear to Joan of Arc. And so the circle of women continues. 

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