Friday, May 22, 2009

Film "Agora" Profiles Female Mathematician and Pagan Martyr Hypatia


The new film "Agora" starring Rachel Weisz as 4th century CE female scholar, Hypatia, sounds almost like the antithesis of Ben Hur.

"The heart of the film is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz in an unfaltering performance), the fourth century AD philosopher and teacher who lived in Alexandria during the Roman Empire. Married only to her unquenchable intellect and passion for mathematics and astronomy, she is loved by two men: her slave, Davus (Max Minghella), and her student, Orestes (Oscar Isaac).

Politics in the film are weakest during the overtly political speeches and monologues, and best captured in the details. Like many, Davus seeks not spiritual salvation in the Christian uprising but freedom from slavery, despite the bloodshed. His first attempt at prayer is brilliant: Unable to remember the Lord's Prayer, he quickly falls into a mantra to God to keep Hypatia away from Orestes. For his part, Orestes will renounce paganism and convert to Christianity during his rise in Roman politics." - More: Reuter

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was her teacher and the last known mathematician associated with the museum of Alexandria. She traveled to both Athens and Italy to study, before becoming head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in approximately 400 AD . According to the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia the Suda, she worked as teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle. - More: Wikipedia

"Hypatia corresponded with and hosted scholars from others cities. Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, was one of her correspondents and he visited her frequently. Hypatia was a popular lecturer, drawing students from many parts of the empire.

From the little historical information about Hypatia that survives, it appears that she invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope, with Synesius of Greece, who was her student and later colleague.

Hypatia dressed in the clothing of a scholar or teacher, rather than in women's clothing. She moved about freely, driving her own chariot, contrary to the norm for women's public behavior. She exerted considerable political influence in the city."

"...[The local Christian bishop Cyril incited] a mob led by fanatical Christian monks in 415 to attack Hypatia as she drove her chariot through Alexandria. They dragged her from her chariot and, according to accounts from that time, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body in the library of Caesareum." - More: About.com

So much for compassion and tolerance!

Update: 7/7/09: Agora trailer has been released. Apparently, the film is set to premiere in December!