Narrator: The European "Dark Ages", which lasted for about 1000 years, started with a bang in March 415 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. Its central figure was Hypatia (light on her), one of the most famous intellectuals of her time -- caught in the power struggle between the rising Church (light on Cyril) and the decaying Roman State (light on Orestes). Her fate shocked Alexandria's scholars and scientists into silence and eventual exile -- heralding the end of classical civilization. (Exeunt Hypatia and Samuel).
Orestes: Good afternoon, Archbishop -- what a balmy winter day!
Cyril: Kyrie eleison, Governor -- et pax vobiscum, as they say in Rome. It was an honour and a pleasure to see you in church this morning -- soon to be repeated, we hope.
Orestes: As soon as my calendar allows, I assure you. But as the chief representative of the State, I must pay my regular respects to all parts of this multicultural community -- not to mention the daily grind of running a great city.
Cyril: Don't forget, Governor, that my congregation is the largest patch upon your quilt -- the only one, in fact, which is expanding. Surely it deserves a special effort.
Orestes: ... which it does get -- what with special building permits, special holidays, and other special favours of all kinds. It occupies a lot of my time.
Cyril: O yes -- time is precious. And in all this turbulence, you must still find some time for that woman.
Orestes: Cyril, don't play cat-and-mouse with me, unless you want to be the mouse. You weren't indifferent to Hypatia's charms when you came to her father Theon's house for lessons...
Cyril:... while you -- a fulltime student -- had more ample opportunity to dote on her... Let's leave these childish memories, and come back to the present: your friendship with Hypatia does not go unnoticed.
Orestes: I venerate the memory of her father Theon, who was for many years my teacher -- until she stepped into that role. She's still my teacher now, that's all -- and you do know it.
Cyril: And you should know that politics is shaped more by appearences than facts. When people see a man take lessons from a woman, they naturally ask: lessons in what?
Orestes: The citizens of Alexandria love and respect Hypatia -- not so much for her books (which few can read) but for her exemplary morality (which is there for all to see).
Cyril: What citizens? Your respectable upper class finds her impeccably loveable -- and she may well be. Yet there are parts of this city -- unknown to your kind -- where rumours are rife about her pact with the Devil and practice of Black Magic.
Orestes: And other parts, where people say that Christians fornicate in catacombs. Worthless street babble! Besides, what do you mean by "kind" -- isn't my kind yours as well? Were you not born into a well-heeled family?
Cyril: But -- unlike you -- I took to heart what we as boys debated lightly on a summer beach. I lived the hard life of a desert monk, you never left the palace...
Orestes: With all due respect, Cyril, your present dwellings are magnificent.
Cyril: I live inside the House of God -- modestly, but with my ear to the ground -- and I am telling you, Orestes, that you should take the street more seriously. Your teacher Hypatia has certainly begun to... Have you heard about her latest experiments with Street Theatre?
Orestes: Do you mean her habit of mingling with crowds -- engaging them in philosophical discussions? She calls it reviving the Socratic tradition.
Cyril: No, no, I mean actual theatre. She had a make-shift stage built outside her house, where some of her cronies put on "scientific skits" for passers-by. The skit I heard about teaches that the earth is just a ball with a circumference of so many miles.
Orestes: That's an awfully old hat -- as you well know -- done many centuries ago by Eratosthenes. If I am not mistaken he got about 25 000 miles, right? But why would she want to put that on stage?
Cyril: To brag about pagan science and befuddle the popular mind, that's why! What is a peasant or tradesman to make of such a useless, abstract message? Will he stand more securely on the earth? Will he still know in which direction he should look for Heaven? It is destructive -- and if you cannot stop this madness, we shall find a way (pounds the ground with his staff). As you should be the first to know, pagan displays are against the law.
Orestes: The cult of idols is illegal by Imperial Decree, of course, but neither she nor any of her friends have ever practised it.
Cyril: The common people do not relish such distinctions. They do not understand the function of an astrolabe: for them it is an emblem of the pagan times, a kind of anti-crucifix. How can I plead for unity, anathemise heresy, condemn apostasy -- when socalled scientists go waving things like that around in public? A new world order is being born -- its coming is inevitable -- and those who wish to minimise the pain had better not slow down this birth.
Orestes: I am constrained to operate within the law -- and so far, there's no law forbidding science. How could I stop what's common knowledge -- available in our library for all to read.
Cyril: For those who can read. But not displayed on public streets! For that, as far as I know, one needs a permit issued by your office.
Orestes: She'd certainly need a permit, that is true. If she did not apply for one, I am sure it was not out of direspect. In spite of all her erudition even she can't know all city ordnances ... I'll look into the matter.
Cyril: That would be much appreciated by my people. They still grumble about the police harassment they suffered when they were trying to stage their Passion Play last year.
Orestes: I'll look into that, too. Our constables are told to act with courtesy in every situation -- all complaints are investigated and infractions punished... Are you again putting on the Passion Play this year? Your permit should still be good.
Cyril: Yes, but we were forced to modify the script.
Orestes: There were complaints from the Jewish congregation...
Cyril: I thought that congregation was dissolved last year!
Orestes: Closing synagogues and confiscating property does not abolish such an old and populous community. They now hold Sabbath services in various inconspicuous locations, they have their spokesmen and elected leaders -- I call that a congregation.
Cyril: As you wish... But surely their complaints don't justify high-handed rewriting of history by your Roman officials.
Orestes: Not by my officials, Cyril -- I am not the Emperor.
Cyril: (disdainfully) What emperor? We seem to have two of them these days: one in Rome and one in Constantinople. Both are hostages: one to barbarian generals, the other to his mom and to his older sister -- that boy must just about be entering imperial puberty...
Orestes:(amused) ...yes, wrestling with a different kind of Passion Play.
Cyril: (exasperated) You can't resist a joke, Orestes, can you?
Orestes: Okay, I'm neither Emperor nor Empress. Listen, why don't we cut the bickering and plan some joint festivities. We can start gradually now -- and in 15 years we could commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Resurrection and the 700th anniversary of the founding of Alexandria.
Cyril: Who knows where we shall be in 15 years. These are troubled times. Would you have guessed ten years ago that Rome herself would soon be plundered by the Goths?
Orestes: I heard they'd fought for Rome, and rioted because they'd not been paid.
Cyril: Still it was shameful -- and it shows how insecure the world's become.
Orestes: But here we're far beyond the reach of those barbarian armies. There'll still be Alexandria in 15 years -- unless we plunder her ourselves. This city needs some healing. It would be good for all of us: Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; Pagans, Jews, and Christians -- to have a common celebration -- with parades in the streets (instead of riots) and festively decorated Nile boats in the harbour.
Cyril: But as you know, we cannot celebrate with Pagans -- and the Nile does not flow into the harbour.
Orestes: Surely those boats (and your assembly's faith) are strong enough for a few miles of open water. And if the weather's foul, we'll tow them through the Nile Canal ...
Cyril: A fine idea for you, the Captain of the ship of State -- but my assembly (which will soon, I pray, be everyone) would certainly prefer a feast of Christian unity -- far from the stench of heresy, apostasy, and doubt -- and free from government intervention.
Orestes: There is no captain on my ship, I'm just a Second Mate -- but my proposal is sincere. Think about it, Reverend: it's a small price for social peace -- which you too depend on.
Cyril: Don't stretch tolerance into treason, Governor! Remember that you too are baptised.
Orestes: That is my private business: Orestes may be baptised, but the Prefect must remain impartial. Pax vobiscum. (Exit Orestes)
Cyril: (to himself) Hypocrite -- baptised for political expediency! His ship is sinking ... and I am afloat in a tinder-box, with a quarrelsome crew chafing for fire-works ... I must run my proud ship, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, by sheer bluff and cunning. Orestes can still count on the police -- or so he thinks -- and his relations with the Military Governor seem to be cordial. And I? Where are my legions? Everyone compares me to my bloody predecessor, my late uncle -- may God rest his soul. He had it so much easier -- with a strong imperial hand behind him and disciplined shock troops under his command -- while I have two imperious women screaching one into each ear and an unruly rag-tag army of buffoons and ruffians, loosely controlled by that loose cannon Hierax... Speak of the devil...
As passers-by stroll across the stage, Dario and Lydia, dressed in clownish costumes, unfurl a banner saying "HYPATIA'S STREET THEATRE" and attach it to a substage, which will hereinafter be referred to as "the set". Two cops appear.
Cop 1: (to Dario, with a perfunctory salute) What's happening here, young man?
Dario: We're setting up this stage for a mathematical performance.
Cop 2: (aside, guffawing and shaking his head) A mathematical performance!
Cop 1: I asked you a serious question!
Lydia: It's true, officer! We're working with Hypatia, our teacher, to make mathematics more popular.
Dario: To "bring it out of the closet" as she says.
Cop 1: (more respectfully) With Hypatia?
Cop 2: (pointing) That is Hypatia's house, sir.
Cop 1: I know. (to Dario) You are her students then?
Dario: Actually, we've both just finished our degrees.
Cop 1: May I know your names?
Dario: Dario -- son of Cyrus the Goldsmith.
Cop 2: What kind of name is that?
Dario: Graeco-Latino-Persian, if you don't mind.
Cop 1: And the young lady?
Lydia: Maria Lydia -- daughter of Ambrosius the Poet.
Cop 2: (proffering a piece of paper) Do you wish to write this, Captain?
Cop 1: No, I can remember it. (to Lydia, even more respectfully) I was sorry to hear about your father's death. Please accept my sincere condolence.
Cop 2: My dad died when I was a baby, Miss, I know just how you feel.
Dario: May we continue our preparations?
Cop 1: Will Hypatia herself take part in the performance?
Lydia: Yes, she will, and so will Samuel -- her colleague and our teacher.
Cop 1: Doctor Samuel ben Nathan?
Dario: Yes -- do you know him, Captain?
Cop 1: I took geometry from him -- a brilliant man, but hard to understand. You're in distinguished company, Dario. (Turns to go) I suppose you have a permit for this, don't you?
Dario: I've never heard it mentioned -- have you, Lydia?
Cop 1: We shall be back to verify that later. For now, good luck to you! (Exeunt cops)
Lydia: What a polite policeman, Dario -- I could hardly believe my ears!
Dario: Police should be polite -- why else would they be called police?
Dario: (pointing at Samuel) Ecce homo! Congratulations on your new appearance, Samuel!
Samuel: Last time Hypatia said I looked too much like a professor, I should dress more "agressively", she said.
Lydia: And right she was -- I find this costume most becoming. You look as if you could fly through the air with it ... But did they really dress like that six hundred years ago?
Samuel: Who knows: all statues from that time are in the nude.
Dario: O good! Let's do it in the nude then -- wearing masks for modesty.
Lydia: You'll do anything for Science, won't you Dario?
Dario: (one knee on the ground, in mock adulation) No, Lydia -- I'll do anything for you.
Lydia: Hypatia -- you're like a queen!
Hypatia: This is a shepherd's dress from Cappadocia. She who wore it probably was some one's queen. -- I'd better go and hide until my cue comes up.(Exit Hypatia toward backstage.)
Samuel: Alright then, Dario -- start the show! And this time, don't forget that Lydia's name is Dora in the skit.
Dario: (through a megaphone} Oyez, oyez! Come see the secrets of the earth! Is it slim or is it fat? Watch how Eratosthenes, our Librarian right here in Alexandria, managed to measure its circumference many centuries ago. (Repeats)
Samuel: (singing out numbers, like Figaro measuring his bedroom) Fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen -- and a quarter. It's past its prime!
Lydia: Look, my dear Jerry, there is Doctor Lovewell. What might he be doing?
Dario: Who knows? That's Eratosthenes, the pompous nerd, or "Beta" as they call him at the University. He's always up to something.
Samuel: Yes, I'm the famous Eratosthenes: poet, athlete, and librarian -- mathematician and geographer, to mention only some of my more visible activities. Erato -- love, and sthenos -- strength, the Alexandrian ladies will attest the aptness of my name.
Dario: He's bragging again: Erato isn't Eros.
Lydia: But he is a poet ... Good Doctor Lovewell, what could you be measuring?
Samuel: My dear young lady, Lovestrength is my name not Lovewell -- though that might suit me too.
Lydia: I like "Lovewell" better.
Dario: (aside) My wife goes gaga over mathematics. I hope that she'll control herself this time.
Samuel: (to Lydia) Then you're in luck, my pretty face! It almost seems to me that you're clairvoyant.
Samuel: Because my measuring is motivated by a well -- in fact, a love-well if my sources are correct.
Dario: (jumps up) I am your source, Professor Eratosthenes. Don't you remember me?
Samuel: Of course I do, the lad from last year's Geography 100. Your name is Jerry, right?
Dario: It is, and Dora is my wife.
Samuel: O what a lovely name, and what a pretty face you married, Jerry.
Dario: Yes -- with a brain inside and other lovely things attached thereto.
Lydia: His full name is Hieronymos, and mine is Isidora.
Samuel: Onshauntay. In your term-paper, Jerry, you reported on a deep well -- near Syene, south of here -- whose watery bottom is lit up by the sun exactly once a year at noon a certain day.
Dario: And several days before, its walls begin to glow as if in expectation. Then priests of Ra assemble at the place, and when the sun's rays set the well ablaze, they hug and kiss and thank the sun-god for his love.
Samuel: That's why you said it might be called the Well of Love.
Lydia: But wherefore does it make you call out numbers?
Dario: (aside) She always must get back to her obsession.
Samuel: I thought, if this thing happens only once a year -- the sun exactly overhead -- it must be on the longest day that year, at noon.
Lydia: Of course. Or else it won't occur at all -- or happen twice, once as the sun climbs higher every day, and then again as it recedes.
Dario: I kind of see it, too, but would not bet on it.
Samuel: And then I wondered what the sun does here in Alexandria, while those priests are kissing in Syene.
Lydia: So you were measuring the shadow of that pole to see when it was shortest.
Samuel: Yes, that happened last week -- now it slowly grows again. But the shadow also tells me at what angle the sun hangs in our sky -- and hence what portion of the earth's circumference lies between us and Syene.
Lydia: O Doctor Lovewell, that's so thrilling! It sounds easy, but I don't quite see it -- please, please, please explain.
Dario: (aside) She begs for what sane folks consider punishment -- my wife's gone mad.
Samuel: Your husband's eyes are glazing over. Let's do the explanation while he sleeps, and try to reach the punch-line while he's with us.
Lydia: And the punch-line is..?
Samuel: This shadow tells me that the space between us and Syene is one fiftieth of the earth's circumference. Your husband's paper, on the other hand, says it is 500 miles.
Dario: (straightens up) That's what the camel driver told me.
Samuel: So, if 500 miles make up a fiftieth part, how long would be the whole circumference?
Lydia: 50 times as much: 50 times 500 -- that's 25 000 miles, wow!
Dario: The journey to Syene took us two weeks. Are you then saying -- in a hundred weeks, if we kept going south -- we'd be coming back to Alexandria from the north?
Lydia: Bravo, my husband, see? Arithmetic's not all that hard and neither is geometry.
Samuel: That's right, if it were possible. Your camels would be rather cold and wet -- if they indeed survived.
Lydia: Better to take a ship and sail out west past the Columns of Hercules. And even sailing day and night, you'd likely need a year to get as far as India. By then your crew'd be starved to death or drowned.
Dario: Unless there's land between.
Samuel: Which well might be -- our library has several scrolls alleging there's an island called Atlantis past those Herculean Columns.
Lydia: Dear Doctor, if it's not too late, please make me see how one can glean such knowledge -- the circumference I mean -- by measuring the shadow of that pole! How do you know the distance between us and Syene amounts to one fiftieth of the earth's circumference?
Dario: Now I am curious too!
Samuel: It's easy, look.
Samuel: Of course not, Dora -- it just underlines the fact that you live here.
Lydia: O yes, I love to be on top.
Dario: But this second pole doesn't look vertical at all.
Lydia: Sure it is, Jerry. Look, it points straight to the centre of the earth. The earth is huge by our standards. The great Pharos tower (grabs a beach ball to demonstrate) would be a tiny hair on this scale model, and the people would be teensy weensy mites crawling around it.
Hypatia: Oh, Beta, there you are -- still busy measuring, eh? ... How long is it today?
Samuel: (turning to her, embarrassed) A little longer than last week.
Hypatia: Then last week it was shortest -- one eighth the length of your pole ... making the angle one fiftieth of a circle. Oh, what a lovely day!
Hierax: (in the audience) There she is -- the witch. She should be stoned! (He is ignored)
Hypatia: (Noticing the others) I see you have company ...
Samuel: Jerry, a former student, and his wife Dora.
Lydia: And who are you?
Hypatia: My name is Phyllis -- and my sheep are safely grazing in that vacant lot across the street.
Lydia: I love sheep -- and I adore shepherds. Phyllis, do you know this man's the famous Eratosthenes?
Hypatia: He bade me call him Beta -- that's easier than Eratocrates, I find.
Samuel: We were joking -- but what is in a name?
Lydia: Phyllis, if the shadow is one eighth as long as pole -- how do you know the angle is one fiftieth of a circle?
Hypatia: Because I make beautiful round cheeses (shows with her hands), and sell them in wedges.
Hypatia: (with more hand gestures) You see, my wedges are four times as long as they are wide,
and I get twenty-five from every round of cheese. If they were half as wide -- only one eighth their length -- I would get
Dario: This is more appetizing than the table top -- but I do object to the assumption that the earth is like a cheese. Look at me on this flat stage. When I stand under this light, there is no shadow; but when I step over here, it suddenly appears. Why should we assume the earth is round, when we have a much simpler explanation?
Samuel: Good thinking, Jerry. But, to make a shadow that size, the sun would then be closer than India.
Lydia: Then its orbit through the heavens would crash into the the earth -- think of that, Jerry.
Hierax: (raising his fist) It's not for us to scrutinise the heavens! (Receives an elbow in the ribs, and doubles over coughing).
Hypatia: All this flatness talk is silly: you can see the earth is round.
Samuel: In a lunar eclipse, for instance.
Hypatia: Much simpler: just watching what you can see as you go up Pharos tower. My dad used to work there, and sometimes took me along. From the top you can see the far shore of Lake Mareotis, but halfway down that southern shore is gone. How could that happen on a flat surface?
Dario: It could be hidden by a mound.
Lydia: A mound of water in the middle of the lake?
Dario: (scratching his head) I'll have to think about it.
Hypatia: Hey, there is my milking ball! (Picks up the beach ball) I sit on it to milk my ewes.
Samuel: (getting up with a start) There is another riot on the waterfront!
Hypatia: (showing the ball to Lydia) Elephant bladder, very practical -- inflatable, you see. (Pulls the plug; the air escapes noisily)
Hierax: Take this, blasphemers! (Lights a kind of smoke-bomb, hurls it onto the set, and limps off stage.)
Hypatia: (trying to stomp it out, burns herself) Ouch!
Dario: (trying to help her) Look out, Hypatia, your eyes!
Same setting. Hypatia and Samuel put away the props.
Samuel: Why are we doing this, Hypatia?
Hypatia: I thought we're having fun, aren't we? Why are you doing it?
Samuel: Because I believe in you, Hypatia. I've always enjoyed our projects -- but in this one I sometimes feel I'm just a prop.
Hypatia: (laughing) My dearest prop! You were the one who said that mathematics needed to step out of its closet, that it should move among people, and breathe again as it did in Plato's time.
Samuel: Plato didn't do street theatre, he staid serenely in his olive grove.
Hypatia: But Socrates roamed everywhere and talked to everyone.
Samuel: And paid with his life ... Your own excursions in the market crowds -- discussing Plato or the Stoics or whatever -- don't they count for something?
Hypatia: Next to nothing ... Let's face it, Samuel, philosophy is dead.
Samuel: It's only lying in a stupor -- drunk with fermented words. This is an age of demagoguery: whoever lies most persuasively is king -- or bishop.
Hypatia: As you know, our bishop Cyril is a former pupil of my father's. Unfortunately he's surrounded by fanatics, but I'm sure he secretely approves of what we're doing here. I still remember how he beamed after a lesson in astronomy and said: "this is more evidence that the Creator loves his creation."
Samuel: Cyril has not shown much love in his first two years.
Hypatia: Give him more time. My father was on friendly terms even with the ruthless Theophilus -- and made him a little bit more tolerant, I think. That's what my father stood for, and what I must continue. I promised him -- as he lay dying -- that I'd do all I could "not to let Hellas die".
Samuel: By any reasonable measure you've kept your promise ten times over.
Hypatia: No, no -- I found more than enough to do within my ivory tower, and it was natural to stay inside -- and so I did.
Samuel: Your father was the one who raised you in the ivory tower -- he would not have complained to see you stay inside.
Hypatia: But he himself spent his last years outside it -- trying to right a wrong which he had not committed. (Pause)
Samuel: He died ten years ago. What brings about your sudden urgency?
Hypatia: The change was overdue -- but, yes, there was a recent incident ... As I was going home one moonless, very starry night last autmn -- after having spent the afternoon flogging dead horses ...
Samuel: Trying to philosophise with strangers?
Hypatia: Yes ... on my way home I saw a fire on the street ahead of me and a small group of people apparently feeding it. They were young men -- about five or six of them -- and they were burning books.
Samuel: What kind of books?
Hypatia: That's exactly what I asked them. I said: "What are you burning there?" and they said: "Pornography!" To me the drawings on the paper looked more like geometry, so I stepped closer -- and you know what they were burning?
Hypatia: Pages from Ptolemy's Astronomy! I said: "How can you call this pornography?" They were nice young men -- not brutes. One of them said: "We know it's hard to recognize, madam, but it eats into your mind and leads you to damnation." A blind old man was sitting in a nearby door-way, his milky eyes turned toward the fire. As I watched the flames grabbing page after page, I suddenly saw the urgency of opening the eyes of these young men -- demystifying heaven and earth for them -- making them more comfortable in this world.
Samuel: But what if they prefer to stay the way they are?
Hypatia: Many of them will, I know -- perhaps most of them. But some will be nudged.
Samuel: And they are worth the effort?
Hypatia: Remember, at the University we work like dogs for even smaller groups of people. Look, I have nothing else: no husband, children, aunts or uncles -- just my parrot, and a few friends like you. This is my destiny, it's what I'm meant to do: as faithfully as possible to reflect the light I have received from those who came before me.
Samuel: And keep none for yourself?
Hypatia: Of course I keep some. (getting up and waving as she slowly moves away) I'm a happy woman -- I enjoy this life. (Exit Hypatia)
Samuel: (waving back) Shalom, Hypatia. (to himself) She still believes it possible to spread the light. (clenching his fist) I'm in this to resist the coming of the night.
Orestes: (to himself) She wants a street performance permit -- to do skits in mathematics. What a dumb idea! No one will understand a thing, but they will come to gawk -- because the great Hypatia is on stage -- maybe to catch a glimpse of arm-pit hair ... Innocent fun at any other place and time -- but here and now the bishop's wolves are lying in restless sleep, dreaming of action. They'll take any excuse ... I cannot let it happen.
But how can I oppose her? If I tell her what I think, she'll dig in her heels. I'll have to try ridicule ... it's never worked before, but it's my only weapon ... She says I waver, I equivocate, I compromise: she does not understand the ways of politics. Easy for her to be uncompromising in her ivory tower and in the company of high and mighty fans -- while my equivocations help to protect her. She thinks she knows the street because of her occasional sorties ... O Hypatia, my love, your very purity has spoiled you rotten.
Her brow and cheek flushed by the sun-set light -- hair spread in the grass -- and eyes to sink a battle-ship. That was my finest quarter hour -- and I wavered, hoping for another chance that never came. Recently -- when exactly was it? -- waking up past mid-night with sweet Chloe peacefully breathing beside me, I was startled that she was not you, Hypatia. What kind of life is this, Hypatia, woven from dreams? How do you live it?
In Hypatia's yard. Four "revellers" sit around the table with Socrates (Samuel). Their roles will be minor -- their comments ("I don't get it", etc.) can be improvised. Dario and Lydia are busy with the major prop -- a kind of multiple white-board which has several large rectangular faces each with a square (at least 2'x2') already drawn. Dario and/or Lydia will later paint on it with large bold brush strokes.
Lydia: (to the table) Since this will be an adaptation of a dialogue by Plato, maybe we should inform the audience, who Plato was -- they may not know.
Dario: Yeah -- since he lived more than 800 years ago, his name is probably forgotten by the people.
Rev 1: You're wrong: my barber Meneloas has a cat named Plato.
Rev 2: That doesn't help: my tailor Mikimaos has a dog named Pluto.
Rev 3: A cat philosophising, and a dog ruling the Underworld -- what a zoo!
Rev 4: To top it off, Hypatia's parrot is called Socrates.
Lydia: For those who haven't heard these names before, it's all the same. In fact, this mellow fellow Meno might be mistaken for our hero.
Dario: (clowning) The famous minister of finance, Leno Meno, don't you know?
Samuel: What? Me -- know Meno? No, no, me know no Meno... Hey look, here comes Hypatia!
Orestes: (softly, to Hypatia). Your gate is left wide open -- anyone could enter...
Hypatia: (softly). But they would be trespassing, and there isn't room for many. (Louder) Hi everyone, this is my cousin Nikolaos from Lugdunum in Gaul. His eyes are unaccustomed to our bright Egyptian sun, so he must wear his shades.
Samuel: A lucky chance -- the guy who's playing Meno called in sick. Would Nicolas mind taking his place?
Orestes: Thanks for the honour ... But really: I'm no good at acting. Besides I don't even know the lines.
Hypatia: Come on, Cousin -- we are just rehearsing. If you'd read off the page, we would be very grateful. I know you are an orator, and if you really have enough of it, I'll take over. Most of the talking will be done by others anyway.
Orestes: (with a shrug) Okay, since there is no audience I'll give it a try. Who knows, it might be fun. Where is the script?
Hypatia: (to Samuel) My cousin knows the story well, I have just tested him.
Samuel: But not with our modifications -- surely...
Hypatia: No. The main modification, Nick, is: we've split Meno's boy in two, so don't be rattled when you see this girl (points to Lydia) emerging from behind him. She'll represent his inner mind with all its messy hopes and fears, while he maintains a Stoic front.
Orestes: A good idea for making math more visible -- a look behind the scenes!
Hypatia: Should we start then?
Samuel: Sure. It opens with some words from Meno -- top of page 1 -- over to you, Nick. Remember you're from Thessaly.
In the following, Lydia represents the Boy's ("Zeno" to go with Meno?) inner mind. Her words should be underlined -- and could sometimes even be replaced -- by pantomime. Dario steps forward, with Lydia still hiding behind him as well as possible.
Samuel: Tell me, boy, do you know this kind of figure's called a square?
Lydia: (comes out from behind Dario) A dumb question -- sure I know.
Samuel: Then can you tell me how to find a line, which makes one side of our imagined double square?
Dario: Clearly, Socrates, the line is double.
Lydia: That answer came so fast I didn't even think it.
Samuel: Double the side of our original square?
Dario: Of course.
Lydia: This is too easy.
Lydia: No, but I'm glad you're keeping track.
Dario: Of course, I do.
Lydia: Three of these little gizmos make one-and-a-half times the original length. Oh, but we need just as many in the height ... this isn't working out!
Samuel: How many of these tiles does our old square hold?
A third face of the drawing-prop appears, showing the original square subdivided 5 by 5 into yet smaller tiles and surrounded by twice ten plus four others, all neatly coloured.
Lydia: (feverishly) Five times five little tiles -- yes, sir, that's my baby. Two times five extra ones, that's ten up here -- and ten more over there -- plus four up in the corner. That's 24 extra ones, instead of 25 -- one too few this time. I know I can't do math, (falls to the ground) the rest is silence.
Dario: I think I see it!
Samuel: Show me.
Dario: (makes four bold diagonal strokes) Like this.
Lydia: That's it! By Zeus, do I feel stupid -- (jumps to her feet, drops her over-garment, and runs off stage in a sheer white gown, arms raised in a V) -- Eureka, eureka!
Samuel: That's excellent, my boy, can you explain?
In the same place. Samuel gets off the set and goes toward the "desert monks" whom he had not noticed before. Dario sits on the set, listening and watching.
Samuel: Welcome, strangers, can I help you?
Cyril: We were just passing by and saw people in costumes -- so we stopped to see what it was.
Hierax: Could you tell us, sir, what this was all about?
Samuel: About ideas and how they can be taught -- or rather how they can't be taught, but must be sought and caught.
Cyril: Mathematical ideas?
Samuel: Any ideas, I think -- although in math the pattern is particularly striking.
Hierax: Which pattern?
Samuel: The suddenness of insight. It's not like crawling out of a cave, with the light gradually getting brighter. In math we often grope and struggle in the darkest night (for effort is essential) until the light suddenly comes on -- we do not know from where or when.
Hierax: From God, of course, and when God will.
Cyril: Indeed: what you describe is like a monk's experience -- and I'm surprised to hear it from a pagan mathematician. That's what you are, sir, isn't it?
Samuel: Mathematician yes -- but pagan, I'm not sure. My family is Jewish -- my late uncle was a rabbi and a mathematician. He liked to say, his two vocations were the only ones which could produce certainty.
Hierax: On the religious side, his certainty must have been -- alas -- somewhat one-sided. I shall pray for his soul.
Cyril: Leave theology for another day, Brother, we've come to learn and not to preach. May I just ask one other question?
Samuel: One or more, go right ahead.
Cyril: Then I'll ask two. The first goes back to mathematics. What about those methods taught in schools; are they not systematic ways leading to what you call insight?
Samuel: My uncle used to say that computation is to insight as liturgy is to divine grace.
Cyril: Necessary but not sufficient?
Hierax: I wish you'd leave your uncle out of this. Have you no stand of your own?
Cyril: Excuse my brother's rashness, sir: he is a tiger when it comes to religion.
Samuel: Sorry if this offends either of you: unfortunately, I must confess I have no insight into faith.
Cyril: But faith in insight?
Samuel: Not even that: we customarily test insight by subjecting it to systematic doubt.
Hierax: No one can live without faith.
Samuel: I agree, but ...
Cyril: Please Brother, let's not stretch the doctor's patience -- I'm sure he's been through this before. I'm still intrigued, sir, by your late uncle's dictum about liturgy and computation. What do you think about the latter?
Samuel: Rote does provide a useful scaffolding -- but that is all. Unfortunately, it looms so large most people take it for the thing itself, expend their energy on it, and finally give up in quiet resignation.
Hierax: It does offend me that you harp on this blasphemous comparison. Math is after all a lowly thing: those clerks bent over their abacuses in the City's Treasury are like ...
Samuel: ... like busy weavers, yes! They exercise an honourable trade -- too important to be mired with mathematics.
Hierax: And rightly so: problems are unwholesome for the soul.
Samuel: In the simplicity of your desert life they are out of place, of course, and maybe we would all be better off living like you. But as soon as you go near the market, you'll see new problems every day.
Hierax: Like what?
Samuel: Here's an example off the cuff: a tailor has to turn a square of precious cloth into an octogon without wasting any. How should he cut it?
Cyril: Do you know how?
Samuel: Off hand I don't, but I could work it out. I just made up that problem and could make many more.
Hierax: It's still a waste of precious time -- at best !
Cyril: Not for the tailor, Brother ... I'm sorry, sir, may I now ask my second question?
Cyril: It's odd to see a stage set up inside a yard. It looks like a rehearsal -- may I ask for what?
Samuel: You're right, we have plans for a series of four skits involving mathematics.
Hierax: And who is "we"?
Samuel: A group of friends around Hypatia -- you may have heard her name.
Cyril: We generally don't remember names -- except for those of saints. But what's the purpose of these skits?
Samuel: Simply put, we want to share the joy of math with larger groups of people, and in so doing, open doors for them to science and to learning generally. Hypatia, our manager and leader, says she'd like them to discover that their minds have wings which can soar to the stars. The fourth skit will touch on astronomy.
Hierax: The stars are out of bounds for men -- they are in God's domain.
Cyril: Everything's in God's domain, Brother. (to Samuel) Have you tried your skits in public?
Samuel: Yes, we have tried the first one, and it worked quite well. The present one is not quite ready, as you saw. But we need a permit from the Prefect to continue.
Hierax: Is that hard to obtain?
Samuel: Hypatia is quite confident we'll get it. In fact, she's probably in the Prefect's office as we speak.
Hierax: O no! I have to run or I'll be late (exit, limping).
Samuel: I thought, you desert monks were never short of time...
Cyril: If you said "hardly ever" you'd be right ... To finish off: how difficult will be your skits to follow? Could simple folk like me get something out of them?
Samuel: Don't be so modest, Friar, your speech betrays considerable learning. But to answer you directly: we are doing all we can to make things clear and simple. That's why our plots take place in distant times when our science was young and innocent.
Cyril: I wish you luck, and when I come to town again, I'll try to see your presentations -- and bring along some brethren.
Samuel: Thanks, and good-bye till then.
Cyril: Good-bye (exit).