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2016 Mathematical Theater

In the program of Bridges Finland 2016’s Public Day
August 12, 4.15-6.00 PM
Agora, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Tom Petsinis
The original play has been substantially redacted for this rehearsed reading.

Thalia – Hypatia’s student
Cyril – Bishop of Alexandria 
Peter – a young mon, Cyril’s assistant
Zeno – a street-performer

Historical Background

Hypatia was a mathematician who lived in Alexandria in the 4-5 th century AD. She succeeded her father as head of the neo-Platonic school of philosophy in a turbulent period of history. Christianity had emerged from its infancy and was growing into a powerful movement. Determined to make Alexandria a Christian city bishop Cyril succeeded in expelling several religious communities, before turning his zeal against the influential pagans led by Hypatia. The conflict came to a head during Lent, 415 AD. A group of fanatical monks, perhaps instigated by Cyril (this is contested by some historians), attacked and killed Hypatia. Cyril was later canonised Saint Cyril, while Hypatia is now considered one of the martyrs of mathematics.

The Play

The play is a blend of fact and fiction, history and speculation, the real and the imaginary – something like a complex number. The dramatic action is driven by a young monk, Peter, who is recruited by Cyril to spy on Hypatia and gather information that might be used against her. In doing so, Peter falls in love with Hypatia’s protégé Thalia, who spurns his advances. Seething with resentment and guilt at having betrayed his faith, Peter incites a group of monks to murder Hypatia, whom he blames for Thalia’s rejection of him.

The play features original songs based on mathematical themes. Many of these are sung by the street-performer Zeno, who moves between the feuding factions and provides comic relief from the gathering storm.

This dramatic reading of Hypatia's Circle has a two-fold aim: to engage the audience through the power of the spoken word, and to give conference participants who volunteer as actors the opportunity to create a theatrical experience. The intersection between mathematics and theater has grown substantially in recent years, enough to become an area for scholarly research, but the main thrust of this event will be to entertain and inform -- objectives consistent with the mathematics/art theme of Bridges.

Who can participate?

Bridges conference participants are invited and encouraged to volunteer as actors. All are welcome and we will do our best to incorporate as many interested people as possible. Previous acting experience would be a valuable asset but it is in no way a requirement for potential readers. If you are interested in performing, feel free to contact Tom (, who will be pleased to provide more details.

Who is the organizer?

Tom Petsinis ( was born in Macedonia, Greece, and immigrated to Australia as a child. He is a novelist, playwright, poet, and mathematics lecturer at Victoria University, Melbourne. Tom has published seven collections of poetry, including Naming the Number, Breadth for a Dying Word, My Father's Tools and Four Quarters, which won the Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. Of his five plays, The Drought won the Wal Cherry Playscript of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Victorian Premier's Award. His four works of fiction include the novels The Twelfth Dialogue and The French Mathematician, nominated for both the New South Wales and South Australian Premier's Award. His work has been translated into a number of languages. Quaternia, Tom's new novel featuring mathematics, was recently published. Forthcoming work includes the novel Plato's Number.