I put a series of posts on Agora here last September to update a series I’d posted in August. Now, January 2012, I gather the Sept bunch into this one text only (ie, no important Agora graphics) file. Here I’ll edit, organize, reduce, grow.
the following string is already organized into subset subjects.
2012 01 09 This weekend I watched Agora again, this time with my darling Jan. She was in Nova Scotia when I first saw it last summer, watching it then at least several times. So, this was my fourth or fifth or so viewing since last August. Wow, it is so good.
Did I mention: I emailed Bart Ehrman about the existence and nature of the movie last September. It’s his work my knowledge of 1 Timonthy as a forgery is based on. Ehrman wrote right back: he hadn’t been aware of it. Well, I sure hope he checked it out then.
What I must add is in the new “parent” file: I see no trace that the movie makers, great, brilliant, careful as they obviously are, have any awareness of the New Testament scholarship that exposes 1 Timothy as a forgery. The movie shows bishops citing talse information as having the authority of the Word of God!
Posted as Agora Reflections, 2011 09 10
I’ve been writing about the movie Agora for a month here. It grew over several posts, several images were distributed among the posts. I revised the logic, then it grew some more. History, theology, religion, science, reason … art and movie-making mix, so it’s hard to outline my discussions. Still: that’s what this new series of posts is for: to remix the material: first as a few headlines, then making bins to contain the rest.
Hypatia in Alexandria graphic was here.
Amenábar’s Agora: Alexandria, fourth-century Christianity
Starring historical characters: Hypatia, Theophilus, Cyril … Orestes, Synesius
Mixing fictional characters: Ammonius, Davus,
Mixing important themes: cosmology, mathematics, theology … social structure
Fabulous movie talent: Alejandro Amenábar, Rachel Weisz … The script, the cinematography, the casting … are marvels.
Alexandria is a cosmopolitan city, ethnically mixed, genetically rich. It’s a kleptocracy: founded by Alexander: in Egypt, run by Greeks. Egyptian religion has been politically modified: totemic gods have been humanized. The chief god is a political creation: Serapis, a “tradition” fiated by the Ptolemys: Let there be This God instead of That God.
god Serapis (sculptor Emma Hanson) graphic was here
Alexandria boasted the greatest library of the ancient world. In Julius Caesar’s day some egotist burned it: to become famous. (See what happens when centralization is ascendant? Put all the children in one schoolroom: where the madman can kill everyone at once!) In Agora the library is attacked again, by Christians switching traditions (and, we shall see, forging falsehoods!)
Christianity celebrates the martyrdom of God: in the person of Jesus; Agora depicts the martyrdom of reason: in the person of Hypatia.
The real Hypatia’s work is lost, we know that she was celebrated for her study of conic sections; the movie imagines Hypatia as brilliantly questioning Ptolmey’s geocentric model, hypothesizing heliocentric models: circles slip, ellipses ascend.
Social Algebra relates.
The “Word of God” (according to a fourth-century Alexandrian bishop)
(It ain’t what you think):
It was the movie Agora‘s first use of the phrase “the word of God” that got me started writing these posts. Now I divy up the previous generation of posts, sorting the material (sort of) by type, then I’ll edit and expand.
The movie’s use of the phrase is preceeded by Theophilus, partriarch bishop of Alexandria (a real historical personage) reciting the Sermon on the Mount. We all know the Sermon on the Mount. I summarize it as niceness pays. It’s rhetorical dynamite, full of oxymora, paradox, statements that don’t match experience, but Boy, do they fan hope. Great, great prose. Our next encounter with scripture is different. Theophilus is dead. Bishop Cyril, (a real historical personage, Saint Cyril to-be) after the Alexandrian Christians destroy the great library of Alexandria, burning the memory of civilization, dressed in chichi church gorgeous, reads from 1 Timonthy: the passage where women are admonished to dress modestly, to reassume their pre-Jesus social and political non-entity. 1 Timonthy was inserted into the Bible as authored by Saint Paul, but it’s two centuries now that scholars know that 1 Timonthy is not Paul; it’s a forgery. False “Paul” forbids women to assume any position in which they would instruct a man. This is in an Alexandria where Hypatia, celebrated for genius, daughter of Theon, chief librarian and elder philosopher, is known by everyone to have taught the city’s dignitaries: including Orestes, Prefect of Alexandria.
Cyril intrudes counterfeit coin into Alexandria’s political market. He holds up the book from which he’s been reading 1 Timonthy. He says it is “the word of God”!
How is Saint Paul’s writing the word of God? even if it’s genuine Saint Paul? How is counterfeit Paul “the word of God”? It’s not even real Christianity! Though it’s passed as such for nigh onto two millennia!
Check this all out via the scholarship of Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, for example. Lost Christianities, for example.
bear with me as I mix importing and editing
OK, that’s red letter New Testament: supposed to be the sayings of Jesus: but then it switches. Pauline forgery gets substituted. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that . Fake Paul intrudes revisionist misogyny, false history, false doctrine! Anti-Christ, Authoritian! The Word of God? Rubbish!
(ugh, I look forward to rewriting, maybe I’ll be less furious.)
If we met any one in Alexandria with any claim to the “word of God,” so long as we mean by word of God something true, something that may actually be supported by additional intelligent effort, then the person with the clearest claim is Hypatia; not Cyril, not Theophilus, not Ammonius.
pk materials related to this subject naturally (to my mind) expand into considerations of the intellectual milieux of Alexandria (and the world) in Hypatia’s Time, the Fourth Century.
Agora: Hypatia’s Time: the intellectual milieux of Alexandria (and that “world”) in Hypatia’s Time, the Fourth Century
Sorting 2011 August pk materials on Agora:
Alexandria had the greatest library known to the ancient world. It burned in Julius Caesar’s time (some clown wanted to make himself famous), it was (again) destroyed in Hypatia’s time, the Christians taking a major hand in the second destruction. I am not attributing unalloyed wisdom to the ancients, I am not villainizing the Christians: not the Christians alone. But do notice the pattern: burn books, then produce a false document (1 Timothy) and claim it as an authority. Terrorize the citizenry (by behaving far from Christian whatever you call yourself), and … gee, so far, God lets every villain get away with it!? Jesus got crucified, Hypatia got stoned. We don’t know how much of “Jesus” is fiction; we know that large parts of this Hypatia is imagined: is fictionalized. But Hypatia is an historical figure, not an imaginary one. Jesus may have been crucified because he was the best. He never ruled, we have no record of wickedness from him. But Hypatia was singled out for persecution and death by torment because she was one of the smartest: and we know about it, at least a little about it.
|2013 09 04 My current reading relates: Joseph Priestley was inventing air, discovering oxygen, inventing carbonated beverages, trying to reform Christianity, restore good behavior to it: and his fellow English burned his lab to the ground. His friend Ben Franklin wrote how in his fatal experiments with mice Priestley was torturing the wrong species! Fourteen hundred years, not much change.|
graphic: Hypatia trying to rescuing a few scrolls during the destruction of the library graphic was here.
What a century! In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan legalizing Christian worship. The Council of Nicea met in 325.
One alpha kleptocrat ordered religious tolerance — that is, you have to stay still while someone calls your god Osiris “Serapis”; you have to stay still while monotheists subtract female gods from consideration; you have to stay still while some oaf tells his congregation that Jesus is, or isn’t really divine, that it was the Jews, not the Romans, who murdered Jesus … Another alpha kleptocrat incited the pagans to murder the Christians, the Christians to murder the pagans, then the Jews …
And never forget: it was in the Fourth Century that Constantine made Christianity compulsory! Religion compulsory?! All is lost once that happens. (Why are we such ass holes? The Fourth Century set our course, we’re still on it.) [2012 05 13 Whoops, I just read Bart Ehrman saying that it was Theodosius at the end of the 4th C who made Christianity compulsory.]
Two big forces were at work in “Christianity” that climaxed at that time: the re-subjugation of women and the vilification of Jews. Agora shows us both. Hypatia examples the ruthless ganging up on the brilliant, the free. As for the Jews, Cyril’s Christians attack them on their Sabbath, when their rituals forbid them to defend themselves! Cyril (in the movie) then blames the Jews for their dilemma: it was their own fault because they were celebrating their Sabbath in the theater instead of in their temple! How is it any of Cyril’s business where Jews celebrate anything?
Subjugation of Women
Dr. Leonard Shlain says that women invented intelligence. Hypatia showed that women could still shine at intelligence in the Fourth Century. But kleptocracies, by default, reset women back to the negative side of zero. Rise, your daughter will still be minus.
Jesus’ influence gave women a chance, not an even chance, but a chance. Women rose to influence in the Church. Saint Paul, not a lover of women, acknowledged the fact. But then false history, revised history, false facts, reestablished misogyny: and did it in Paul’s name: 1 Timonthy. No woman has anything to teach any man. (They’re talking about you, Hypatia. In another minute they’ll murder you: for being smart.)
Mixed Bag Culture
We live in a mixed culture. There are people who have some grasp of M Theory, and billions who’ve never heard of it. Some may still think the earth is flat, or the earth is the center, or man is the center, or God is a boss, pushing buttons … Some are killed for what they think (the killing mislabeled by the mislabelers); others are put in the White House. The Fourth Century was a mixed culture. In Alexandria the dominant culture (Roman) threw Christians to lions. Then the Christians were tolerated, the Christians converted wholesale numbers, by job lots; then the Christians slaughtered the “pagans (itself a very mixed bag); then the Christians tolerated only Christians and Jews, then the Christians tolerated only Christians, and then only very narrow sorts of Christians … For example, if you didn’t buckle to the idea that God and human could mix, you’d be called a heretic and killed. If you didn’t buckle to the idea that Mary was a virgin, you’d be called a heretic and killed …
One clear characteristic of many a mixed bag kleptocracy is that culture claims to be tolerant, to value diversity, while actually the brown shirts maraud in the dark. If the kleptocracy’s lawyers, the kleptocracy’s media, do the judging, why we’re all lily white liberal, the perfect proportion; but what if God does the judging? What if truth did the judging?
I believe that truth will. There is no difference between truth and my god. Outcomes will be determined not by what we do or don’t know, what we do or don’t say, but by what actually is, what actually happens (and what is actually prevented from happening)!
(Murdering Jesus actually prevents him from telling us the next thing.) (Sabotaging pk, not publishing pk, censoring what pk publishes, arresting pk, putting pk in jail … actually prevents me from helping you!)
My god is the essence of things. Not the human map, the human error, the human lie; no, the essence.
I started a History post within this Agora section, then started this post. Obviously they overlap. What may not be obvious is how prose that got cut somewhere and inserted here (or there) may have actually flowed in its original location.
The relevance of this point spans a number of these post bin resorts:
Plato talked of Athens condemning Socrates, without understanding him.
The Bible had told stories of Adam, then man, then the Jews not always being alert to God’s concerns.
Then the New Testament told stories about God sending Jesus, with more stories about how Jesus was received by his beneficiaries.
Then in the Fourth Century Hypatia is martyred by the mob who hates genius, hates women, hates quality, hates new ideas …
Science / Subjectivity
2011 09 25 I so admire how Amenabar’s movie contrasts Hypatia’s flexible, exploratory, uncertain intelligence with the ordinary self-complacency of her companions, students, friends, colleagues: dignitaries of Alexandria (and a similar number of slaves: human wallpaper). Every good idea that comes up in their discussions of cosmological geometry / topology gets dismissed by arguments which have one thing in common: an inability to imagine their subject apart from themselves. They try to imagine their earth moving as though their earth were on a stage and they an audience unaffected by it. Hypatia, at first, herself fails to imagine the sack she has dropped from the mast of her ship as itself moving with the ship, part of the same collective momentum.
The earth can’t be round because, they imagine, anemically, things at the edges would fall off. Not only are they assuming “edges,” but they’re assuming a gravity separate from the earth: again, as though they and gravity were absolutes, apart, and the earth, and everything else on the earth other than themselves, were models, actors on a stage.
(I’m not sure I said that right, it will correct in a rewrite.)
This shortcoming relates to a recent discussion of mine faulting a movie about nuclear disaster for failing to beg the audience that it were dead, absent, rather than eating popcorn while watching a disaster that has no effect on them.
I gather comments on the movie as history:
“Agora” by the way means “gathering place”: what the Forum was to the Romans, the market, the town square …
Forum is Latin culture, Agora is Greek culture, spread to Africa, Egypt, Alexander’s city.
Alexander, Alexandria, Treasure
While watching the movie I enjoyed recalling that Alexander’s treasurer stole some huge portion of the treasure that Alexander stole from the Persians (Alexander probably not even noticing that it was missing) and retired to Egypt. So a great deal of Egyptian wealth would have resided in Babylon before it crossed into Egypt where who knows how much of it might have found its way into Alexandria. Henry VII of England was the first ruler known to have actually gone to his treasure room and counted the contents, taken inventory, made a precise record. Till then a Xerxes, a Darius, a Genghis, would have looked at the heaps of gold and silver etc. and said, “Oh, boy, that looks like a lot!”
History, Fiction, Dramatic Licence
It’s through fiction (and with license, some history mixed in), that we tell the truth the clearest.
Be aware at all times here: history, fiction, myth … mix. We don’t know Hypatia’s cosmology, only that Ptolemy’s was standard. But the reason that Amanebar imagines for her is possible, intelligent, excellent. We don’t know every evil decision that Cyril made, we do know that calling him a saint wouldn’t have been universally endoresed: but then, nothing is ever universally endorsed. The (temporary) winners just pretend it is, tell lies to make it seem so.
Check out Cyril of Alexandria at Wikipedia.
By the way, notice the alacrity with which these fourth-century “Christians” appoint each other martyrs, saints … Cyril canonizes Ammonius as “a defender of Christ” after Ammonius has thrown a rock at Orestes, the Prefect.
I don’t recall anyone in the movie actually calling Theophilus “pope” but that’s the significance of patriarch: that was his role.
In the movie Agora the god specifically mocked by the Christians is Serapis.
image of Serapis
For the past two days I’ve been babbling about Hypatia, the great martyr to intellect from fall-of-Rome times, I didn’t give a damn about which “pagan” god the anti-intellect false-Christians insulted or pulled down statures of; now I do.
Check out Wikipedia’s article on Serapis. Serapis was an invented god, commissioned by Ptolemy 1 in the Third Century BC. The name combines the “real” god names Osiris and Apis.
The pseudo Christian Ammonius in the movie mocks Serapis in particulr. They, these unforgiving mob-Christians, prefer their pseudo Bible: with its 1 Timothy palmed as the writing of St. Paul, the St. Paul forgery palmed as the “word of God”!
Just like Americans pretending that their fiated schools represent learning. Is there anything in culture that isn’t mob-mandated, forged, fake? I couldn’t squeeze an intelligent word into NYU any better than I had my church. Facts were absolutely forbidden at my federal trial: another fake. Is there any point of talking at all? Or has mass culture totally disconnected the population from reason? Or was there never any connection in the first place? except falteringly, in the rare instance of a Socrates, a Hypatia … (a Gregory Bateson, a Bucky Fuller, an Ivan Illich …)
We don’t know if there was a Jesus who was Christ. Surely there were plenty of people crucified, any number of them could have been named Jesus. We do know that there was a Hypatia and that she was stoned and flayed by a mob. We also know that she was smart, fooled with conic sections. (She may have been an early heliocentrist, we don’t know much.) We also know that that mob marauded under the aegis of Christianity.
2011 08 14 insert: bk (my son) adds:
Yes, I first learned about Serapis from this book.
Serapis was an attempt to Hellenize the big-deal Egyptian god of the time, Apis. First equate Apis (a bull god) with Osiris (a man god), then associate Osiris with Hades. Use all Egyptian names and all Greek art.
It’s not entirely true that Serapis was a made-up god, created by the state — although that’s exactly how it was presented in The Rise and Fall of Alexandria. This syncretism was at least as old as Herodotus, a couple centuries earlier. The assumption was that there was only one true pantheon, and that the different cultures had different levels of exposure to the true pantheon (some knowing more gods than others) and different names for the gods they did know. This worked well between different Arian peoples, like Romans and Greeks — or even Persians and Germans — but worked much less well with Semitic peoples, like the Phoenicians and Jews, and “Hamitic” peoples, like the Egyptians. So the equation Apis “is” Osiris “is” Hades was much older than the Ptolemies, but it had always manifested itself (1) among the intellectual elite, (2) with local representations sufficing. What Ptolemy did was to insist that this Egyptian god be worshiped with Greek representations and rituals. He was smart enough, however, to keep the name Egyptian, and to compromise on the representation a little bit so the symbolism would at least be recognizable to the Egyptians, and not a pure Greek import.
One claim I’ve read is that the Osiris cult entered Rome via Serapis, and thereby influenced Christian symbolism.
Inserts butcher my style, but what the hell.
What I would like to know is: did the makers of the movie appreciate that the part of the Bible they emphasize, 1 Timothy, the part where a helpless-because-dead “St. Paul” is forced to say that intellect in women must not be honored, recognized, a pseudo-epistle that shames Christianity forever, is a forgery? and did they know that the “god with the flowerpot on his head” is just as fake as 1 Timonthy?
What a ridiculous question to ask people with fake churches, fake schools, fake courts, fake elections … fake facts.
But then that’s the culture, the world, this terrific movie came from. As far as I’m concerned we can give poor Jesus a break and start babbling about poor Hypatia. Her connection to truth is much less corrupt.
Agora shows us an Alexandria competed for by pagans, Jews, and Christians. Most of us are familiar with all three of those designations: but do we understand them equally? We may know Christians as well as we know peas, we may know Jews as well as we know carrots. But what does “pagan” refer to? Any veggie that is neither peas nor carrots. A garbage bag, the rest of the bin, all the older stuff.
At least there were no Muslims in Alexandria at that time complicating things further: no Zen Buddhists, no Taoists …
So often, so many things get named by their enemies: impressionist, fauve … Indian … That’s it, exactly: think of “pagan” as analogous with “Indian”: Columbus discovered the Americas while looking for a western route to Europe’s east: India. Columbus was a genius, a hero, a great man; Columbus was also profoundly ignorant: so ignorant that he didn’t know that the peoples he’d encountered were not Indian. Try explaining to a member of the Mohawk tribe in 1493, or to an Apache, that he’s an Indian! Try explaining it to a Carib tribeswoman. Imagine that you’re a Carthaginian worshipper of Baal Hammon or or Moloch in a religious war with a Roman worshipper of Jupiter and some Christian comes along and tells you that you’re both “pagans”!
There you are a Huron fighting with some Senecan and along comes a Puritan with his Bible, and calls you “Indians.” You know, it’s also just like “black”: if your father is Scots and your mother is Irish, the Englishman may hate you, but he’s still say you’re “white.” If your father is Scots and your mother is Bantu, then you’re black. If your father is Scots and your mother is Irish and your great grandfather was English but your great grandmother was Masai, then you’re black.
Religious warriors have about as much discernment as racists.
Think of it this way: did any religious call shimself pagan? I don’t think so. Just as there were no tribes that called themselves Sioux: Sioux means “enemy.” Enemy is a name you’re called; not a name you call yourself.
Feeding the Hungry
Davus asks Ammonius if he’s the one who performed the miracle in the agora, walking across the fire without burning up. Ammonius at the time had claimed that it was God protecting him: because of his faith, and his prayer. Any of us today can know that such an explanation is entirely unnecessary, people have firewalked for a long time, all around the world, including people without any concept of the Jews’ God or the Christians’ God. Anyone may be able to do it, like anyone may be able to swim, or solve a puzzle. But magicians depend on ignorance. Davus, smart as he visibly is, is not informed about everything: and, he has a will to believe in miracles. Where there is a will to believe in miracles, miracles will be seen, whatever the evidence.
Ammonius says, “Do you want to see a real miracle?” He takes Davus to the building where Theophilus is preaching, reciting the Sermon on the Mount. Ammonius sees that Davus is carrying food. He bids Davus share it with those present. “I had to spend my own money on that food,” Davus objects. “What do you need money for?” Ammonius asks him: and Davus begins the ritual of passing out bread. The receivers bless him as they eat the bread: addictive.
Feed the hungry, bless you … Highly addictive. It sold me as a child.
But it doesn’t sell me as an adult. I hate the idea of alms distribution in a world where the majority are prevented from finding their own food. Agriculture subtracts commons from the commons. We grow wheat there, we don’t hunt there, we don’t gather there, we don’t walk there, we don’t dally there … No one needs alms until something far more valuable than alms has already been taken from them.
In my son’s mind (an Austrian economist) property and freedom go together. In my mind, property and freedom are incompatible. Original Sin was subtracting the “property” from the commons in the first place. I don’t want anyone to feed anyone, except for mother her baby, and father the mother while she’s pregnant. I want chaos to rule until we’re reduced to a sustainable population of food finders, not fool producers. I don’t want Jesus distributing food made scarce, or Marx; I want people who can’t find their own food to disappear until those left can find their own food.
I don’t want the poor fed, I don’t want there to be any poor: except as unlucky individuals: lazy or crippled: maybe defective as well as unlucky: and on their way out. I absolutely don’t want the bereft ganging up to monopolize what hasn’t yet been poisoned.
Notice additionally: Ammonius is a revolutionary. Jesus was a revolutionary. Davus is unstable, impressionable.
We revolutionaries want to redesign from the ground up: maybe from physics up. Those who imagine that they would lose a privilege resist, even if, especially if, the privilege is imaginary.
2011 10 17 Other bloggers on Agora have now linked to these posts, offering still more related links. One review of the movie said that the historical Hypatia was apparently older than Rachel Weisz’s performance suggests. That writer proposes that we imagine Helen Mirren in the role! Yeah! Imagine that!
(I love Rachel Weisz, I’ve never loved her half so much as here, and that’s saying a Lot! But I’m a man who knows better than most how lovable older women can be: beautiful, loving, sexy: at any age.) (I’ll resurrect my module on my beloved Catherine the Great asap: my darling was 96! when she died.) (And I swear to you: my current love cannot be matched, and she’s eighty!)
2011 11 18
Fire-Walking for Faith
I’ll put this link here for now, locate it with other comments on Amonius’s “miracle” later: Can you walk on hot coals in bare feet and not get burned?
That’s Cecil Adams and his Straight Dope. The best treatment I’ve seen though was Arthur C. Clarke’s on TV.
Magicians mix categories of trick freely. Some tricks are mechanical, some invite slight of hand, skill counts and some are no trick at all: they just depend on audience ignorance: generally fairly reliable: the rubes don’t know that phosphorus always behaves that way, or that coals seldom burn feet unless you stand still for a while, or use hotter coals. …
Elsewhere I comment further on the SD article’s reference to didactic magic.
posted as Agora Characters, 2011 09 12
I love the character Davus. In this visit I’ll try to keep my comments simple: though the character, the sitution, is complex.
The Christians are gathering their ire to blame the Jews for crucifying Jesus. Davus suggests that the Christians do what Jesus did: forgive them. Ammonius whirls on Davus, condescends to tell him: Jesus was devine. Only Jesus can be so virtuous. Another spits, You dare to compare yourself with God?!
(I dare to compare myself with God: his name begins with a J, mine with a P. Isn’t that a comparison?)
Christians here recommend the imitation of Jesus, then punish attempts at it.
Hypatia is an historical personage, not that we know much about her. The movie gives us a Hypatia as she may well have been. Hypatia may well not have been as beautiful as Rachel Weisz; on the other hand, Hypatia may have been more beautiful than Rachel Weisz. But Davus, her personal slave, the poor schmuck who has to stand there, serviceable, as she emerges naked from the bath, water glistening on her rump, water dripping from the pubic edge of her personal parts, is fictitious, and damn good dramatic and thematic use Amenábar makes of him.
The movie’s Hypatia teaches the Ptolemaic system of the universe: earth at the center, sun and planets and moon revolving around it, the apparent “wandering” of the planets explained by “epicycles”: smaller circles tangent to a big circle. Davus, helplessly in love with his owner, the object of his service, is apt, and builds a model. She directs applause at him. He may be a slave, but she’s a liberal. Davus responds to Hypatia’s reason: and to reason period. But meantime the Christian Ammonius performs the trick of fire walking in public, in the agora. Davus sees him, a crowd sees him. Modern science offers a range of explanations for fire walking, but Ammonius assigns one to the gawkers: it’s a miracle! Few of our contemporaries know how to pooh pooh that claim. The movie leaves Hypatia out of it, we don’t get to see what she might have said. Arthur C. Clarke wasn’t there either: and given the chance to firewalk on his own show, Clarke said, echoing Shaw’s Eliza, “Not bloody likely.” He explains possibilities, he doesn’t slum with proofs. Davus is taken in. Ammonius offers Davus the arrogant power of distributing bread mid prayers and blessings. Oo, the power.
One of a series of great scenes come when the “pagans” deign to drive the Christians our of the agora. The Christians are filthy, disrespectful, disruptive … revolutionary. The pagans flee, beckoning Davus to follow. He doesn’t. He takes a weapon, like a spear, like an axe. The Christians overrun the agora. Davus stands with his weapon, the Christians run around him. Ammonius spots him, bids him help pull down a statue. He does. He then brandishes a broken marble arm, as though he were the general, taking credit for the mayhem. Oh: and he sees his Ptolemaic model: and he smashes it!
Subsequently the Christians repress the pagans, tolerating Jews. But then they turn on Jews too. In the agora Davus had been the only “pagan” armed with metal; the swarming Christians had clubs and farm tools. But when the Christians purge the Jews, Davus again takes a weapon, this time the weapon handed to him: a sword. Steel? I don’t know. Iron at least. Metal, the weapon of the day, for the rich, the kleptocrats, the rulers, the conquerors. And now Davus bathes in blood. Check out the poster. See that weird pattern up by his eye socket? Arterial squirting. Davus must have done some job on the damn Jews!
Right at the beginning when we’re first meeting Hypatia’s family, her father, Theon, finds a cross in his home. He questions the slaves, identifies the cross’s owner. Davus speaks up and claims that he too is a Christian. What’s he doing? Looked like a Christian act to me: shielding a woman from harm. Hypatia asks him if he really is a Christian: he gives a double talk answer: he would be lying if he said he were, but he can’t say no and contradict her father: a very good slave’s answer. So: nothing is simple, nothing is as it seems. Hypatia was far better than average at standing firm before such ambiguity.
2011 08 28 The end of the month, I’m still dwelling on Cynesius. Search for the historical personage on line: but what I want to add concerns the movie’s character. Cynesius I repeat is a student of Hypatia. In the movie Hypatia’s students are already important people, but she has no peers. We see powerful men, we see men who used to be powerful. We see powerful men lying, being deceived, bullying, defrauding … Only Hypatia seeks the truth, braced to accept what she finds, like it or not. A scientist: the only kind of real philosopher.
Cynesius isn’t stupid, he isn’t a fool, at least not a complete fool. But it’s Cynesius who bullies Orestes with blather about 1 Timothy, the fake epistle of Saint Paul, clumsy propaganda designed to reverse the gains made by women under Christianity, with his insistence, “It is written.”
It is written: How does that make it right? Human error comes from humans. We don’t need any monsters.
Momentum: Why Does It Mean So Much to You?
Orestes accompanied Hypatia and Aspasius in her shipboard experiment on momentum. Aspasius climbs the mast with a sack and drops it. Hypatia reasons that since the ship is moving the sack will hit the deck astern of the point from which Aspasius drops it. The best the observers can tell the sack lands at the base of the mast: it seemed to fall as though the ship were not moving! Hypatia, a true scientist, celebrates the discovery that she is wrong! She doesn’t understand it, has no pre-assembled explanation. But she know that she’s obtained new information, something for which there must be an explanation. Orestes is amazed by his old teacher and friend. “Why does it mean so much to you,” he marvels. So much to you!: Orestes doesn’t care whether the sack lands at the base of the mast or overboard in the ship’s wake!
What are our chances of continuing survival if no one cares about the truth?
We must care not only about the truth but about our rulers’ indifferent dishonesty.
We need lots of Hypatias, we get only an occasional one; we don’t need any Orestes that I can see, we get them up the kazambe.
I started wriging about Agora in order to talk about religion and politics displacing information with misinformation, driving out intelligence and promoting mass hysteria: but I wound up commenting on the movie as art as well: cast, cinematography, direction, editing, CGI … and I create this post to house those comments. Of course all of the categories overlap: the movie mixes history with fiction, fact with myth … Rachel Weisz is acting Hypatia but she’s Rachel Weisz whatever she’s doing …
Rachel Weisz is an actress I hated the first time I saw her (The Mummy), loved, admired, almost worshipped the next time I noticed her (Enemy at the Gate), and simply adored the last time I saw her (The Constant Gardener). But her Hypatia is acting at its best. (End of the month, now I’m rewatching The Mummy: I love her, hate the movie even more.)
Still jotting stuff scrapbook fashion: this thought just attacked me! One of the admirable aspects of Weisz’s performance here, her suitability for the part, is that she is a beauty, but no longer a spring chicken. Hypatia’s students love her as well as admire her, and lust for her! All these males! bumping along behind her, drooling! look at those hips! look at those loins! behold that bosom! Hypatia couldn’t care less about that. I bet Rachel Weisz is plenty glad she’s a looker, and still atrractive as an adult, but she acts indifferent to it. She does not sympathize with her student’s lust: she discourages the attentions of one by giving him a used sanitary napkin of hers! And Weisz brings it off! She accepts her body, she doesn’t flaunt it. What she offers us eagerly is her mind. We can’t imagine Marilyn Monroe playing this role at forty. And I can’t imagine even Julia Roberts or Jessica Lang doing it as well or even Bette Davis doing it any better!
One wonderful aspect of the movie is its international cast. Hollywood is a rich base-stock of talent, but it’s not a monopoly. We see Weisz being great, and other stars being worthy, but we also see actors we’re a deal less familiar with. I’m thrilled to recognize Homayoun Ershadi, a Persian actor I’d seen in Taste of Cherry playing the slave who helps Hypatia with her experiments to the end. It was this Aspasius who climbed the mast to drop the sack in her momentum experiment. It was he who helped her set the ellipse drawing in the sand: her piece de resistance.
Some of the movie’s effects are wonderful. Decades ago Bucky Fuller imagined (and may have executed for all I know) a zoom shot from macro to micro: first, show universe: galaxies upon galaxies: zoom in: Milky Way, solar system, earth: atmosphere, couds … details, eventually the eye of a fly: then, continue to zoom in: cells, mocecules, atoms … Well, Agora does that: more than once. The camera finds the limb of earth, discerns continents … the Mediterranean, approaches Alexandria, makes out buildings, enters a particular building: people move about … Then, normal camera work: close ups and so forth. Marvelous.
Now that involves CGI etc, and to a point, that’s fine. But I also want to commend technical stuff that’s far more conceptual than Gee Whiz in the CIA’s toy store. The mingling of individuals movements, figures like bees in a hive, ants in a next, people in the agora mixed with models of Alexandria is excellent. But most exciting to me was the shuffling of foreground, middle ground and background. I haven’t sen anything so well conceived and executed since Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. It’s thrilling to behold shots that make you think how they’ve been thought! Fellini! Antonioni! Wells! Hmm, come to think of it, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark impressed me very much in that vein. Watch Agora‘s battle for the Serapium, then recall the attack on the car on the road in Children. In one background mixes with foreground; in the other background becomes foreground!
Foreground / Middleground Attention Tug
Cuarón used related effects.
Also see: The Passion According to Mel