Hypatia's Street Theatre: Act I

Scene 1. Prologue.

Off-stage an ominous sound, like a distant drum-beat. As the curtain rises, three immobile figures on dark stage: Cyril, Orestes, and (on the far right) Hypatia. A narrator (Samuel) comes to centre stage (light on him) and gives a short sketch roughly as follows.

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...

Enter Hierax

Hierax: Your Holiness is deep in prayer -- please pardon my intrusion.
Cyril: Thank you for informing me about Hypatia's street performance. Can you give me details? Did she use pagan idols?
Hierax: I would not watch such things myself, sir, but I have heard enough to make me sure that wily witch deserves the rack! Wait till the Guardians hear about this.
Cyril: No, Hierax, leave them out of it for now. If there is punishment, it must be seen to come from the people: we don't want to create another pagan "martyr" -- especially one with so many admirers.
Hierax: Then I shall try to stoke the people's wrath.
Cyril: Be circumspect, good Hierax. I don't want Hypatia harmed -- just silenced. So, do hold back your hounds -- this is an order. Kyrie eleison! (Exit Cyril)
Hierax: (to himself) You'll soon learn to respect your humble servant Hierax, Holy Father ... (triumphantly) The vixen's left her hole. Now let the merry chase begin!


Scene 2. The Girth of the Earth.

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?
Lydia: No.
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?

Samuel comes bouncing on stage in a kind of superman outfit.

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.

Enter Hypatia, dressed as a shepherdess, with staff and colourful gown. She stands and smiles, the others stare at her in silence.

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)

A cluster of pedestrians is stopping to watch. As the lights turn onto the set, Samuel is crouching on the floor with a yard stick, next to a vertical pole. Dario and Lydia come strolling in from the side.

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.
Lydia: Why?
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.

Turns a round garden table on its side, table top facing the audience.

Samuel: This represents a slice of the earth, from north to south, right through the centre (points to it and marks it) -- can you imagine that?
Dario: I'll try.
Lydia: Jerry's good at imagining things.

Samuel holds two sticks to the rim, in the plane of the table top, one at "twelve o'clock" the other at about "one o'clock", both pointing to the centre of the disc.

Samuel: This stick (wiggles the top one) represents a vertical pole at Alexandria, this other one (wiggles it) a vertical pole at some place south of here.
Dario: The first one looks like the north pole to me ...
Samuel: No, north is over here (points at 10 o'clock). I've turned it so that Alexandria is on top.
Lydia: That does't really matter, does it?
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.

Samuel: This whole city would be just a fly-speck.
Dario: (to the audience) Hear ye, hear ye, we are mites crawling around in a fly-speck! (Cheers and boos from the audience.) Grist for poetry! Do carry on, good Eratosthenes.
Lydia: Don't be condescending, Jerry. We're lucky and honoured to be taught by Doctor Lovewell.
Dario: (bowing to Samuel) To hear the story from the horse's mouth is indeed a great honour. (Aside) One cannot look a gift-horse in the mouth and at the same time hope to hear its story.
Lydia: (to Samuel) Now I begin to see: you want to measure the angle between those sticks.
Samuel: Precisely! If for instance it were a right angle (puts the second stick at 3 o'clock), we'd know that one quarter of the girth lay between them. But (puts the second stick back to 1 o'clock) here, it is more like one twelfth.
Dario: I thought it was one fiftieth!
Lydia: You're such a stickler: the doctor was just using an analogy! If he'd gone straight for the fiftieth, the angle would have been too small for you to notice.
Dario: Well yes -- one fiftieth of a cheese would be too slim for me.
Lydia: But going from Syene to Alexndria took you and your fellow-mites two entire weeks!
Dario: (to Samuel) Okay, I get the point: you want to measure that gigantic angle -- whose tip is at the centre of the earth and whose legs stick out at Alexandria and Syene. And this grand project is to be accomplished with a simple yardstick here in Alexandria. You must be joking, Doctor Lovestrength.
Samuel: That's the miracle of angles, Jerry. Whether the pie is big or small -- one twelfth of it always has the same angle at the tip.
Lydia: It's thirty degrees, isn't it? Angles are so cool -- I just love angles!
Samuel: Myself, I wouldn't be without them. How else could I do astronomy? Do you believe I clamber round the stars with measuring tape? No, I stay right here on earth and tally angles with an astrolabe.
Dario: But how about this angle at the centre of the earth? We cannot even see it.
Samuel: Elementary, my boy: we move it to the surface, look! (Moves the second stick to 12 o'clock without changing its direction.) Our second pole's still pointing at the sun, but now it's here in Alexandria. The angle's still the same, d'you see?
Lydia: We wouldn't even need the second pole -- the shadow of the first tells us the angle. Now I see it all! O thank you Doctor -- this is so exciting!
Samuel: Your wife's as clever as she's pretty, Jerry. Yes, (moves the second stick, still keeping its direction, so that the upper tips touch) now that same angle's pointing upward, and the shadow on the ground tells us its size.

Enter Hypatia in her shepherd's outfit.

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.

Some spectators chuckle. A tumult is heard in the distance.

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 fifty.
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.

(The tumultuous noise is getting louder. Some spectators turn their heads, then gradually dribble off in that direction, until only Hierax is left.)

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!

As Hypatia and her friends still struggle with the missile, the two cops reappear.

Cop 1: (saluting politely) Good evening, madam, I'm sure you have a street performance permit, but I am duty-bound to ask to see it.
Hypatia: (pointing behind herself) This is my house, Captain. We're standing on my property.
Cop 2: But even in that house you can't do what you want without the curtains drawn -- my brother and his wife got into trouble ...
Cop 1: I'm sorry, madam: any public spectacle requires permission from the Prefecture -- that's city by-law 97g, subsection 5.
Hypatia: I have no permit -- never thought of it. So, what are we to do?
Cop 2: You'll have to cover up your stuff until you have your papers.
Cop 1: It's a formality, I'm sure.
Hypatia: Excuse the oversight, I'll see to it tomorrow.
Cop 2: Good luck with the bureaucrats: they'll want a full description plus a detailed rationale! (Exeunt cops)
Hypatia: (to Dario and Lydia) Why don't you go into the house and get out of your duds.
Dario: A good idea, or else they might arrest us yet. (Exeunt Dario and Lydia).

Scene 3. Hypatia and Samuel.

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?
Samuel: What?
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.


Scene 4. Hypatia and Orestes.

In the Prefect's office. Orestes stands at his desk.

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?

Enter Hypatia

Hypatia: Ave, your Excellency: you have sent for me.
Orestes: (getting up) Good morning, Highness. Please sit down.
Hypatia: (amused) What's going on, Orestes? I'm no Highness...
Orestes: If I'm your Excellency, you'll have to be my Highness.
Hypatia: This is the Prefect's Office. I'm just trying to respect the protocoll.
Orestes: According to my protocoll, friends call each other by their names. Apart from that, we do play by the rules...
Hypatia: Jolly good ... I am relieved to hear that someone in this town is playing by the rules.
Orestes: (amused) The way you talk -- that mix of formal and colloquial -- always reminds me of your father.
Hypatia: You know, he grew up in Rhakotis -- the Egyptian quarter. That's where that language comes from -- I hope you're not offended.
Orestes: Offended? Why? Just because we're in this office? I find that lingo quite contagious, and shall lapse into it, as usual -- hope you won't think I'm aping you.
Hypatia: On the contrary, Orestes, it will warm my heart!

The following dialogue begins with Hypatia and Orestes both sitting

Orestes: (sternly) Hypatia, I wished to hear first hand about your street performances. You know, the law must be applied.
Hypatia: Of course, Orestes, of course. I just believed to be within my rights on my own property. How silly -- since my aim is to engage the public!
Orestes: And knowing you, I am sure it is a noble aim ... but I confess I don't quite understand it. Why on the street? Why don't you use your acting talents in our splendid civic theatre? I still remember when you played Antigone, many years ago -- I was just beginning to take lessons from your father -- you had half of this town in tears and the other half ready to die for you.
Hypatia: I often pass the Theatre on my way to the Library, and I must say it is a sorry sight. Have you been there lately? You should go -- they're playing the Oresteia.
Orestes: I never have the time.
Hypatia: Well, if you ever do, you'll see an ever shrinking audience of grizzled heads. It's like a waiting-room of Hades. Although I do admire these ancients -- who knows if I shall fade as graciously as they -- my message isn't aimed at them.
Orestes: Then, why don't you help us resurrect Antigone in the street -- if it must be. Or put Electra on your stage or Hecuba -- and you shall have your permit -- plus stage hands and technicians paid for by the State.
Hypatia: Classical theatre is Greek to Alexandrians of today.
Orestes: And so it should be -- Greek is still their language.
Hypatia: Sure, but the stories in their heads come down from Egypt, Persia, Nubia, and Judea... What's Hecuba to them or they to Hecuba?
Orestes: She is maternal grief personified, and grief is universal.
Hypatia: That's what we like to think -- but nowadays it matters whether Hector wore a turban or a skull-cap.
Orestes: He wore a Trojan helmet ... But I take your point: this city and indeed this State, is rotten to the core with fragmentation and sectarian violence. We must by all means try to revive the art of civil and informed debate. (Gets up) However, putting something as arcane as math on stage does nothing to advance that cause.
Hypatia: Why? Think of it: where else is patient, frank debate -- with nothing hidden -- so assiduously practised.

In the next part of the dialogue Orestes paces about like a lion tamer.

Orestes: Patient, frank ... and petty: can every angle be trisected à la Euclid? How exciting!
Hypatia: You under-estimate the people's appetite for splitting hairs. Don't you remember the debate about the Holy Trinity? How's that for non-Euclidean trisection?
Orestes: Careful, Hypatia! A woman should not joke about such matters.
Hypatia: I'm sorry, Governor, to have allowed my female mind to stumble into this patriarchal mystery. Let me then turn to motherhood: have you kept up with recent strife concerning Mary? Was she "theotokos" with Tau or "theodokos" with Delta? Tau versus Delta: that is juicy stuff ...
Orestes: Please cut it out: I cannot comment on religion -- this is the Prefect's Office ... As far as mathematics is concerned, nobody's finds it juicy -- it simply is too boring.
Hypatia: Speak for yourself, Orestes. Boredom's in the eyes of the beholder: give a lad a list of numbers, tell him they're athletic scores, and he is fascinated ... Besides, you should be pleased: if our audience falls asleep, there will be no disorder in the street. What can you lose by issuing a permit?
Orestes: I'm not convinced it's in the public interest. Math on the stage? Why math? Because it's culturally odourless? Or equally indifferent to all?
Hypatia: The present climate is not good for math -- but neither is it good for poetry, philosophy, or architecture. The former glories of our culture have shrivelled into empty shells -- a feast only for book-worms. To bring them back to life ...
Orestes: ... then why not start with poetry? You used win prizes with your poems. Why not write an ode to math? It would be so much more persuasive than cold reason.
Hypatia: (exasperated) Cold reason?! What a tired cliché! Please don't tell anyone I was your teacher.
Orestes: (with mock-pathos) Cold Reason is the glacier on whose flanks the rivulet of math is born -- which grows up tumbling through the playful mountain meadows, before it sweeps into the plain as a majestic river -- exalted by its tributaries, teeming with life, spreading prosperity, creating cities in its stride and carrying great ships upon its giant shoulders ...
Hypatia: (laughs and applauds) Bravo -- you ought to have become a man of letters!
Orestes: (picking up paper from his desk) I am, of sorts ... your presence just inspires me to greater heights.
Hypatia: I am afraid, your poem would not work on stage. Apart from that, it was a good description -- except it didn't mention that the glacier Reason sits on a volcano called Imagination. The modest role of reason is to censor its eruptions.
Orestes: Censoring eruptions -- I can relate to that! You would portray Reason as a kind of thought police -- directing the chaotic traffic of ideas?
Hypatia: Yes ... and less corruptible than the riot police we've got in this town, as we increasingly make slogans -- if not stones -- our favourite means of interaction.
Orestes: I can just see the head-lines: "Hooligans throw theorems at police".
Hypatia: Orestes, I appreciate your humour -- but I'm here to get a permit. Nobody's throwing theorems as yet.
Orestes: (testily) Okay -- so you would like to brighten up the theatre scene with an exciting splash of math: hot imagination tempered with cool reason -- it seems preposterous.
Hypatia: (getting up) Why preposterous? You asked me "why not the civic theatre? why not Sophocles? why not poetry?" and I patiently answered you each time. (Raising her voice) Now you ask: "why math?" and it's my turn to say: "why not?" (Louder) What's wrong with math? Isn't it also part of our heritage? You'd never ask: "why dance? why music?" -- would you?
Orestes: (defensively) Math is less natural than these.
Hypatia: Poppycock! It has become less natural in our present culture -- perhaps the powers that be like it that way... But rudimentary math is just as natural as rudimentary song or rudimentary dance -- or else where did it come from? Mount Olympus or maybe Mount Sinai?
Orestes: We do -- at this point -- operate in a culture, where math is seen as strained and unnatural. The stage needs passion and a plot.
Hypatia: Math is made by passionate people and each has a story ...Take Eratosthenes, the hero of our present skit: he starved himself to death when he was going blind.
Orestes: I meant to ask you why you picked him. Why not one of his great contemporaries -- like the brilliant Archimedes or the grumpy Apollonius? They were the heroes of that Golden Age of Mathematics -- according to the lessons I received from you -- the true heirs of Euclid. If you want to inspire the people, why not with the best?
Hypatia: The best inspire awe -- not emulation! That's the whole point, Orestes: math -- like song -- is for everyone, not just the virtuosi. I want my fellow citizens to reclaim ownership of their minds -- use their own eyes -- trust their own abilities -- find the human face of mathematics in themselves.

Orestes sits down while Hypatia keeps pacing around.

Orestes: I still think math is nothing for the street: it is an inward occupation. Think of your Archimedes bent over his elaborate circles -- so concentrated that he did not see the brandished Roman swords over his head. Lost his life lost in profound absorption. I ask: is that the medicine you offer?
Hypatia: I would not speak against it: being absorbed in something beautiful -- a thought, a sight, a fantasy -- is one of life's great pleasures.
Orestes: I will concede that math can have its joys -- but they require hours of struggle -- as I remember from my student days.
Hypatia: But it has helped to shape the man you are.
Orestes: Like sword-play, horsemanship, and other sports -- they say it builds character. Balderdash, I say.
Hypatia: Yet by knowing horses -- even as a distant memory -- you are less likely to elect a horse for senator! And by acquaintance with geometry, you are less likely to believe that I'm a witch because I handle astrolabes.
Orestes: Now I begin to see your point, but I still wonder if your plan is wise. The streets of Alexandria are prone to riot -- and I must keep the peace. The minds you wish to tamper with are highly flammable. I'd rather see you work with young receptive minds -- in schools for instance.
Hypatia: Dream on, Orestes! Plato's Academy was an olive grove -- our schools are more like factories. The teacher piles up fact on fact and method upon method. O sure, he sprinkles honey on it all -- with smiles and flattery -- to keep the parents paying. But his facts and methods are bleached skeletons along a desert road.
Orestes: And you would like to resurrect the living flesh by putting it on stage!
Hypatia: Instead of stilted theorems with proofs glued on like phoney beards I'd show a living process.
Orestes: A proof unfolding on the stage? Where is the human interest?
Hypatia: This unfolding -- in the viewer's mind -- is the human interest ... coupled with the sheer surprise of finding beauty where they had expected ugliness.
Orestes: An ugly dried-out toad transformed into a princess: fine -- but you need to give it life.

In a corner of the office there is a dodecahedral stand with a vase of roses on it. Orestes rises, picks up the vase and emphatically puts it on his desk.

Orestes: Turn your ugly toad into this -- you would not even need a princess.
Hypatia: Life, Orestes? You would shrink life to fit the stage? (Long pause) On my way here this morning, I caught the glance of a mule. It mustered me with a patient eye, and -- in a fleeting instant -- I was startled that this eye, like yours or mine, was the window of a soul. And now there are these roses -- they breathe and love in ways we do not understand. Do they have souls? Can we be sure they don't? Speak, your Excellency! Help me fathom it: this life -- which you seem so blasé about -- is way too big for me.
Orestes: (quietly) It is like that for all of us: we are like children at a teen-age party. We strut and brag and strike heroic poses -- but when it comes to parting quietly, we cannot hold a candle to the lowly mule.
Hypatia: You see, Orestes, that's why mathematics is so simple-minded: we are a bunch of children groping for some sense.
Orestes: Simple-minded? There's hardly anything which people find more difficult!
Hypatia: Only because -- at that level -- we have the luxury of thinking everything through in minute detail.
Orestes: And you believe that casual passers-by will follow you in this?
Hypatia: Maybe they'll catch a glimpse, and then they will pursue it on their own. (Lifts the dodecahedral stand onto the Prefect's desk) Look at this! This form was here before Creation! It is the theme of which those roses over there are variations. Let's not belittle our attempts to peer into its secrets. The special sense that lives between our human temples (taps her head) may be slow and clumsy -- but it is a sacred gift.
Orestes: A gift from God?
Hypatia: All I know is that it is a gift. We certainly did not invent or fashion it. (Turning away, and speaking as if to herself) And sometimes I wonder if we deserve it.

Orestes stares out of a window. After a long pause, he sits down again.

Orestes: Would you allow me to attend one of your skits, before I decide?
Hypatia: Of course -- in fact I'm almost late for a rehearsal. If you have time, you could come right along.
Orestes: I'm tempted -- but I'd need to be disguised, in order not to scare your actors.
Hypatia: ... or compromise yourself -- I understand. Don't worry though: we're doing this inside my yard, while we await the permit.
Orestes: But I make no promises, okay?
Hypatia: That goes without saying.
Orestes: And what's the skit about?
Hypatia: A take-off on the famous scene involving Socrates and Meno's servant boy as told by Plato. Do you remember Plato's "Meno" dialogue?
Orestes: Sure, Meno is a kind of playboy from up north who dabbles in philosophy... The dialogue has some math in it ... More mathematics with a human face?
Hypatia: Of course -- although this time the main point is that we're at the mercy of our inspiration. The hunter cannot call or lure the antilope, we cannot call or lure ideas.
Orestes: But that's the same in poetry etc...
Hypatia: Not quite the same. Elsewhere criteria are softer: in a pinch the hunter can bring home a duck. In math we go hungry.
Orestes: Prisoners of Apollo's whims? Those are not glad tidings!
Hypatia: Quite to the contrary: freed from the dreary treadmill of impotent techniques and magic incantations.
Orestes: I'm curious enough to go and have a look. But I make no promises!
Hypatia: Then I'll make one: I promise you'll have fun!

As the curtain falls, Orestes puts on a hooded cloak, Hypatia is amused.

Scene 5. Doubling the Square.

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!

Hypatia appears with Orestes, he is wearing a cloak and sun-glasses.

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.

The revellers and "Socrates" are having an inaudible debate, full of gesticulation and laughter. Dario, dressed as a servant, stands facing the table; Lydia, in dishevelled dress, hides behind him. Orestes, as Meno, advances as though he's just arriving.

Orestes: (reading, affecting a kind of brogue) Welcome, dear philosophers, I hope my wine is not too rustic for refined Athenian palates.
Samuel: (as Socrates) Are you already teasing us, good host?
Orestes: I'd rather bite my tongue than tease you, Socrates. Whoever tries that winds up in the dust, I've heard.
Samuel: You are a handsome fellow, Meno, may I ask why you've arranged this evening with us seniors, rather than sporting with your usual gang?
Orestes: I'd like to hear your answer to a question that I have.
Samuel: As far as answers are concerned, dear Meno, I'm afraid your talking to a pauper -- though one who'll gladly share what's in his pocket. But what's the question?
Orestes: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or comes to us by nature or some other way?
Hypatia: Wow, that guy doesn't waste much time before he pops the question. Did you write this, Samuel?
Samuel: (in his own voice) No, that's from Plato -- but the beginning wasn't. I'm sorry: there'll be more instances of abruptness. There is no way a modern audience would sit or stand through all the twists and turns of Plato's dialogue. We'll have to summarize.
Hypatia: So, let's cut out that virtue stuff -- these days it interests no one -- and zero in on knowledge. Try jumping to the place where Meno says the search for truth is futile: for those who know it have no need to seek, and those who don't are searching in the dark.
Samuel: That's at the bottom of page eighteen, Nick.
Orestes: Should I continue reading?
Hypatia: Please do -- sorry for the interruption.
Orestes: And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find something, how will you ever know that this is the thing you were looking for?
Samuel: I know, Meno, what you mean; but just see what a tiresome dispute you are introducing.
Orestes: Well, Socrates, isn't the argument sound?
Samuel: No -- I think.
Orestes: Why not?
Samuel: The soul, being immortal, and having seen all things, has knowledge of them all. It has no difficulty in eliciting -- or as we say "learning"-- them as if by recollection, and recognising them once they are found.
Hypatia: Hold it right there! This has to be rewritten for the present day: the talk about immortal souls is bound to be misunderstood. What we must stress is that some things can't be taught by sheer transmission -- via some invisible conveyor belt -- but are found or learnt by a process resembling recollection. To Socrates it was a form of recollection -- but modern pedants will protest that enquiry is not remembering -- in spite of their subjective kinship.
Orestes: (in his own voice) Should I go on?
Hypatia: O sure, we'll fix the passage later.
Orestes: (in his brogue) Then, Socrates, can you teach me how this is?
Samuel: I told you, Meno, you're a rogue, and now you ask whether I can teach you, though I just said there is no teaching, only recollection. You're setting up a trap!
Orestes: No, Socrates, I only used the word from habit; but if you can prove to me that what you say is true, I wish you would.
Samuel: It won't be easy, but I'll try. Suppose you call one of your numerous attendants, that I may demonstrate on him.
Orestes: Certainly. Come hither, boy.
Samuel: Does he speak Greek?
Orestes: Yes, he was born and raised on my estate.
Samuel: Attend now to the questions which I ask him, and observe whether he learns things from me or finds them on his own.

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.

Dario: I do.
Lydia: There's bound to be a trick to this.
Samuel: And do you know a square has equal sides, all four of them are equal?
Lydia: He has garlic on his breath...
Dario: Certainly they're equal, Socrates.
Lydia: ... and wine -- a killer combination.
Samuel: A square may be of any size, my boy?
Lydia: Come on and tell me what you want. Of any size? That's probably okay.
Dario: Obviously.
Samuel: So, there's a square that's twice as large as our original one?
Lydia: I guess, there has to be one.
Dario: Yes.
Lydia: And now he'll make me draw it.

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.

Samuel: Do you observe, Meno, that I'm not teaching him, just asking questions? He confidently thinks, he's got the answer, doesn't he?
Orestes: Yes.
Samuel: And does he?
Orestes: Well, he has an answer, but it's wrong.
Lydia: By Zeus, whenever geometry's involved, they say I'm wrong. I feel like throwing up.
Samuel: How can we make him see it's not correct?
Orestes: Ask further questions, I suppose.
Samuel: Okay, let's try. (to the boy) Could you draw for me the square made from your double line?
Dario: (draws)
Lydia: Two over and two up -- o no! -- this is more than two -- it's four times the original.
Samuel: What do you see?
Lydia: I goofed again! I know I can't do math.
Dario: It's four times the original.
Samuel: But what you wanted was how much?
Lydia: I wanted double -- no you wanted it, you knew you'd trip me up!
Dario: Double.
Samuel: So on your first try, you obtained too much. Can you correct your guess about the line which gives us the double square?
Lydia: I shouldn't be guessing, but what can I do? I should get less than four! Should I say "three"? No that's stupid, I'm getting mixed up. "Two" was too big already, I need something smaller.
Dario: One and a half of the original.
Lydia: How about that, you old creep?
Samuel: Would you draw that one for me now? That's right, do take your time. Split our first square down the middle -- good -- and divide it once more horizontally. Now what do we have?
Lydia: If someone tells me what to do I feel much more intelligent.
Dario: Each side is cut in half, the square itself has been divided into four.
Lydia: That was well said, I think, but I forgot what I'm supposed to do.
Samuel: Let's call the smaller pieces "tiles", instead of croaking "square, square, square" like crows (flaps his sleeves). Is "tiles" okay or can you think of something better?
Lydia: Me, think? Are you kidding?
Dario: "Tiles" is very fitting, Socrates.
Lydia: But what in Hades are we doing?
Samuel: You were to draw a square with sides one-and-a-half times the original, do you remember?

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?

Lydia: Old square hold, hold square old? What's he asking now? Oh, the original square! It has been cut in four.
Dario: Four tiles, Socrates.
Samuel: And the new one should have twice as many?
Lydia: Yes, but it has three times three.
Dario: It should have two times four, but it has three time three -- that's one too many.
Lydia: Failed again!

Enter Cyril and Hierax disguised as desert monks, the former wearing an eye-patch. They stay on the side-lines, unnoticed by the others, occasionally whispering to each other.

Samuel: Is he not better off now, Meno? He's lost his quick assurance and at least knows he doesn't know.
Orestes: Better off maybe, but feeling worse!
Samuel: It's bitter medicine, I know, but do you know another?
Orestes: I'm not sure.
Lydia: Come on, you guys, give me break.
Dario: One and a half is still too much.

The Boy's Fantasy. At this point, all movements freeze except Lydia's.

Lydia: (as in a trance) I hate this haggling! One and a half is certainly too much -- but does not seem way out of line. I'll give you one and forty, sir -- one and two fifths.
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.

The prop returns to showing the quadrupled square. The others' movements resume.

Dario: I am confused.
Samuel: This, Meno, seems to me a necessary stage. What do you think: can seedlings grow before the weeds are ploughed under?
Orestes: I think I see your point.
Samuel: (to Dario) Would you remind yourself and me what we are looking for? Here, let's once more turn to our first attempt, and try to see where it went wrong.
Lydia: (still on the floor, heaves a great sigh)
Dario: I don't see anything.
Samuel: We have a fourfold copy here of our square, it's twice as big as what we wanted, right? Could you describe your second try starting from here?
Lydia: (gets on her knees and looks at the prop)
Dario: To pare it down, I cut off strips -- one from the side, another from the top.
Lydia: How else could it be cut?... It must be straight in the end.
Samuel: Side and top ... is there no other possibility?
Lydia: (slowly) Zig-zag?... (more slowly) or at an angle...? Diagonally? (Pauses) Yeah -- why not!!!

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?

Dario: That diamond shape must be the doubled square. Each of its four triangular parts is half of the original square -- and four halves make one double.
Samuel: What do you say now, Meno?
Orestes: Well done, I say. And now, my boy, get back to your waitering job. These gentlemen are thirsty.
Dario: Yes sir. (Saunters off stage toward the back)
Orestes: (in his own voice) There are no more lines for me. Is this the end?
Hypatia: It is -- for now. Thank you, Cousin.
Samuel: Bravo, Nikolaos, you did a great job!

(Applauds, joined by the others -- including Dario, who has come back on stage).

Orestes: Congratulations on a clever script! Expanding on Plato is a non-trivial undertaking.
Samuel: But as we know, this dialogue has a famous weakness.
Dario: Yes -- Plato drops the ball just as he is about to score.
Hypatia: I think, his lamp ran out of oil late one night as he was writing.
Orestes: You mean when Meno's boy (points at Dario) thinks of the diamond shape ...
Hypatia: ... after an uncharacteristically fat hint from Socrates ... yes, that's the pivot of the piece: how does the mind perform such leaps?
Dario: Without the clumsy hint -- which we reduced drastically.
Orestes: Maybe the leap itself can't be described -- only its beginning and its end.
Samuel: Right! But the end, in this case, speaks for itself. To broaden the beginning, we added the Boy's Fantasy with the twenty-five versus forty-nine tiles.
Hypatia: You see: as long as his imagination is stuck running horizontally and vertically, he'll try to tile his square in such a way that he can make a bigger square with twice as many tiles.
Samuel: He's caught in the Pythagorean paradigm.
Orestes: Do I understand this?
Hypatia: You ought to understand -- it's part of the quadrivium. Have you heard of incommensurability?
Orestes: Incommensurability? Of course -- but I've forgotten what it means.
Hypatia: I'll remind you on the way. Let's go, my cousin, we have family business to discuss.

Exeunt Hypatia and Orestes, Samuel waves after them.

Scene 6. The Parrot.

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?
Samuel: Please.
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).

Dario gets up and wanders over to Samuel.

Dario: Those guys were not real desert monks, I think.
Samuel: How would you know?
Dario: Didn't you recognized the fellow with the limp? He was the one who threw the smoke-bomb yesterday. He also seems to be connected to the "Guardians". Some time ago, by chance, I heard him give a speech to them in an old tavern by the western harbour.
Samuel: The Guardians? Are they still around?
Dario: Yes, they still like to smash and burn in self-righteous frenzy. Occasionally, they also like to see some blood.
Samuel: They used to brutalize whole villages -- as well as parts of the city -- but that was 20 years ago.
Dario: This is the younger generation in the same heroic mold. They now go after so-called heretics, for instance, the Novatians -- preferably women.
Samuel: I thought the new archbishop Cyril had disbanded them.
Dario: So far he hasn't, though he's been over 2 years in office. It may be difficult for him to shake them off -- they were such loyal servants of his predecessor ...
Samuel: Theophilus -- Cyril's illustrious uncle. Some of them might have even rocked young Cyril on their knees. I see ...
Dario: Who knows ... At any rate, I would have been less generous than you in answering the questions of our visitors.
Samuel: Remember, openness is quintessential to our message. If we lose it we might as well pack up.
Dario: But did you notice how the limping one took off when you mentioned the permit?
Samuel: What can he do -- try to intercept it?
Dario: You never know. I wouldn't trust those guys.
Samuel: Look who is coming!

Enter Hypatia, excitedly waving a piece of paper.

Hypatia: Guess what I've got.
Dario: The permit.
Hypatia: We can set up our stage right in the middle of town, near the market.
Samuel: That's great -- now all we have to do is work on the production...
Hypatia: ...and the script...
Dario: ...and staying out of trouble.
Samuel: Our friend here was afraid you might get way-laid by the Guardians.
Hypatia: They haven't done much recently -- except with the unfortunate Novatians ...
Samuel: ... those stubbornly unforgiving Christians?
Dario: (to Samuel) That is deliberate misinformation, Samuel. Some of them -- like Lydia's family -- belong to that church out of respect for their martyred ancestors.
Hypatia: Big or small, the deeds of the Guardians are regrettable -- but they do show signs of becoming less militant. I think our city might be over the hump.
Dario: I hope you're right, Hypatia. Perhaps by running out of fuel their zeal will finally die down -- but so far still it finds new victims. Look at Lydia's parents: staunch Christians from way back -- suddenly reviled as heretics. It broke her father's heart.
Hypatia: Thanks, Dario, for reminding us. We must take special care to give her our support these days.
Dario: She's worrying a lot about her mother.
Samuel: I hardly ever think of her religion: she is so gentle and so tolerant ...
Dario: That's how they are supposed to be.

Lydia comes staggering out of the house, pale and trembling.

Hypatia: Lydia, what's wrong, are you alright?
Lydia: (covering her face with her hands, sobbing) It's so awful.
Dario: (putting his arm around Lydia's shoulder) Lydia, what happened?
Lydia: They've killed the parrot -- there's blood and feathers everywhere.
Hypatia: Killed, you say?
Lydia: Disembowelled.
Hypatia: Poor Socrates, what did they do to you -- and why? (Sits down and cups hands over her face)
Lydia: And sinister signs are painted on the walls.
Hypatia: My poor bird, my most faithful friend -- why you? That knife must have been meant for me.
Dario: At least it wasn't you -- or one of us.
Hypatia: Right now, I do not care: a life's a life. And with his simple soul, this one did love me unconditionally -- and taught my own soul to respond. A precious teaching.
Samuel: Poor Socrates, poor Hypatia.
Hypatia: I was lucky to have known him.
Dario: Those bastards! I'll go and call the cops. Don't move a thing inside the house until they come (exit).
Hypatia: (drying her eyes) I'll just sneak in and take a feather (exit).
Samuel: Let us stay out here, Lydia, and wait for the police ... If this was done by the Guardians, there should be a written note with it. Did you see anything?
Lydia: (nods and hesitates) On the wall, written in blood. It said " the bitch is next ".
Samuel: (grimly) They're underestimating her: wait till she shows her teeth.
Lydia: I hope she won't have to -- it might work out badly.
Samuel: What do you mean?
Lydia: In my street, a dog -- a female as it happened -- bit a man who had been throwing stones at her. There was much fuss about his minor leg-wound ... she was tied to the ground and stoned to death.