Fortnite's New Level Up Pack Is A Reference To a Brutal, Real-Life Ancient Murder
Let's just say that Captain Hypatia's arms and legs aren't separated from her torso in the Armored style because it looks cool.
Fortnite dropped its latest Level Up Pack this week, and it's a bit of an unusual one. The skin that comes in this season's pack is called Captain Hypatia--she's a starship captain. Like all the skins in the Level Up Packs, Hypatia's got an alternate "Armored" style that is very different from its main style. This alt style takes this pretty standard lady here and turns her into an extremely dope cyborg, with arms and legs that are not physically attached to her torso but are held on by some kind of red energy. See below.
That arms-and-legs thing is particularly interesting when you take it in conjunction with her name. There's only been one truly notable person with the name Hypatia in all of history: a Greek philosopher and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, and the first female mathematician that we have significant historical records about. That's the main reason she's famous-- but the second biggest reason for her fame is the way she was brutally murdered and literally torn limb from limb by a mob of Christians.
There have been other things called Hypatia in the 1600 years since Hypatia of Alexandria was alive. Pretty much all of them are named after this woman, though, and the ones that aren't are almost certainly named after things that were named for Hypatia of Alexandria. This fact has probably helped maintain her legacy, because there just haven't been any other Hypatias who were famous and could have stolen her name's thunder.
The story goes that for most of Hypatia's time, there was a measure of peace between the scientific and Christian establishments in Alexandria. For three decades a man named Theophilus was the bishop of Alexandria--a Pope-level gig at the time--and he apparently cared enough about keeping the peace that he stayed on good terms with Hypatia and her peers. So they had kind of an oligarchy going.
But Theophilus died in 412, and there was a power struggle between his nephew Cyril and a man named Timothy to replace him as bishop. Cyril won, and followed up his victory in the normal game of thrones type of way: by going after anybody who liked Timothy and anyone he perceived as not being on his side, like Jewish people. And since Hypatia and the rest of the science folks were also very obviously not a part of his religious faction, he went after her too. But she was too popular to exile or murder outright, so Cyril spent the next few years slandering her until a man named Peter started a riot that had Hypatia as its main focus.
The mob pulled Hypatia from her carriage as she was heading home, and they dragged her to a prominent church--where they tore all of her clothes off and brutally cut her to pieces using ceramic shards. But they weren't done. After that show, they took her arms and legs outside of town and burned them. That might seem excessive (because it very clearly is!), but this was pretty much just a traditional Alexandrian political murder. The distant past was a bad time to be alive, honestly.
So now that you know this horrifying story, let's look once again at Captain Hypatia in Fortnite.
Her set of cosmetics is the Luminary Explorer set, which makes sense for a space ship captain--a luminary explorer would just be a person who explores space, because in astronomy terms a luminary is a star. But luminary also has another meaning: a famous smart person. Which certainly describes Hypatia of Alexandria--one ancient reference has been translated as calling her a "luminous child of reason."
Likewise, two heavenly bodies (an asteroid, and a planet in the Iona Draconis solar system) and a crater on the moon have been named after Hypatia, so there's some synergy there as well with the Luminary Explorer concept.
Then you've got the arms and legs thing. In the alternate style they are no longer attached to her body--just as Hypatia's arms and legs were no longer attached to her body after the mob of Christians was done with her.
Lastly, this flavor text: "No ship. No crew. Just an unstoppable spirit." So now that she's transcended her physical body, she floats around space in this new cyberpunk form without even using a ship? This person died.
This skin gets several layers deep into the metaphors. It's kinda nice--most new skins don't come bundled with an interesting topic of conversation. Hopefully we see more of this kind of thing in the future.
For more on Hypatia, there are many books about her specifically, as well as tons of broader histories that devote meaningful space to her story. My recommendation, however, is The Darkening Age, by Catherine Nixey, which spends a chapter contextualizing Hypatia's life and death as part of the greater conflict between Christianity and the ancient scientific establishment in the centuries leading up to the Middle Ages.
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