Fortnite dropped its latest Level Up Pack this week, and it’s a slightly unusual one. The outfit included in this season’s pack is called Captain Hypatia – she’s the captain of the spaceship. Like all skins in the Level Up Pack, Hypatia has an alternate “Armored” style that is very different from its main one. This alternative style takes this pretty standard woman here and transforms her into a highly enthralling cyborg, whose arms and legs are not attached to her torso but are held by some sort of red energy. . See below.
That limb thing is specifically interesting when you get it combined with her name. There has only been one truly remarkable person with the name Hypatia throughout history: a Greek philosopher and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, and was the first female mathematician with whom we have significant historical records. That’s the main reason she’s famous– but the second big reason she’s famous is the way she was brutally murdered and literally torn to pieces by a mob of Christians.
There have been other things called Hypatia for 1600 years since Hypatia of Alexandria was alive. However, nearly all of them are named after this woman, and the unnamed ones are almost certainly after things that used to Named after Hypatia of Alexandria. This fact probably helped maintain her legacy, because there weren’t any other Hypatias famous and able to steal her reputation.
The story goes that for most of Hypatia’s time, there was a degree of peace between the scientific and Christian institutions in Alexandria. For three decades, a man named Theophilus was bishop of Alexandria – a papal gig at the time – and it was clear that he cared enough about keeping the peace that he kept his on good terms with Hypatia and her peers. So they had a kind of oligarch going.
But Theophilus died in 412, and a power struggle broke out between his nephew Cyril and a man named Timothy to replace him as bishop. Cyril won, and continued his victory in the usual game of thrones in the same way: going after anyone who liked Timothy and anyone he deemed not on his side, just like him Jewish. And since Hypatia and the rest of the scientists are clearly not on his religious side either, he goes after her too. But she was too famous to be exiled or killed instantly, so Cyril spent the next few years slandering her until a man named Peter started a riot that took Hypatia for main focus.
The mob pulled Hypatia from the carriage as she was on her way home, and they dragged her to a famous church where they tore off her clothes and brutally cut her to pieces with pottery shards. But they were not done. After that show, they took her arms and legs out into town and burned them. That might seem like overkill (as it so clearly is!), but this is pretty much just a traditional Alexandrian political murder. Honestly, the distant past is a terrible time to live.
So now that you know this horrifying story, let’s once again take a look at Captain Hypatia in Fortnite.
Her cosmetic set is the Light Explorer set, which makes sense for a spaceship captain – a light explorer would just be a space explorer, because in celestial terms literature, a bright star is a star. But luminary has another meaning: intelligent celebrity. This certainly describes Hypatia of Alexandria – an ancient reference that has been translated calls her “the lucid child of reason.”
Likewise, two celestial bodies (an asteroid and a planet in the solar system Iona Draconis) and a crater on the moon have been named after Hypatia, so there is also some synergy in that with the Light Explorer concept.
Then you’ve got arms and legs. Alternately, they are no longer attached to her body – just as Hypatia’s arms and legs are no longer attached to her body after the Christian mob has finished dealing with her.
Finally, this flavorful inscription: “No ship. No crew. Just an unstoppable spirit.” So now that she’s transcended her physical body, she’s floating through space in this new cyberpunk form without using a ship? This person is dead.
This skin has many layers deep into the metaphor. It’s pretty cool–most new skins don’t come with a cool chat thread. Hopefully we’ll see more like this in the future.
For more on Hypatia, there are many books that talk about her specifically, as well as a lot of broader history that gives meaningful space to her story. My suggestion, however, is that The Darkening Age, by Catherine Nixey, dedicates a chapter to contextualizing Hypatia’s life and death as part of a larger conflict between Christianity and the ancient scientific establishment. centuries before the Middle Ages.
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