Outskirts Press (2018)
Reviewed by Jennifer Wilson for Reader Views (11/18)
“And the Darkness Fell” by Pat McGrath is a work of fiction, based on the life of an actual historical figure, Hypatia, who lived and taught in Egypt around 400 AD.
Hypatia, a Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, was a thinker who didn’t subscribe to any particular religion. But she was especially skeptical of the Christians of the time, particularly the reconciliation of their “old god” vs Jesus, their Christ. She was, however, tolerant of all, and would teach any student who was willing to learn, regardless of their religious affiliation. For example, Synesius, perhaps her most famous and beloved student, went on to become the Bishop of Ptolemais.
The author has certainly done her research and her love of the book’s protagonist is evident throughout. I enjoyed the style of language used as well as the imaginative liberties the author put into this work. She does a fantastic job of conveying Hypatia’s love and wisdom, especially in her dealings with Orestes and Aegina.
As the story begins, Hypatia is teaching in her own salon in Alexandria, Egypt. The daughter of the famed mathematician Theon of Alexandria, she was raised to be as smart as a man. She lives unmarried, which must have been somewhat unusual at the time. She does have a partner in Orestes, a Roman prefect, her lover of several years, as well as his daughter Aegina, whom she loves and treats as her own. Her father passes away early in the story, leaving Hypatia grieving his loss.
The Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, the leader of the Christians, rules with an iron fist. He propagates dissention throughout the region. He has a long-time enmity with Hypatia. Tensions are rising and although she is aware of the threat on her life, Hypatia chooses not to hide, but to stand and fight for her right to live peacefully as a Pagan and keep the position of teacher. In doing so, she becomes a martyr for her cause. Her death is said by some to have been the beginning of the “dark ages”.
I enjoyed the author’s elegant verbiage. But I will admit, as a Christian myself, parts of the book were hard to read. Not because I found them un-true but, because some of the Christians of that time, and even today, are so far removed from the actual teachings of Christ. This book made me seriously think. I came away from “And the Darkness Fell” by Pat McGrath with knowledge of a brave, strong, woman of history that I didn’t have, as well as the reminder that we should remember that freedom of religion encompasses all religions, not just our own.