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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Watch This Movie

PZ Myers want to see Agora [I want to see this movie]. So do I. Here's the website [Agora] and here's the synopsis.
A historical drama set in Roman Egypt, concerning a slave who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria.
I hear that the producers are having trouble getting widespread distribution in America. I wonder why? It's a movie about an atheist woman standing up to a Christian mob hell bent on destroying Alexandria and the library.

What's wrong with that? Sounds like Texas, or parts of Alberta.


Sinbad said...

It's a movie about an atheist woman standing up to a Christian mob hell bent on destroying Alexandria and the library.

Not that movies need any sort of historical accuracy, but the idea that the great library of Alexandria was destroyed by a Christian mob, among other historical errors in the film, is a myth made up out of whole cloth. The killing of Agora by a Christian mob, however, is true (and horrible), even if a number of the details are wrong.

John Farrell said...

Larry, I'm not so sure the lack of a distributor is for political reasons. I met a producer friend from London who tells me that production/distribution all across Hollywood is stalled due to the financial collapse, and that even moguls with track records like Steven Spielberg can't get the backing they need to produce or distribute.

For what it's worth.

PS: I love Rachel Weisz.

Bryan said...

Agora is a fantastic movie, I'd recommend it to everyone.

As for Sinbad's comment [i]Alexandria was destroyed by a Christian mob, among other historical errors in the film, is a myth[/i]

This is both right and wrong. The University of Alexandria was not a single building, but rather several structures spread around Alexandria - several temples, scroll repositories and museums. There is evidence that various parts of the complex were destroyed at different times in history. Some by invading armies, some by accident, and some through deliberate & religiously-orientated plans.

In the case of the Christian mob story told in agora, it is well accepted by historians that a part of the Library - specifically the Serapeum - was destroyed due to a decree that all pagan temples were to be destroyed. Whether that destruction occurred at the hands of a Christian mob, or at the hands of government officials is unclear. But what is clear is the Serapeum was destroyed as it was a pagan - i.e. non-Christian - structure.

The historians Paulus Orosius and Socrates Scholasticus - both writing within 50 years of the destruction - state that Christians cleared out the Serapum; neither specifies if only religious objects were destroyed, or texts as well.

Faith said...

I saw the movie during its opening weekend in NYC - it's beautifully shot and I loved Weisz's performance as Hypatia. I also agree that Amenabar distorted a lot of history in service to his art, but that's what artists do to put forward what they consider a greater truth. In this case I believe Amenabar's movie was a critique of fanaticism in all its various forms, both in history and modern society. I've posted a series of "history behind the film" essays on my blog ( for those who want to know what really happened during this time period--not a movie review, but a "reel" vs. "real" analysis of the events and characters in the film. I'd recommend "Hypatia of Alexandria" by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995,) a very readable biography, for anyone who wants to know more about the historical Hypatia.

Dave said...

"I'm having so much fun with the poisonous people
Spreading rumors and lies and stories they made up
Some make you sing and some make you scream
One makes you wish that you'd never been seen"
David Bowie "Sweet Thing"

"Agora" and Hypatia - Hollywood Strikes Again
Tim O'Neil

As an atheist, I'm clearly no fan of fundamentalism - even the 1500 year old variety (though modern manifestations tend to be the ones to watch out for). And as an amateur historian of science I'm more than happy with the idea of a film that gets across the idea that, yes, there was a tradition of scientific thinking before Newton and Galileo. But Amenabar has taken the (actually, fascinating) story of what was going on in Alexandria in Hypatia's time and turned it into a cartoon, distorting history in the process.
The idea that the Great Library was still in existence in Hypatia's time and that it was, like her, destroyed by a Christian mob has been popularised by Gibbon, who never let history get in the way of a good swipe at Christianity. But what Gibbon was talking about was the temple known as the Serapeum, which was not the Great Library at all. It seems the Serapeum had contained a library at some point and was possibly a "daughter library" of the former Great Library. But the problem with Gibbon's version is that no account of the destruction of the Serapeum by the Bishop Theophilus in AD 391 makes any mention of a library or any books, only the destruction of pagan idols and cult objects:
She was admired by many and at least one of her most ardent students was the Bishop Synesius, who addressed several letters to her, calling her "mother, sister, teacher, and withal benefactress, and whatsoever is honoured in name and deed", saying she is "my most revered teacher" and describing her as she "who legitimately presides over the mysteries of philosophy" (R. H. Charles, The Letters of Synesius of Cyrene). The Christian chronicler quoted above, Socrates Scholasticus, also wrote of her admiringly:

Full Essay

More on Hypatia

Anonymous said...

Don' be hatin' on Texas, y'all. We have our smarties and our not-smarties like anywhere else.

Seriously, if you want to pick on a state, choose one without NASA-JSC, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and two of the top five largest university systems in the state.

Alberta, on the other hand. Everyone knows that they are uniformly idiots. :)