Hypatia in the Athenian Agora

I have just finished watching At The Movies with Margaret and David, and of course they review “Agora” the new film about the legendary Alexandrian female philosopher Hypatia. Her murder by a Christian mob is one of those scandals, like the Galileo affair and the Spanish Inquisition, which the heirs of the Englightenment like to cite against the Church’s record.

Anyway, Margaret really liked it and gave it 4 stars, and David gave it 4.5. Both said that it had real substance and an important message. When I hear these two say that kind of thing, I usually find myself wondering if the message they are applauding is truth or ideology.

Ideology, it turns out in this case. I could write a fair bit here, but others have done the job already. Check out: Fr Barron’s piece
The Dangerous Silliness of the new movie Agora at the National Catholic Register; Mark Shea’s blog at the same place; “History of Violence: Agora, Hypatia and Enlightenment Mythology” at the Decent Films Guide; Sherry’s piece at the Catherine of Siena Institute; and Tim O’Neill’s “wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, silly, rather arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard” opinion at his blog “Amarium Magnum”.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Hypatia in the Athenian Agora

  1. Paul G

    We can rage against inaccuracies in Agora, but personally, I think this is just another example of the fraud of the whole movie industry. Almost all movies that are supposed to be based on “fact” are actually giving unfacts based on unresearch and unreason, but they are believed by all the people who pay their $15 for 90 minutes of mindless, passive diversion.
    For example, Margaret and David swooned over the new movie “The Social Network” and gave it 4 or 5 stars, but there is plenty of evidence it is based on myths, and is actually an act of revenge against Mark Zuckerberg. Look at the BBC review:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11437873

    Do these quotes from this review sound familiar?…

    “Film-makers have always played fast and loose with history.
    From war films to grand swords-and-sandals epics, screenwriters have put words in the mouths of historical characters that may or may not have belonged there.”

    ‘The film is only “40% true”‘

    “A lot of the factual incidents are accurate, but many are distorted and the overall impression is false.”

    But when people like Margaret and David review a film, the assumption is that the only thing they consider is the 90 minutes of pap they just saw, and they have no obligation to verify what it is saying. We really do live in a society of “bread and circuses” to keep the masses amused and quiet.

  2. Bear

    I am sure that the film will portray her as a great Mathematician. However, there are a couple of things to note:

    1. She and her father actually contributed nothing to the field – they were simply Neoplatonists who commented on Euclid’s books of Geometry.

    2. She “corrected” Euclid by introducing errors into the proofs.

    3. In her other “corrections” in which she did not introduce errors, she changed proofs from being elegant to being longer, clumsier and much less clear.

    So, what great contributions to the field!!!

    All the legends of her beauty and brilliance come quite a few years after she was murdered, and read like the most egregious hagiography.

    She is now the darling of the Secularists who portray her as a martyr, and as a role model for women in technical fields. However, upon inspection, she was a spoiled rich girl, who had her position in the academy because of daddy, and she underperformed.

  3. Peregrinus

    I’ve yet to see a film on any historical subject with which I was familiar which didn’t introduce significant distortions in order to make the point that the director and screenwriters want to make.

    There’s no point in getting angry about this; it’s the nature of film. A film is not a history text, any more than a historical novel is a history text. It’s a creative work of art in which the artist attempt to communicate an idea that he or she has. The idea may have been inspired by a historical event, but that doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the film.

    Our problem is not that films do this. Our problem is that supposedly educated people have no idea that films do this.

  4. I was squirming in my chair as David and Margaret waxed lyrical about this film. So predictable! The interview with the director only served to confirm my long-held view that “serious films” are the preserve of pseudo-intellectuals.

    • Paul G

      I think all films are mere entertainment, and definitely not “art” by any definition of art. Their only function is to provide an evening’s entertainment with people you don’t like talking to. For the youngsters: be concerned if your boy/girlfriend asks you to see a film.

  5. Anthony

    If you are interetsted in facts about science and religion, including the Hypatia story I recommend “Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion.” The book is a series of essays on some of the myths, written by academics in a very readable format. They represent a group of philosophers, especially those in the philosophy of science realm, research and theoretical scientists. They come from a variety of religious backgrounds and none. It is a really good read.

  6. Christine

    Well, the minute I saw that Lion’s Gate distributed this film out I didn’t expect any kind of historical fidelity to the story of Hypatia.

    First Things does indeed have a very interesting critique on the matter, thanks to Pastor Pearce for pointing it out.

  7. William Tighe

    Why “in the Athenian Agora?” Hypatia lived in Alexandria, and the very picture at the top seems to show her looking out into the Mediterranean towards the famous Pharos (or lighthouse) in the harbour of Alexandria. I don’t know whether she had any connections with Athens, or even visited it.