Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Library Suite

Weather : grey and chilly to start, but soon brightening up. Better than a poke in the eye with an isobar.

Last night's movie was Agora, the story of Hypatia of Alexandria who observant readers will recall I nominated as my choice for women in science day a while back. It's a film that made me both angry and depressed as it showed the bloodthirsty rise to power of the early Christians as they suppressed and forcibly converted the pagans, massacred and exiled the Jews and snuffed out the last flickering flames of knowledge of the ancient world by sacking the great library of Alexandria and turning it into a cattle shed.

The film is spectacular, and quite gruesome in places (although one pivotal scene is notably toned down), and tells a compelling story only threatening to tip into melodrama occasionally. Rachel Weisz is the big name star and does an excellent job portraying Hypatia as a scholar, teacher and spirited free thinker. It is a European production, co-written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar and, not entirely surprisingly, struggled to get into cinemas in the US.

Little is known of the teachings of Hypatia (gee, thanks Christians) although she is reputed to have been a great mathematician for her work on curves as well as an astronomer, so it is not too fanciful for the film to suggest that she might have arrived at an understanding of relative motion and heliocentric elliptical orbits some 1200 years before Keppler. One can only speculate as to what sort of world we might live in now if the power hungry bishops hadn't chosen brutish ignorance and a thousand years of the dark ages over scientific truth just so they could ponce around in stupid fucking hats.

The truly depressing thing of course is that Christians (accompanied by their spiritual cousins the Taliban) seem intent on doing the same thing again now, from Texas school boards rewriting history to creationist museums to school girls having acid thrown in their faces for the crime of wanting to learn.

Welcome to 400 AD, folks ...

1 comment:

faithljustice said...

I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. Amenabar took liberties with history and the history of science in his effort to portray a larger truth. But that's what artists do. Agora isn't a documentary.

For people who want to know about the historical Hypatia, I recommend a biography titled Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995.) I also have a series of "reel vs. real" posts on my blog exploring the history behind the film.