Hypatia and Agora

The famous Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia died in the Spring of the year 415 ce, at the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.  The exact day does not seem to be known, but Neos Alexandria observes it on March 22 and the Ekklesia Antinoou observes it on March 25. Hypatia was a wealthy educated woman who was also a mathematician, astronomer, probably astrologist, and writer. Even though she could not vote or hold government office, she was an active participant in the cultural and political life of Alexandria in the late fourth and early fifth centuries ce. She eventually roused the ire of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who arranged, whether directly or indirectly, for her death. She was set upon by a Christian mob, led by stinking black robed Christian monks. She was taken to the Christian Church that had been installed in the Caesareum, which had formerly been dedicated to Julius Caesar. She was killed, dismembered, and the flesh was scraped from her bones. The resulting messy bits were then burned in front of the Church. Cyril was a nasty evil person, and he is still revered today as a holy saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The characterization of the monks as stinking and black robed is literally true. Early Christian monks wore black and they did not bathe. Bathing, and personal cleanliness in general, was regarded as indulging in the devilish weakness of earthly desires by the monks of that era.

Remember Hypatia and remember who killed her.

The movie “Agora” is a biography, of sorts, of Hypatia. The movie covers the period from the destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 393 ce to the death of Hypatia in 415 ce. The film is well acted, well produced, and is worth seeing. It shows the violent conficts between Pagans, Christians, and Jews in Alexandria. Hypatia’s pagan religious connections are not particularly emphasized, but the violent oppression of both Pagans and Jews by the Christians is clearly shown. The film is controversial. The Vatican tried to have it banned in Italy, apparently Church officials were afraid that the film would create anti Christian sentiment if the ancient Christians were honestly portrayed as the nasty people that they were. “Agora” has been widely welcomed and praised by the various Pagan communities of our own era. perhaps uncritically so.

So here are some criticisms of the film “Agora”. The background sets for the city of Alexandria are not very well done. The scenes involving the Serapeum and the destruction of the statue of Serapis do not match the ancient surviving descriptions, or the actual archaeological site. The depiction of Christian viciousness is rather subdued when compared to what we know of actual Christian behaviour in Alexandria in that time period. The movie writers invented a fictional would be lover of Hypatia, who strangles her at the end of the film so as to spare her from the attack of the mob. That is a really stupid idea. Still, this is probably the only movie that has yet been made that actually tries to give an idea of what actually happened, and that does not whitewash the Christians.  

 

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Published in: on March 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz’ performance as Hypatia. I thought the film was beautifully shot, a bit uneven, and a wonderful exploration of modern themes in a historical context; but it is a fictionalized version of Hypatia’s life. I have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog – – a “reel vs. real” discussion and, I agree, having Davus strangle Hypatia in the end was really dumb. Thanks for posting about Hypatia. The more people who know about her, the better!

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