Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Agora: a tale of Christianity against the Greeks

I managed to catch the Anglo-Spanish film Agora and an enjoyable romp it is too. The film is set in fourth century Roman/Byzantine Alexandria and purports to tell the story of the legendary philosopher Hypatia – neoplatonist, proto-feminist, Enlightenment heroine, described by her admirers as the 'last of the Hellenes' and as having 'the mind of Plato and the body of Aphrodite', who was brutally murdered by a mob of Christians as the sect gained the upper hand over Greek religion and the Greek way of life.

Indeed, the film – no doubt to make a point about contemporary religious fanaticism – adopts wholesale the version of events that has Hypatia as a martyr for reason and philosophy, a victim of religious dogmatism and bigotry, and portrays the hateful Christians as a barbaric mob of class warriors and misogynists and Christianity as an ignorant, anti-Greek doctrine; but the crudeness of its legitimate message aside, the film is not bad at all.  

You can download it, if you know how, here, from piratebay.


Anonymous said...

I saw the film when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. Amenabar distorts some history in service to his art (the Library didn't end that way and Synesius wasn't a jerk), but that's what artists do. I don't go to the movies for history. For people who want to know more about the historical Hypatia, I highly recommend a very readable biography "Hypatia of Alexandria" by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995). I also have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog - not a movie review, just a "reel vs. real" discussion.

John Akritas said...

Hello Faith
Thanks for leaving a comment. I agree with you about Weisz – she's very good – and that you have to approach the film as entertainment, not history, and that as entertainment it works reasonably well. It's too black and white, didactic and enthral to the standard Enlightenment view that Hypatia was a hapless victim of Christian bigotry, to be a really intelligent film, especially since, as you say in your reflections on the film, in reality, Hypatia's relationship with Synesius points to a more complex relationship between early Christian and late Greek thought and the early Christian and Greek way of life. However, the film is good enough to, hopefully, encourage people to find out more about Hypatia and this neglected period in history, and certainly, after watching the film, I dug out my copy of Dzielska's book and started re-reading it. Your blog is excellent, by the way; good luck with all your projects. Also, I don't agree with you about Gladiator – but that's another story.

lastgreek said...

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus . . .-

I loved the opening line above from Robert Graves's I, Claudius. As far as historical novels go, this one is hard to beat. What a read! And the TV series was great, too, starring Derek Jacobi as Claudius.

Anonymous said...

I see the Christian leader looks very swarthy... dare I say Arabic.

Savvas Tzionis

Hermes said...

The best historical novel is Memoirs of Hadrian by Margeurite Yorceneaur followed by Julian by Gore Vidal.

John Akritas said...

Yes, Savva, the Christians in the film conjure up the Taliban, while the villainous Bishop Cyril is a dead ringer for bin Laden.

LG. They don't, unfortunately, make shows like I, Claudius anymore; though I never read the book. I did try reading Graves' Count Belisarius, about the great Byzantine general, but couldn't get past the first few pages. The novel was one of Churchill's favourites, apparently.

Can't say I know the two novels you mention, H. They both look interesting, particularly the one about Hadrian.

Hermes said...

Memoirs of Hadrian is probably in my five best non-Greek books of all time along with Brothers Karamazov, The Leopard etc. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Actually, it was the inspiration for Gore Vidal's historical works.

However, we Greeks have a very long modern tradition of historical fiction; particularly, Byzantine historical fiction such as Angelos Terzakis, George Theotakas, Kostas Kyriazis, Kazaztakis's plays and more recently Maro Doukas's novel about the Comemeni (currently I'm reading it).

If your Greek is a bit rusty then try Penelope Delta's works on Basil the Bulgar Slayer written for young people. It was written during the Macedonian struggle to instill pride in young children (imagine if someone wrote a book like that today??).

Hermes said...

I finally saw the film. Very entertaining and thought provoking although not entirely accurate. Let's not be fooled, if Christians were ever to regain hegemony in the West, they would probably behave the same.