Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Agora" and Hypatia - Hollywood Strikes Again


Hollywood Hokum - Again

It looks like some pseudo historical myths about the history of science are about to get a new shot in the arm, thanks to the new movie Agora by Chilean director Alejandro Amenabar. Now normally I'd be delighted that someone was making a film set in the Fifth Century (at least, one that wasn't another fantasy about "King Arthur" anyway). After all, it's not like there's a shortage of remarkable stories to tell from that turbulent and interesting time. And normally I'd be even more delighted that they are actually bothering to make it look like the Fifth Century, rather than assuming because it's set in the Roman Empire everyone needs to be wearing togas, forward combed haircuts and lorica segmentata. And I would be especially delighted that they are not only doing both these things but also casting Rachel Weisz in the lead role, since she's an excellent actress and, let's face it, pretty cute.

So why am I not delighted? Because Amenabar has chosen to write and direct a film about the philosopher Hypatia and perpetuate some hoary Enlightenment myths by turning it into a morality tale about science vs fundamentalism.

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. From the press release timed to coincide with the film's screening at Cannes this week:

Played by Oscar-winning British actress Weisz, Hypatia is persecuted in the film for her science that challenges the Christians' faith, as much as for her status as an influential woman.
From bloody clashes to public stonings and massacres, the city descends into inter-religious strife, and the victorious Christians turn their back on the rich scientific legacy of antiquity, defended by Hypatia.


So we are being served up the idea that Hypatia was persecuted and, I'll assume, killed because "her science ... challenges the Christians' faith". And why have a movie with one historical myth in it when you can have two:

"Agora" opens with the destruction of the second library of Alexandria by the Christians and Jews -- after the first, famous library which was destroyed by Julius Caesar.

At least he's done his homework enough to realise that the decline of the Great Library was a long, slow deterioration and not a single catastrophic event. But he still clings to Gibbon's myth that a Christian mob was somehow responsible. And rather niftily invents a "second library of Alexandria" so he can do so. Of course, there's an inevitable moral to all this:

The director also said he saw the film worked as a parable on the crisis of Western civilisation.

"Let's say the Roman Empire is the United States nowadays, and Alexandria is what Europe means now -- the old civilisation, the old cultural background.


"And the empire is in crisis, which affects all the provinces. We are talking about social crisis, economic of course, this year, and cultural.

"Something is not quite fitting in our society. We know that something is going to change -- we don't know exactly what or how, but we know that something is coming to an end."

Exactly how far or how closely he expects we can extend this analogy is unclear. If Europe is Alexandria and the US is Rome, who is Hypatia? And who are the murderous fundamentalists? I suspect the answer could be "Muslims". The LA Times article on the Cannes screening seemed to think so:

The film is at its most compelling when Amenabar shows the once-stable civilization of Alexandria being overwhelmed by fanaticism, perhaps because the bearded, black-robe clad Christian zealots who sack the library and take over the city bear an uncanny resemblance to the ayatollahs and Taliban of today.
(At Cannes: Alejandro Amenabar's provocative new historical thriller)

However far you want to take Amenabar's parable, the outlines are clear - Hypatia was a rationalist and a scientist, she was killed by fundamentalists who were threatened by knowledge and science and this ushered in a Dark Age.


Hypatia the Myth

Not that there is anything very new or original about this - Hypatia has long been pressed into service as a martyr for science by those with agendas that have nothing to do with the accurate presentation of history. As Maria Dzielska has detailed in her study of Hypatia in history and myth, Hypatia of Alexandria, virtually every age since her death that has heard her story has appropriated it and forced it to serve some polemical purpose.

Ask who Hypatia was and you will probably be told "She was that beautiful young pagan philosopher who was torn to pieces by monks (or, more generally, by Christians) in Alexandria in 415". This pat answer would be based not on ancient sources, but on a mass of belletristic and historical literature .... Most of these works represent Hypatia as an innocent victim of the fanaticism of nascent Christianity, and her murder as marking the banishment of freedom of inquiry along with the Greek gods.
(Dzielska, p. 1)

If you had asked me at the age of 15 that's certainly what I would have told you, since I had heard of Hypatia largely thanks to astronomer Carl Sagan's TV series and book Cosmos. I still have a soft spot both for Sagan and Cosmos, since - as with a lot of young people of the time - it awakened my love not only of science, but a humanist tradition of science and a historical perspective on the subject that made it far more accessible to me than dry formulae. But popularisations of any subject can create erroneous impressions even when the writer is very sure of his material. And while Sagan was usually on very solid ground with his science, his history could be distinctly shaky. Especially when he had a barrow or two to push.

The final chapter of the book of Cosmos is the one where Sagan pushes a few barrows. Generally, his aims are admirable - he notes the fragility of life and of civilisation, makes some calm and quietly sober condemnations of nuclear proliferation - highly relevant and sensible in the depths of Cold War 1980 - and makes a rational and humanistic plea for the maintenance of a long term view on the Earth, the environment and our intellectual heritage. In the process he tells the story of Hypatia as a cautionary parable; a tale that illustrates how fragile civilisation is and how easily it can fall to the powers of ignorance and irrationality.

After describing the glories of the Great Library of Alexandria, he introduces Hypatia as its "last scientist". He then notes that the Roman Empire was in crisis in her time and that "slavery had sapped ancient civilisation of its vitality"; which is an odd comment since the ancient world had always been based on slavery, making it hard to see why this institution would suddenly begin to "sap" it of "vitality" in the Fifth Century. He then he gets to the crux of his story:

Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism. In great personal danger she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.
(Sagan, p. 366)

I gather I was not the only impressionable reader who found this parable moving. One reader of Dzielska's study, which debunks the version Sagan propagates, wrote a breathless review on Amazon.com that declared:

Hypatia was first brought to my attention by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos. She has often been represented as a pillar of wisdom in an age of growing dogma. Unlike with Socrates we know much less about her life and teachings. She is remembered precisely as a martyr who was sacrificed rather than executed by a literalist Christian mob inspired by "St" Cyril, apparently as she was regarded as a threat to Christendom and theology by certain regio-political figures.

That actually makes you wonder if they had read Dzielska's book at all.

While Sagan is the best known propagator of the idea that Hypatia was a martyr for science, he was simply following a venerable polemical tradition that has its origin in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

A rumor was spread among the Christians, that the daughter of Theon was the only obstacle to the reconciliation of the prefect and the archbishop; and that obstacle was speedily removed. On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypatia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the Reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics: her flesh was scraped from her bones with sharp oyster-shells and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames.

Like Gibbon, Sagan links the story of the murder of Hypatia with the idea that the Great Library of Alexandria was torched by another Christian mob. In fact, Sagan presents the two events as though they were subsequent, stating "[the Library's] last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death" (p. 366) and that "when the mob came .... to burn the Library down there was nobody to stop them." (p. 365)

In the hands of Sagan and others both the story of Hypatia's murder and the Library's destruction are a cautionary tale of what can happen if we let down our guards and allow mobs of fanatics to destroy the champions and repositories of reason.

The Great Library and its Myths

This is certainly a powerful parable. Unfortunately, it doesn't correspond very closely with actual history. To begin with, the Great Library of Alexandria no longer existed in Hypatia's time. Precisely when and how it had been destroyed is unclear, though a fire in Alexandria caused by Julius Caesar's troops in 48 BC is the most likely main culprit. More likely this and/or other fires were part of a long process of decline and degradation of the collection. Strangely, given that we know so little about it, the Great Library has long been a focus of some highly imaginative fantasies. The idea that it contained 500,000 o0r even 700,000 books is often repeated uncritically by many modern writers, even though comparison with the size other ancient libraries and estimates of the size of the building needed to house such a collection makes this highly unlikely. It is rather more probable that it was around less than a tenth of these numbers, though that would still make it the largest library in the ancient world by a wide margin.

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 this was 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:

At the solicitation of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, the Emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rites of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples.
(Socrates Scholasticus, Historia Ecclesiastica, Bk V)

Even hostile, anti-Christian accounts of this event, like that of Eunapius of Sardis (who witnessed the demolition), do not mention any library or books being destroyed. And Ammianus Marcellinus, who seems to have visited Alexandria before 391, describes the Serapeum and mentions that it had once housed a library, indicating that by the time of its destruction it no longer did so.  The fact is that, with no less than five independent accounts detailing this event, the destruction of the Serapeum is one of the best attested events in the whole of ancient history.  Yet nothing in the evidence indicates the destruction of any library along with the temple complex.

Still, the myth of a Christian mob destroying the "Great Library of Alexandria" is too juicy for some to resist, so this myth remains a mainstay for arguments that "Christianity caused the Dark Ages" despite the fact it is completely without foundation. And it seems Amenabar couldn't resist it either - thus a scene early in the movie features an anxious Hypatia scrambling to rescue precious scrolls before a screaming mob bearing crosses bursts through a barred door to destroy what he's dubbed "the second library of Alexandria" (presumably he means the Serapeum). This seems to be at the beginning of the movie, apparently setting the stage for the conflicts between science and religion that will end in Hypatia's murder. Sagan, on the other hand, put the destruction of the Library after her murder. In fact, it seems no such destruction happened either in her lifetime or after it and the idea it did is simply part of the mythic parable.


The Hypatia of History
The real Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was famous for his edition of Euclid's Elements and his commentaries on Ptolemy, Euclid and Aratus. Her birth year is often given as AD 370, but Maria Dzielska argues this is 15-20 years too late and suggests AD 350 would be more accurate. That would make her 65 when she was killed and therefore someone who should perhaps be played by Helen Mirren rather than Rachel Weisz. But that would make the movie much harder to sell at the box office.

She grew up to become a renowned scholar in her own right. She seems to have assisted her father in his edition of Euclid and an edition of Ptolemy's Almagest, as well writing commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus and the Conics of Apollonius. Like most natural philosophers of her time, she embraced the neo-Platonic ideas of Plotinus and so her teaching and ideas appealed to a broad range of people - pagans, Christians and Jews. There is some suggestion that Amenabar's film depicts her as an atheist, or at least as wholly irreligious, which is highly unlikely. Neo-Platonism embraced the idea of a perfect, ultimate source called "the One" or "the Good", which was, by Hypatia's time, fully identified with a monotheistic God in most respects.

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:

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
(Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, VII.15)

So if she was admired so widely and admired and respected by learned Christians, how did she come to die at the hands of a Christian mob? And, more importantly, did it have anything to do with her learning or love of science?

The answer lies in the politics of early Fifth Century Alexandria and the way that the power of Christian bishops was beginning to encroach on that of civil authorities in this period. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril, had been a protégé of his uncle Theophilus and succeeded him to the bishopric in AD 412. Theophilus had already made the position of Bishop of Alexandria a powerful one and Cyril continued his policy of expanding the influence of the office, increasingly encroaching on the powers and privilages of the Prefect of the City. The Prefect at the time was another Christian, Orestes, who had taken up his post not long before Cyril became bishop.

Orestes and Cyril soon came into conflict over Cyril's hard-line actions against smaller Christian factions like the Novatians and his violence against Alexandria's large Jewish community. After an attack by the Jews on a Christian congregation and a retaliatory pogrom against Jewish synagogues led by Cyril, Orestes complained to the Emperor but was over-ruled. Tensions between the supporters of the Bishop and those of the Prefect then began to run high in a city that was known for mob rule and vicious political street violence.

Hypatia, whether by chance or choice, found herself in the middle of this power struggle between two Christian factions. She was well-known to Orestes (and probably to Cyril as well) as a prominen tparticipant in the civic life of the city and was perceived by Cyril's faction to be not only a political ally of Orestes but an obstacle to any reconciliation between the two men. The tensions spilled over when a group of monks from the remote monasteries of the desert - men known for their fanatical zeal and not renowned for their political sophistication - came into the city in force to support Cyril and began a riot that resulted in Orestes' entourage being pelted with rocks, with one stone hitting the Prefect in the head. Not one to stand for such insults, Orestes had the monk in question arrested and tortured, which led to the man's death.

Cyril tried to exploit the torture and death of the monk, making out that it was effectively a martyrdom by Orestes. This time, however, his appeals to the Imperial authorities were rejected. Angered, Cyril's followers (with or without his knowledge) took revenge by seizing Hypatia, as a political follower of Orestes, in the street and torturing her to death in vengeance.

The incident was generally regarded with horror and disgust by Christians, with Socrates Scholasticus making his feelings about it quite clear:

[Hypatia] fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles [oyster shells]. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.
(Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, VII.15)

What is notable in all this is that nowhere in any of this is her science or learning mentioned, expect as the basis for the respect which she was accorded by pagans and Christians alike. Socrates Scholasticus finishes describing her achievements and the esteem with which she was held and then goes on to say "Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed". In other words, despite her learning and position, she fell victim to politics. There is no evidence at all that her murder had anything to do with her learning. The idea that she was some kind of martyr to science is totally absurd.

History vs the Myths. And Movies.

Unfortunately for those who cling to the discredited "conflict thesis" of science and religion perpetually at odds, the history of science actually has very few genuine martyrs at the hands of religious bigots. The fact that a mystic and kook like Giordano Bruno gets dressed up as a free-thinking scientist shows how thin on the ground such martyrs are, though usually those who like to invoke these martyrs can fall back on citing "scientists burned by the Medieval Inquistion", despite the fact this never actually happened. Most people know nothing about the Middle Ages, so this kind of vague hand-waving is usually pretty safe.

Unlike Giordano Bruno, Hypatia was a genuine scientist and, as a woman, was certainly remarkable for her time (though the fact that another female and pagan scientist, Aedisia, practised science in Alexandria unmolested and with high renown a generation  later shows she was far from unique). But Hypatia was no martyr for science and science had absolutely zero to do with her murder. Exactly how much of the genuine, purely political background to her death Amenabar puts in his movie remains to be seen. It's hoped that, unlike Sagan and many others, the whole political background to the murder won't simply be ignored and her killing won't be painted as a purely anti-intellectual act of ignorant rage against her science and scholarship. But what is clear from his interviews and the film's pre-publicity is that he has chosen to frame the story in Gibbonian terms straight from the "conflict thesis" textbook - the destruction of the "Great Library", Hypatia victimised for her learning and her death as a grim harbinger of the beginning of the "Dark Ages".

And, as usual, bigots and anti-theistic zealots will ignore the evidence, the sources and rational analysis and believe Hollywood's appeal to their prejudices. It makes you wonder who the real enemies of reason actually are.

154 comments:

Anonymous said...

Educational and entertaining as always, Mr. O'Neill.

I only wish my own teachers could be
as insightful as you.

tenthmedieval said...

Elegantly put, indeed, and I shall probably wind up pointing a number of people at this post. I don't suppose you can do one refuting the "Inquisition burned scientists" idea too can you? :-) Meanwhile, you may be amused by this review of the film of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons which hits some of the same buttons...

Bjørn Are said...

Thanks!

Well put, and a great read!

I'll certainly point to this review from my blog!

Humphrey said...

The Hollywood treatment of history never ceases to amaze me. For instance 'The Patriot' had the British army burning the colonists alive in a church, an atrocity more akin to what was going on in WWII. In 'Braveheart' Mel Gibson's William Wallace gets into bed with Queen Isabella, despite the fact she would have been three years old at the time.

In one of my first lectures at St Andrews I was told that good old Mel Gibson was interviewed by a journalist who said 'don't you think Hollywood has a responsibility to make accurate historical movies, especially when this is how most of the general public comes into contact with history'.

Mel then made some comments about how 'no, there isn't really a responsibility there', Hollywood's responsibility is to make movies that people want to see.

The journalist wasn't satisfied with this and tried to push the point with some comments about how it was disrespectful to the past and historical figures to depict them inaccurately. At this point Mel exploded and said 'Look what does it really matter!, They're ALL FUCKING DEAD...OK!.'

Bout sums it up.

Don Viney said...

In 1997 I published a double review of Maria Dzielska's book and the monograph of Michael Deakin (republished in 2007 by Prometheus as Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr). Mr. O'Neill, I only wish I had written your review: well done! History is interesting enough without the distortions that film makers introduce to pander to public taste. Your comments on the science / religion issue are especially welcome. (Don Viney, Prof. of Philosophy, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks! This was very interesting.

Roger Pearse said...

An excellent post.

Cyril inherited his uncle's position as patriarch, and, effectively, as political head of Egypt in general and the Alexandrian mob in particular. He was generally above such crude methods anyway, preferring intrigue to violence (probably because he was so good at it).

There is in Orosius somewhere a note which we need to consider, tho: "... there exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen and when these temples were plundered these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our own time."

I wonder if Synesius appears in the movie? Or the moment when one of Hypatia' pupils declared he was in love with her, and she promptly threw a used tampon at him and said "*That* is what you are in love with!".

But... let's rejoice at the popularisation of the period by the movie anyway.

Leslie said...

[I followed a link to this from a comment at Per Omnia Saecula.]

Being quite illiterate and kind of a moron, I found only one thing I disagreed with in your post...

"That would make her 65 when she was killed and therefore someone who should perhaps be played by Helen Mirren rather than Rachel Weisz. But that would make the movie much harder to sell at the box office."

Helen Mirren is amazing and I think the true story would be almost as awesome if she was playing the lead.

Other than that [even including that, as I thought it a very clever aside and am just a smart alec], a very interesting read. Good stuff.

Narukami said...

Excellent

Thanks

Cid, o Campeador said...

Greetings!

Extremely valuable information! Perhaps you could share it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbskP9utQ0M. These neo-pagans truly need some enlightenment. ;)

Loren said...

I think that a more reasonable comparison might be between Hypatia and 18th-cy. French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.

He got guillotined by the French revolutionaries because he had been a tax collector for the former king, and possibly because one of the revolutionaries, Jean-Paul Marat, had a grudge against him. They weren't phlogistonists who were annoyed by his debunking of that hypothesis.

When Marat applied to the French Academy for membership some years before, Lavoisier turned him down, dismissing some of his scientific work as worthless. And Marat may not have forgotten that when he became a leader.

returnofthespacegods said...

What a refreshing read... that were pretty much my exact feelings when I found out about this movie: great that a good looking historical movie was coming out, but shame that it's being used for hackneyed propaganda... Seems like the real story would make a more interesting plot, with all the intersections of politics, sex and religion.

Also a bit annoying that every (modern) description of Hypatia has to stress how beautiful she was, as if being an erudite philosopher wasn't enough; although from the stills it looks like they haven't gone overboard on the hair and makeup, and Rachel Weisz looks like a fairly believable librarian.

Anonymous said...

Carl Sagan does not need ammendments. His works are masterpieces. Atheists do not really exist perse and at the end of the day everyone takes a position according to his (hidden)beliefs. Hypatia was murdered by the Christian mob of Alexandria and not by some aliens from outer space. Furthermore, the Greek civilization and scientific achievmnets were destroyed and buried by the Roman empire (Western and Eastern),especially after the time the Judeochristian Byzantine emperors understood how dangerous this civilization was for their master plan of turning humanity into a flok of terrorised and uneducated sheep for thousands of years. Big Brother of medieval humanity...

Tim O'Neill said...

Carl Sagan does not need ammendments. His works are masterpieces.

His works are very good. But not withour errors, especially when it comes to history. On the subject of Hypatia and the Great Library, his account is riddled with errors, as I detailed above.

Atheists do not really exist perse

Yes, actually, we do.

and at the end of the day everyone takes a position according to his (hidden)beliefs.

That is gibberish.

Hypatia was murdered by the Christian mob of Alexandria and not by some aliens from outer space.

Hypatia was murdered by the followers of one Christian leader for supporting a rival Christian leader. It was a political murder that had nothing to do with religion and less to do with science.

Furthermore, the Greek civilization and scientific achievmnets were destroyed and buried by the Roman empire (Western and Eastern),especially after the time the Judeochristian Byzantine emperors understood how dangerous this civilization was for their master plan of turning humanity into a flok of terrorised and uneducated sheep for thousands of years. Big Brother of medieval humanity...

And that is nonsense.

PS Learn to spell.

Anonymous said...

Looking for historic accuracy from Hollywood in the first place is as naive and as misguided as the exercise above which attempts to mask the core message by examining the miniature of a historical event. The pertinent facts are that Roman Christianity has always been hostile to women including in the area of education and its long history is ample proof of this. The Romanising of religion did bring on a dark age of ignorance that continues to this day to insist that children are taught what to think rather than how to think. Given that the historical distortions in this movie, typical of Hollywood, do contain what is an idea that is essentially true (the anti-female, anti-learning, anti-human nature of Roman Christianity) then at least it’s a reflection of a longer reality. If it stimulates people to investigate from the perspective of a longer and less smug overview than in this review that might be a good thing.

Meanwhile Roman Christianities splinter groups are building museums in the US that have dinosaurs and humans sharing the same territory. There is a long line of a historical thread from there back to the murder of Hypatia.

Tim O'Neill said...

Anonymous said...

Looking for historic accuracy from Hollywood in the first place is as naive and as misguided as the exercise above which attempts to mask the core message by examining the miniature of a historical event.

Luckily for me, because I'm neither naive nor misguided, I don't expect Hollywood to get its history right at all. The fact remains, however, that most people get their history from popular culture like this movie and when Hollywood does get its history wrong it's useful to point this out.

The pertinent facts are that Roman Christianity has always been hostile to women including in the area of education and its long history is ample proof of this.

Then it would be more useful for Hollywood (or, in this case, a European film maker) to actually depict an accurate example of this, not make one up.

The Romanising of religion did bring on a dark age of ignorance

That, however, is complete bullshit. The "dark age of ignorance" that began in the Fifth Century was due to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Christianity had zero to do with it.

... that continues to this day to insist that children are taught what to think rather than how to think.

Any ignorance that Christianity is propagating today has no connection to the historical events of Hypatia's time. In her time Christianity was in the process of rejecting an anti-intellectual stance and adopting the position of Clement of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo that valued all learning as coming from God, regardless of whether it came from Christian or pagan thinkers. That tradition was what brought Europe out of that "dark age of ignorance".

Given that the historical distortions in this movie, typical of Hollywood, do contain what is an idea that is essentially true (the anti-female, anti-learning, anti-human nature of Roman Christianity) then at least it’s a reflection of a longer reality.

Nonsense. That cluster of over-simplifications shows that it certainly hasn't stimulated you to investigate anything at all.

If it stimulates people to investigate from the perspective of a longer and less smug overview than in this review that might be a good thing.

See above. It seems this distorted story has simply confirmed some of your pseudo-historical ideas about these subjects.

Meanwhile Roman Christianities splinter groups are building museums in the US that have dinosaurs and humans sharing the same territory. There is a long line of a historical thread from there back to the murder of Hypatia.

How can anything fundies are doing in the US have any connection to Hypatia's murder if that murder had nothing to do with religion? You are making no sense.

Stanley Guenter said...

Tim,

I just came across your site looking for reviews of O'Donnell's "The Ruin of the Roman Empire" and have to say I am quite impressed with your site and reviews. Excellent information!

I am an archaeologist and finishin up my dissertation at SMU in Dallas and like you an atheist who finds Hollywood's continual portrayal of the church, especially the medieval church, as populated all but entirely by perverts and power-hungry philistines to be quite reprehensible. No institution could have arisen and maintained its position for nearly two millenia that was so completely bereft of any truth or decency.

So I have quite enjoyed your ability to maintain yourself as an atheist while still being able to recognize the anti-church bias in so much of modern media and academia. That said, I think you yourself overstep a bit. There are two comments on this page that I would take issue with. In the conclusion to your article you state: "But she was no martyr for science and science had absolutely zero to do with her murder." and in your reply to Anonymous above you state " The "dark age of ignorance" that began in the Fifth Century was due to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Christianity had zero to do with it."

I think you over-generalize here. Christianity was anything but a unified body at this time (heck, at any time!) and to say that Christianity had "zero" to do with the onset of the "Dark Ages" in science and learning is over-stretching. Doubting Thomas isn't held up in a favorable light in the Gospels; Jesus is made to say that those who do not doubt and do not ask for evidence before belief are blessed. According to traditional Christian belief no one will be condemned for believing without being given evidence to support that belief. However, condemnation follows for those who do not believe, even if they do not believe the evidence is sufficient to validate the belief. Yes, it is true that there were quite a number of intellectual Christians who pursued reason and science as a means to find God, but let's be honest - these were a minority. The vast majority of Christians had little use for such niceties.

Which brings me back to Hypatia. You state unequivocally that her murder had nothing to do with science. I don't think you can make that claim as we simply have far too little evidence, especially when you consider that it was a mob that murdered her. I think you would agree that the members of this mob did not likely share in the intellectual abilities and mindset of Cyril or Socrates Scholasticus. The lower classes, who almost certainly made up the bulk of the mob that murdered Hypatia, have traditionally not had such an appreciation for learning, especially when that learning comes from a different tradition than the one they hold holy. I can easily see how quite a number of this mob might have considered pagan-derived science as scarcely different from paganism itself and that this may have been the source of her opposition to their man, Cyril. It should be noted as well that Socrates Scholasticus interpretation of her death as due to politics and not religion would be an interpretation that his own beliefs would favor, while he would have good reason to downplay any religious motives he may have been aware of, given that this would place in conflict his religion and love for his fellow Christians, as well as his respect for this woman and her learning. Similar conflicts of interest are common today with scientifically-minded Christians often trying to distance themselves from Creationists and IDers, to the point of having them deny that the Creationists and IDers are actually basing their scientific beliefs on the Scriptures they share in common.

The bottom line is that as with most ancient history, we simply don't have a lot of hard facts. While the movie Agora is simply following a lot of unsubstantiated claims, I think we should be hesitant to make too many certain statements ourself in the light of this paucity of evidence.

Again, thanks for the site and the food for thought. Cheers!

Tim O'Neill said...

Stanley Guenter said...

... So I have quite enjoyed your ability to maintain yourself as an atheist while still being able to recognize the anti-church bias in so much of modern media and academia.

Thanks.


I think you over-generalize here. Christianity was anything but a unified body at this time (heck, at any time!) and to say that Christianity had "zero" to do with the onset of the "Dark Ages" in science and learning is over-stretching.


The Dark Ages are a western European phenomenon, whereas Christianity was as strong, or even stronger, in the east as well. Anyone wanting to argue that Christianity was somehow even partly responsible for the Dark Ages needs to explain, therefore, why they happened in the west and not in the even more Christianised east also. In the east the Classical intellectual tradition continued much as it always had. Christian scholars continued to study at the academies of Constantinople and Alexandria, continued to read Homer and produce commentaries on Aristotle and preserved the learning that later, via the Arabs, revived learning in the west after the Dark Ages.

The difference between the east and the west was the fact that the Empire collapsed catastrophically in the west and survived in the east. That was what caused the collapse of western learning, not Christianity.

Doubting Thomas isn't held up in a favorable light in the Gospels; Jesus is made to say that those who do not doubt and do not ask for evidence before belief are blessed. According to traditional Christian belief no one will be condemned for believing without being given evidence to support that belief. However, condemnation follows for those who do not believe, even if they do not believe the evidence is sufficient to validate the belief. Yes, it is true that there were quite a number of intellectual Christians who pursued reason and science as a means to find God, but let's be honest - these were a minority. The vast majority of Christians had little use for such niceties.

Those who pursued reason and science had always formed a tiny minority, so nothing changed there. Yes, Christianity had an anti-intellectual tradition, as expressed by several early Church Fathers. But, as I explained in my review of Freeman's book, that strand of Christianity lost the debate. In both east and west by the Fifth Century the attitude of Christianity to learning and science was that of Clement of Alexandria and Augustine - "pagan" learning was like the "gold of the Egyptians", to be taken and used by the faithful, not rejected. The hiatus in the west was caused by the near total collapse of civilisation. Once the effects of that collapse had declined, western Christians went in search of the learning they had lost precisely because of this tradition of reason and inquiry.

Which brings me back to Hypatia. You state unequivocally that her murder had nothing to do with science. I don't think you can make that claim as we simply have far too little evidence, especially when you consider that it was a mob that murdered her.

Sorry, but we have sufficient evidence to know what that crowd's motive was: revenge for the torture to death of a monk who supported Cyril. We can't simply assume some other or additional motive, based on no evidence, just because we want to.

Tim O'Neill said...

Part II

Similar conflicts of interest are common today with scientifically-minded Christians often trying to distance themselves from Creationists and IDers, to the point of having them deny that the Creationists and IDers are actually basing their scientific beliefs on the Scriptures they share in common.

That's projecting modern conflicts onto the past without any supporting evidence. You can't simply assume that this kind of conflict was involved with Hypatia's death unless there is some evidence that it was. There isn't. We do have evidence of what caused her death - civic politics. A historian sticks to the evidence and doesn't indulge in wishful projection.

The bottom line is that as with most ancient history, we simply don't have a lot of hard facts.

We have enough hard facts to see a motive for her murder - -politics. Inventing other motives without evidence is not history, it's polemical fantasy. And to be avoided.

Again, thanks for the site and the food for thought. Cheers!

You're welcome.

heich1 said...

First Socrates Scholasticus was not the only commentater on Hypatia.There was was another comentater called John of Nikiu who said that Hypatia used Satanic
means to influence Orestes and that is why she was killed.
Also will you explain there were no significant mathematicians or scientists in the Byzantine Empire
(Eastern Roman Empire) even though it lasted more than 1000 years after Hypatia's murder.

Tim O'Neill said...

First Socrates Scholasticus was not the only commentater on Hypatia.There was was another comentater called John of Nikiu who said that Hypatia used Satanic
means to influence Orestes and that is why she was killed.


John of Nikiu's lurid account dates to centuries after the fact and is not reflected in the sources that were either contemporary or near-contemporary. Sorry, but you can't ignore the sources that are close to the event and then just decide to accept one written centuries later - that's absurd.

Also will you explain there were no significant mathematicians or scientists in the Byzantine Empire
(Eastern Roman Empire) even though it lasted more than 1000 years after Hypatia's murder.


And that is garbage. With a few exceptions, Roman mathematics and science had been declining steadily in sophistication and output from at least the First Century onwards. But a tradition of commentaries and elaboration on Greek science continued, especially amongst Neo-Platontic thinkers. Hypatia was part of that tradition and it continued for centuries in the academies of Alexandria and Constantinople after her death.

John Philoponus's commentaries on Aristotelian physics, Dioscorides's herbal (De Materia Medica) and commentaries on ptolomeic geography and astronomy are amongst the fruits of this tradition. Puerbach and Regiomontanus's Epitome of the Almagest exercised a strong influence on Nicolaus Copernicus. And it was the scholars of the period after Hypatia who preserved and passed on the texts of the Greek scientists to the Arab world and so ensured they found their way back to Europe in the Twelfth Century.

Stop trying to cling to myths and go educate yourself about the real history of science. It's much more rich and interesting than the cartoon version you seem to be trying to maintain.

heich1 said...

Were any of the Byzantine Empire
scientists equal in importance to Menelaus, Ptolemy Claudius, Diophantus, and Pappus? The last two anyhow were after the first century? What was the reason they were not? The difference was the power of Christianity.

Tim O'Neill said...

Were any of the Byzantine Empire
scientists equal in importance to Menelaus, Ptolemy Claudius, Diophantus, and Pappus?


Yes

The last two anyhow were after the first century?

And they were about the only such scientists in that period. Yet at that point Christianity was a tiny, marginalised and persecuted sect. So what was "holding back" science then, because compared to the scientific "dark ages" of the Second to Fourth Century, the Byzantine period was a riot of activity.

The difference was the power of Christianity.

So you keep trying to assert. Despite the fact that from the later First Century to the end of the Fourth Century you can barely come up with more than a handful of names of scientists of any worth. Yet you can't attribute that to Christianity.

Give up. Your thesis makes no sense.

heich1 said...

I am sorry I am bothering you again. I am distingishing between scientists and mathematicians who were able to do original work, i.e. making a new discovery that was unknown before and those who wrote commentaries, i.e. reported what others had done before. Therefore I will repeat the question, where there any scientists and mathematicans during the Byzantine Period who did original work and if there were
would please give their names. Two
such people over three centuries is better than none over ten.

Tim O'Neill said...

I am sorry I am bothering you again. I am distingishing between scientists and mathematicians who were able to do original work, i.e. making a new discovery that was unknown before and those who wrote commentaries, i.e. reported what others had done before.

So am I. John Philoponus' critiques of Aristotle were highly significant and represented substantial and influential new work. Impetus theory, which was to be highly influential on later Arabic and European physcists, derived from Philoponus' analysis and correction of some of Aristotle's assumptions, for example. And many other assumptions made by Aristotle and by neo-Platonic thinkers were questioned and adjusted by Byzantine scholars in the same way.

In other words, the rate of such new work continued more or less as it had been going for several centuries before Christianity became dominant. Nothing changed. That's why this "conflict thesis" of some kind of war between Christianity and science has been rejected by modern historians of science. Christianity did not stifle science at all. That is a Nineteenth Century myth.

Mogi said...

I came on your discussion by chance and I'd like to thank you all for sharing such a detailed knowledge and opinions on the topic.

Mogi Vicentini

Judith Weingarten said...

Sorry to be so late to the discussion but Tenthmedieval just sent me the link in a comment on my post today, Hypatia Hits the Big Screen. A pity I hadn't seen it earlier.

On the whole, I agree with you but I think Stanley's point is excellent: there is a sharp difference between what the rabble thinks (and I must include those fast-maddened monk in the 'rabble') and their leaders. You will admit, I hope, that Cyril was hotheaded and intolerant, though, as is shown by his 'canonization' of the monk who threw a stone at the governor, Orestes.
Similarly, I would not ignore the testimony of John, Bishop of Nikui (that Hypatia was a sorcerer), just because he's writing 7th C. It represents another strand of Christian thought.
Thanks for an excellent post.

Tim O'Neill said...

On the whole, I agree with you but I think Stanley's point is excellent: there is a sharp difference between what the rabble thinks (and I must include those fast-maddened monk in the 'rabble') and their leaders.

What motives the rabble may have had is in the realm of baseless speculation, not history. Perhaps some, all or a few of them hated Hypatia because of her learning or her paganism. Or perhaps none did. In the absence of a time machine and some kind of mind-reading device, we can never know. Assuming that they did so and that therefore the myth about Hypatia's death has some basis isn't my idea of how to do history, sorry.

Similarly, I would not ignore the testimony of John, Bishop of Nikui (that Hypatia was a sorcerer), just because he's writing 7th C. It represents another strand of Christian thought.

It represents the prejudices and ignorance of a much later strand of Christian thought and it doesn't square at all with accounts that were far closer to the events. So I don't "ignore" it, but I do dismiss its usefulness as a source. At best it tells us how the myth of Hypatia began to develop and not much more.

Judith Weingarten said...

I wouldn't call it 'baseless speculation', Tim. The key part of that 'rabble' (the monks from Nitria) had form. They had been armed by Cyril's predecessor Theophilus, as his 'shock troops' in earlier battles against pagans and heretics. Socrates S specifically says that they were 'transported with ardent zeal' when they attacked Orestes and 'hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal' when they murdered Hypatia.

The accusation of 'sorcery' against one who inquires into the origin of things is hardly new in the 7th C. Start with Lucius Apuleius' defence against some similar charges in the 2nd C. As he said then, "it is a fairly common misunderstanding by which the uneducated accuse philosophers." So, perhaps not part of Hypatia's myth, but another strand of thought, as I suggested.

Tim O'Neill said...

I wouldn't call it 'baseless speculation', Tim. The key part of that 'rabble' (the monks from Nitria) had form. They had been armed by Cyril's predecessor Theophilus, as his 'shock troops' in earlier battles against pagans and heretics. Socrates S specifically says that they were 'transported with ardent zeal' when they attacked Orestes and 'hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal' when they murdered Hypatia.

They were zealous in furthering the aims of the bishop. All the evidence indicates that the bishop’s aims against Orestes were political, since Orestes was a fellow Christian. And all the evidence indicates that the attack on Hypatia was in the context of the political tussle with Orestes. So their “form” doesn’t give us any reason to think that their motives here were anti-pagan or anti-science. The evidence indicates that their motives were anti-Orestes.

The accusation of 'sorcery' against one who inquires into the origin of things is hardly new in the 7th C.

Did I say it was? The fact remains that there is no hint of this motive in the earlier sources about her death. So it seems to simply reflect how a Seventh Century writer would have seen a (to him) bizarre and exotic figure – a scholar who was not only a pagan but a woman. We simply can’t read his later prejudices back into the earlier sources, which show no sign of such attitudes.

TonyTheProf said...

I still remember coming across Dzielska's Hypatia of Alexandria a few years ago and being blown away by the detailed painstaking work she did piecing together the sources and presenting a nuanced picture of the whole scene in Alexandria at the time.

But myths - such as the Sagan version - tend to persist. Look at other myths which persist despite the best efforts of historians (1) the idea that the ancients (and sometimes up to and including the sailors with Columbus) believed the earth was flat (2) the idea that the witch craze was an attack by Christianity against an underground pagan movement (3) the exchange between TH Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce(4) the idea that the naturalist on the Beagle was Charles Darwin.

Films are very bad at this. I still remember Mel Gibson's atrocious film where he had the Romans speek Latin, whereas if he'd done any homework, he would have known they would be speaking Greek. And on the subject, Dan Brown's latest book introduces the letter H into Greek. Which is I suppose fractionaly better than Digital Fortress which has a 12 ton Enigma Machine!

Even contemporary stuff is wrong. Watching "A Beatiful Mind", one would be forgiven for thinking John Nash had visual hallucinations; he didn't - they were just auditory.

Judith Weingarten said...

the bishop’s aims against Orestes were political, since Orestes was a fellow Christian

But Socrates S. tells us that the monks accused Orestes of being an idolater (i.e. pagan) and hurled other insults whereupon Ammonius threw the stone. It's quite possible that Cyril though he was playing politics, but the monks had their own issues.

The accusation of 'sorcery' against one who inquires into the origin of things is hardly new in the 7th C.

Did I say it was?


Well, yes, implicitly: It represents the prejudices and ignorance of a much later strand of Christian thought ...

... and it doesn't square at all with accounts that were far closer to the events.

I think you take too literal a view of what Socrates S said, certainly if you read the monks' "zeal" --whether "ardent" or "fierce and bigoted" -- as purely political (rather as Joe the Plumber might be said to be zealous). Anyway, Socrates S., too, certainly had his own agenda, and what he says and doesn't say is rather too much for a blog comment.

Thanks for this interesting post ... and comments.

Tim O'Neill said...

But Socrates S. tells us that the monks accused Orestes of being an idolater (i.e. pagan) and hurled other insults whereupon Ammonius threw the stone.

And since we know that Orestes wasn't a pagan then we know that this is all this epiphet was - an insult.

It's quite possible that Cyril though he was playing politics, but the monks had their own issues.

Sorry, but you’re reading that into the evidence. The monks’ issue was that Orestes was obstructing their guy in his attempt at flexing some more political muscle and challenging the prefect for political dominance. That’s all the evidence indicates.

The accusation of 'sorcery' against one who inquires into the origin of things is hardly new in the 7th C.

Did I say it was?

Well, yes, implicitly: It represents the prejudices and ignorance of a much later strand of Christian thought ...


Then you’ve misunderstood what I was saying. I wasn’t claiming that this accusation was unknown before the Seventh Century. I was simply pointing out that a Seventh Century Christian would never have met a pagan, let alone a female one who was also a scholar. Such an exotic and remote figure would have been a bogeyman for such a writer, whereas she would not be (and clearly wasn’t) for the contemporary writers. So John of Nikui’s projection of dark and evil aspects onto Hypatia makes sense. But the fact that there is no hint of anything similar in the earlier sources indicates that it reflects his own fears and ignorance, which are to be expected given when he was writing, and not some historical accusation against Hypatia.

I think you take too literal a view of what Socrates S said, certainly if you read the monks' "zeal" --whether "ardent" or "fierce and bigoted" -- as purely political (rather as Joe the Plumber might be said to be zealous).

Sorry, but reading what the sources actually say rather than projecting what I’d like them to mean is what proper historians do. You’re projecting ideas that simply aren’t there onto evidence. However much you want Hypatia to have been a martyr for paganism/science/learning/whatever, that isn’t in the evidence. End of story.

Judith Weingarten said...

End of story? I rather doubt it.

For one thing, I wonder how you know from our meagre sources not only what John of Nikui was thinking when he wrote his words, but what the maddened monks were not thinking (only politics! nothing else) when they murdered Hypatia.

For another thing, what is your evidence for claiming that I "want Hypatia to have been a martyr for paganism/science/learning/whatever"? What in my blog text supports that statement?

End of my comments. We've carried on long enough :-)

Javier Chacón said...

Well, if you really watch the movie, the truth is that two leader of Christian groups fight is shown. The fact of science is not as much a cause of her death as Cirilo jealosy.

In fact, what Cirilo hates about Hypatia is that she has influences in Orestes, and the final explanation he uses to convince the rest to kill Hypatia was "a man can't be influenced by any women".

By the way, Hypatia discovers something new that no one knows, and she is killed before she can tell anyone what she discovered, but a slave and the killers, that use it just as a "final joke", as they were going to kill her anyway. So, the way Christians avoid science evolution is just a bad luck thing. They didn't like her to refuse God and love science, of course, but it's not the motive of murderer, that is really that fight between Christians, a politic thing.

I guess you could watch it anyway, and make up your own idea instead of just reading others talking about it. And by the way, it's not Hollywood, I know you are just using it as a "bad movies" label, but it's an Spanish movie (and I'm Spanish, so I apologize for my English).

Cid, o Campeador said...

Hi Tim,

I suggest you to return to the IMDb message board of Agora, because some idiot just posted there this piece of pseudo-historical nonsense: "It was high time someone put christianism in its place. Loved it.
We had more than a thousand years of scientific blackout due to christianism, this is outrageous. So much knowledge gone to waste."

WTF?! It's really amazing how many people believe that it was the rise of Christianity that caused the so-called "Dark Ages" and propagate this nonsense as historical fact. What's the matter with History teachers these days?

Dan said...

"What's the matter with History teachers these days?"

They are now, finnaly, independent of biased governamental pressures based on western christian/catholic fascism.

I know because I was a victim of that educational system during my childhood. Those cowards used the fact that "we" were children to teach us catholic religion during intervals. What little children will question a nice lady that brings candys and books with stories - and as the aproval of your own teachers?

And this is was in the end of the 80s... of the 20th century, in a EU country! One can only imagine how it must have been in the early middle ages!

Cid, o Campeador said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cid, o Campeador said...

"They are now, finnaly, independent of biased governamental pressures based on western christian/catholic fascism."

Tell me, do you truly think that Christianity had something to do with the general decrease in literacy in Western Europe during the period 500-1000 AD?? If so, can you explain please why the very Christian Byzantine Empire (which was even more christianized than the West) was not also affected by this particular phenomenon?
Anyway, here are a couple of books which might help your understanding of this historical period:

Regine Pernoud, Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths


Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages:Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts

And concerning the Byzantine Empire, I would recommend:

Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire


Note: all these books contain real history done by real scholars (sharp, objective and unbiased) and not some kind of ideologically driven piece of pseudo-historical fantasy like the one you seem to indulge in. Good reading!

Caturo said...

The incident was generally regarded with horror and disgust by Christians, with Socrates Scholasticus making his feelings about it quite clear:»

Actually, the bishop John of Nikiu (seventh century) condemned Hypatia and supported her murder. And a bishop is a lot more important and representative than a simple historian.

Tim O'Neill said...

Caturo wrote:

Actually, the bishop John of Nikiu (seventh century) condemned Hypatia and supported her murder. And a bishop is a lot more important and representative than a simple historian.

John of Niku was writing hundreds of years later, when the very idea of a female pagan philosopher was incomprehensible. His comments have no historical value as to the attitudes of the time at all. Try to examine the evidence in context before commenting.

mamiel said...

I'm not really sure what you are trying to say in this post. I agree that we don't know the reasons for the destruction of the library in Alexandria, but we can't rule out Christian fanaticism as a possible cause.

Hypatia was caught up in between warring factions of Christians at a time when Christians were persecuting Jews and Hellenic polytheists. If she were Christian she would have been spared. This is a story of Christian persecution in the name of the "one true God". Nothing new there. During this time pagan temples were destroyed and Jews persecuted. Hypatia was, in my thinking, one of many polytheistic victims of Christian fanaticism.

Caturo said...

Actually, you didn't even care to examine the arguments of John of Nikiu - no, it was not just a matter of being a woman, but also of being a Pagan.
Moreover, the argument that the coptic bishop lived hundreds of years later is in this case not important, since the Christian intolerance against Paganism was already in scene in Hypatia time. Actually, the cleric responsible for her death, Cyril, was sainted.

Tim O'Neill said...

mamile said:

I'm not really sure what you are trying to say in this post.

Really? I would have thought it was pretty obvious that I was saying this movie is distorting history.

I agree that we don't know the reasons for the destruction of the library in Alexandria, but we can't rule out Christian fanaticism as a possible cause.

"Reasons" aren't the issue. The issue is when the destruction happened and by whom. The EVIDENCE indicates that the Great Library didn't exist in this period and that there was no library in the Serapeum. That's why Ammianus talked about how the Serapeum had housed a library in the past and why none of the accounts of the destruction of the Serapeum mentions any library or books being destroyed. The whole idea that the destruction of the Serapeum was, somehow, a destruction of "the Great Library" is a myth however you cut it. A myth this movie perpetuates.

Hypatia was caught up in between warring factions of Christians at a time when Christians were persecuting Jews and Hellenic polytheists.

But the warring factions in question were warring over political supremacy, not religion.

If she were Christian she would have been spared.

Really? And you have evidence to back up that remarkable statement? The monk who threw a rock at Orestes was a Christian and he wasn't "spared". Orestes had him tortured to death. So Cyril's boys snatched Hypatia and did the same to her in revenge. Religion had nothing to do with it.

This is a story of Christian persecution in the name of the "one true God". Nothing new there.

So people keep insisting. Yet they can't provide any evidence to back this up. Her death was political.

During this time pagan temples were destroyed and Jews persecuted.

That had zero to do with her murder. Read the sources.

Hypatia was, in my thinking, one of many polytheistic victims of Christian fanaticism.

The actual evidence says otherwise. Your "thinking" is a fantasy.

Judith Weingarten said...

Mamiel, Caturo, and others,

You are wasting your time trying to argue with Tim O'Neill. He's an "amateur historian", and that's a breed dedicated to knowing what historians can't know or don't want to know. Presumably, years of study only make you elitist or conspiratorial or whatever.

Tim O'Neill said...

Caturo said:

Actually, you didn't even care to examine the arguments of John of Nikiu - no, it was not just a matter of being a woman, but also of being a Pagan.

Which I noted in my last comment. Yes, a bishop writing hundreds of years later in a period where a female pagan scholar was (i) unknown and (ii) a bogeyman highlighted that as the reason for her death. But the CONTEMPORARY sources did not. If any of the sources of the time said something similar then we could pay attention to Nikiu and figure he was drawing on some source, knowledge or sentiment of Hypatia's time. But they don't. So it's clear he's simply imposing the prejudices of his own time on the story.

Moreover, the argument that the coptic bishop lived hundreds of years later is in this case not important, since the Christian intolerance against Paganism was already in scene in Hypatia time.

Show me where this is found in any of the contemporary accounts of her death.

Actually, the cleric responsible for her death, Cyril, was sainted.

And the relevance of that would be ... ?

Caturo said...

«Yes, a bishop writing hundreds of years later in a period where a female pagan scholar was (i) unknown and (ii) a bogeyman highlighted that as the reason for her death. But the CONTEMPORARY sources did not.»

Your problem is that there is not much difference, in the context, between contemporary and a few centuries later. Especially because the bishop is Egyptian.


«If any of the sources of the time said something similar»

Well, Damascius was born in the same century that Hypatia was murdered and he blames the Christian intolerance, including Cyril.


«then we could pay attention to Nikiu»

We could and we can, for this no reason at all why the Christians would collectively change their mind concerning the Pagans.


«Show me where this is found in any of the contemporary accounts of her death»

It's quite simple - the conflicts between Christians and Pagans in the city were quite common, as the film clearly, and intelligently, shows.


Actually, the cleric responsible for her death, Cyril, was sainted.

«And the relevance of that would be ... ?»

That a man blamed for such a nauseating murder could notwithstanding be considered a saint.

Tim O'Neill said...

Caturo said:

Your problem is that there is not much difference, in the context, between contemporary and a few centuries later. Especially because the bishop is Egyptian.

Sorry, how is this my "problem"? Nikiu wrote centuries later and is the only source to attribute her death to anything to do with her paganism or her learning. The contemporary sources, which are far more detailed and which TELL us the motive was political, don't so much as hint this. So how the hell can you dismiss this as "not much difference". It's an enormous difference and it kills your argument dead.

Well, Damascius was born in the same century that Hypatia was murdered and he blames the Christian intolerance, including Cyril.

Garbage. Damascius says Cyril's motive was jealousy and rivalry and make absolutely no mention of "Christian intolerance". His exact words:

"When Cyril learned this he was so struck with envy that he immediately began plotting her murder."

Envy. Clear enough for you? Stop reading what you would like to be the case into the evidence.

That a man blamed for such a nauseating murder could notwithstanding be considered a saint.

You still haven't explained the relevance of that to anything I'm saying. And if you're bothered by Cyril being made a saint, I'd suggest you take that up with a Christian, not with me.

Tim O'Neill said...

Judith Weingarten said:

You are wasting your time trying to argue with Tim O'Neill. He's an "amateur historian", and that's a breed dedicated to knowing what historians can't know or don't want to know. Presumably, years of study only make you elitist or conspiratorial or whatever.

What a bizarre comment. I have no idea why you think I need some kind of scolding about the value of the work of professional scholars, since this whole blog is devoted to reviews of books by just such people (well, mostly).

But your comment above is even more weird given that the only major study of Hypatia by a professional scholar - that of Maria Dzielska - comes to precisely the same conclusions that I do. Dzielska also details how the idea that Hypatia was a martyr for paganism/science/feminism/whatever is a persistent pot-Enlightenment myth.

And it seems to be a powerful and important one to many to this day, judging on the number of people who stop by here to insist she was a martyr in defiance of the evidence.

So, given the professional historians are on my side, what was your snide little sneering point again?

TonyTheProf said...

On Sagan, in "The Demon Haunted World", he claims that "the skeptical, enquiring, experimental method" came from the Ancient Greeks.

Yes as Armand Leroy showed with Aristotle, when it came to the natural world Aristotle was an keen and sharp observationist (who would dissect to seek better observations), but had no idea of experimental method - which is why he got it wrong with spontaneous generation (biology) and the motion of a falling object (physics). And when Francesco Redi looked at spontaneous generation, he tested the idea by a controlled experiment.

Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield in "The Fabric of the Heavens" show how the Greeks observed, computed and argued, but with rare exceptions, did not experiment, i.e., construct tests of theory.

And while Aristarchus of Samos (whom Sagan mentions in Cosmos) proposed a heliocentric view, he was only one of two Greeks who did so, and while he made extremely good calculations of solar distances, he did not consider or argue how to test his theory experimentally against the geocentric one.

Experimental methods really only began to take off in the Arab world of the early Middle Ages, so for Sagan to place it in ancient Greece is anachronistic, to say the least.

Caturo said...

«Nikiu wrote centuries later»

That's of secondary importance, since the Christian intolerance was the same.


«and is the only source to attribute her death to anything»

How many sources do you have?


«The contemporary sources,»

Wait - how many sources do you have, besided Socrates Scholasticus?


««which are far more detailed»

Well, the Socrates Scholasticus' account is not far more deitalled that Nikiu's version.


«and which TELL us the motive was political,»

Yes, and Nikiu TELL us that the motive was not only political but mainly religious. So what?


«So how the hell can you dismiss this as "not much difference"»

As I did just now, again.


«It's an enormous difference»

No, it is not.


«and it kills your argument dead»

No, your problem is that it does not.

Caturo said...

Well, Damascius was born in the same century that Hypatia was murdered and he blames the Christian intolerance, including Cyril.

«Damascius says Cyril's motive was jealousy and rivalry and make absolutely no mention of "Christian intolerance"»

Actually, the reference to the Christian intolerance is implicit:

"Thus it happened one day that Cyril, bishop of the opposition sect [i.e. Christianity] was passing by Hypatia's house, and he saw a great crowd of people and horses in front of her door. Some were arriving, some departing, and others standing around. When he asked why there was a crowd there and what all the fuss was about, he was told by her followers that it was the house of Hypatia the philosopher and she was about to greet them. When Cyril learned this he was so struck with envy that he immediately began plotting her murder and the most heinous form of murder at that."

So, even in that case your theory is not supported.

"When Cyril learned this he was so struck with envy that he immediately began plotting her murder."

«Envy. Clear enough for you?»

What is clear, really clear, is that you felt the need to cut the previous part, explaining WHY was he «jealous». No, it was not just a personal issue, but a «jealousy» due to Christian natural intolerance, the constant hate for the possibility that a non Christian could be socially and culturally important.


That a man blamed for such a nauseating murder could notwithstanding be considered a saint.

«You still haven't explained the relevance of that to anything»

Well, it was obvious, but, apparently, you need an explanation: if Socrates Scholasticus account that the murder was contrary to Christian tolerance was valuable, such a murderer like Cyril would never have be sainted.

Caturo said...

Moreover, contrary to what you said, the temple of Serapis did have a part of the Alexandria library, which, again contrary to what you said, was not over after Caesar's fire.

Tim O'Neill said...

The fanatics continue:

«Nikiu wrote centuries later»

That's of secondary importance, since the Christian intolerance was the same.


That's simply assuming your own conclusion. No Christian intolerance is found in Socrates' account nor in Damascius' slightly later one. Which is why you're desperately clinging to this one from centuries later.

Yes, and Nikiu TELL us that the motive was not only political but mainly religious. So what?

So why are you ignoring the clear evidence from the contemporary account of Socrates that the motive was NOT political and paying attention to something written centuries later? Oh yes - that's why: your ideological bias.

Well, Damascius was born in the same century that Hypatia was murdered and he blames the Christian intolerance

Garbage.

Actually, the reference to the Christian intolerance is implicit:


"Implicit" so long as you use Jeremiah Reedy's translation, which helpfully reads in this idea that Cyril's envy was somehow religious rather than political. Oh, and helpfully adds the words "[i.e. Christianity]" to his translation "the opposition sect" just to make this interpretation perfectly clear.

Except this is not what the Greek says at all. Here's the key section from the Suda:

... τὸν ἐπισκοποῦντα τὴν ἀντικειμένην αἵρεσιν Κύριλλον ...

And the key word here is αἵρεσιν. Does it specifically mean "sect", as in a religious group? No, it doesn't. The word literally means "choice, opinion" and is from the verb αἱρέομαι, meaning "to take or choose". And it refers to any group who has chosen a position in opposition to that chosen by others - a philosophical school, a religious group or a political faction.

And we already know from Socrates Scholasticus that Cyril was the head of "the opposing faction" - the political faction that opposed his fellow Christian and political rival Orestes. The same Orestes who counted Hypatia amongst his supporters.

So translating αἵρεσιν as "sect" and then adding "[i.e. Christianity]" skews the interpretation of the what the text says. It doesn't say "(religious) sect" at all - it uses a much broader term. And Damascius' account fits quite happily with that of Socrates - Cyril was motivated by his political rivalry with Orestes. He makes no reference to any religious motives, which have to be read into the text to make them magically appear in the translation. They aren't there in the Greek.

Well, it was obvious, but, apparently, you need an explanation: if Socrates Scholasticus account that the murder was contrary to Christian tolerance was valuable, such a murderer like Cyril would never have be sainted.

Apart from not being coherent or literate as English, that sentence doesn't even make logical sense.

Tim O'Neill said...

And so it goes on ...:

Moreover, contrary to what you said, the temple of Serapis did have a part of the Alexandria library, which, again contrary to what you said, was not over after Caesar's fire.

Really? And you just jumped in your time machine and found this out, did you? I go over the evidence that it didn't contain any library by the time it came to be destroyed in my post. Simply shouting "IT DID!" doesn't make the fact that Ammianus referred to a library having been in IN THE PAST TENSE suddenly go away.

I didn't say it was wholly destroyed by the fire in Caesar's time anyway:

"More likely this and/or other fires were part of a long process of decline and degradation of the collection."

Please stop wasting my time with this dribble. You clearly don't have a clue and are now just having a little hissy fit. Go away.

Judith Weingarten said...

Catura, I told you that you were wasting your time. 'Amateurs' are remarkably certain of their interpretations and know exactly what our meagre sources really mean. That's what Charles Freeman was trying to explain in connection with another post.

Tim, before you scold people whose native language may not be English for poor sentence structure, you might also correct your 'dribble' (unless you are foaming at the mouth) to 'drivel' which, if I may be allowed to interpret, is what you meant to say.

Caturo said...

«That's simply assuming your own conclusion. No Christian intolerance is found in Socrates' account nor in Damascius' slightly later one.»

That's blatantly wrong. The Christian intolerance is visible in Damascius' account.
And the fact that you so nervously try to deny it does not favour your fragile position.


«Which is why you're desperately linging to this one from centuries later.»

Actually, the despair is entirely yours, since, after all, your so-called «sources» is... one source... against two of mine.


Yes, and Nikiu TELL us that the motive was not only political but mainly religious. So what?

«So why are you ignoring the clear evidence from the contemporary account of Socrates that the motive was NOT political»

Make up your mind. Was it political or not?


«that's why: your ideological bias»

No, the ad hominem «argument» does not help you either. Especially because that one also turns against you, since your bias is evident since the first lines of your mediocre post, namely, but not only, in your hurry to discredit all the aspects of the film and in your feeble attempt of being sarcastic.


Well, Damascius was born in the same century that Hypatia was murdered and he blames the Christian intolerance

«Garbage»

No, solid argument. Deal with it.

Caturo said...

Actually, the reference to the Christian intolerance is implicit:

«"Implicit" so long as you use Jeremiah Reedy's translation, which helpfully reads in this idea that Cyril's envy was somehow religious rather than political. Oh, and helpfully adds the words "[i.e. Christianity]" to his translation "the opposition sect" just to make this interpretation perfectly clear.
Except this is not what the Greek says at all. Here's the key section from the Suda:
... τὸν ἐπισκοποῦντα τὴν ἀντικειμένην αἵρεσιν Κύριλλον ...
And the key word here is αἵρεσιν. Does it specifically mean "sect", as in a religious group? No, it doesn't. The word literally means "choice, opinion" and is from the verb αἱρέομαι, meaning "to take or choose". And it refers to any group who has chosen a position in opposition to that chosen by others - a philosophical school, a religious group or a political faction.»

Which, still, does not help you, for what is known is that Hypatia was not a Christian. Therefore, the most obvious conclusion, until further and more precise proof, Cyril acted out of religious intolerance.

Also, contrary to what you implied, and conveniently forgot to mention this time, the conflicts between Pagans and Christians were quite common in those days, in Alexandria.


«So translating αἵρεσιν as "sect" and then adding "[i.e. Christianity]" skews the interpretation of the what the text says. It doesn't say "(religious) sect" at all»

It does not say the contrary as well - and, given the religious context of Alexandria, it is quite plausible that Damascius was referring the known Christian intolerance.


«And Damascius' account fits quite happily with that of Socrates»

In your interpretation, only, not at it's face value.


Well, it was obvious, but, apparently, you need an explanation: if Socrates Scholasticus's account that the murder was contrary to Christian tolerance was correct, such a murderer like Cyril would never have been sainted.

«Apart from not being coherent»

Read it again.

Caturo said...

«Really? And you just jumped in your time machine and found this out, did you?»

No. I just read honestly, contrary to what you did.


«I go over the evidence that it didn't contain any library by the time it came to be destroyed in my post.»


And you go over wrongly: the Serapeum did have a part of the library of Alexandria.


«Simply shouting "IT DID!" doesn't make the fact that Ammianus referred to a library having been in IN THE PAST TENSE suddenly go away.»

The only one here who is shouting is you, only to divert attentions from your grotescque attitude of of giving a mere hypothesis as a proven fact. That is, again, poor scholarship of yours. The fact that the reference you quote is «IN THE PAST TENSE», as you so vividly yell, does NOT OBVIOUSLY MEAN that the library had gone entirely by the time that the temple was burned down by the Christian mob.

Tim O'Neill said...

The howling continues ...

Catura, I told you that you were wasting your time. 'Amateurs' are remarkably certain of their interpretations and know exactly what our meagre sources really mean.

You're an amateur when it comes to history as well Judith, so who exactly are you trying to smear here? And, as I pointed out to you already, the professional historian who has examined these "meagre sources" - Maria Dzielska - agrees with ME. You've fallen on your arse once with that feeble little jibe. Now it's twice. A third time for luck?

That's what Charles Freeman was trying to explain in connection with another post.

Sorry, all I saw in Freeman's meandering mumble was a long excuse for not actually tackling my critique of his flawed book. PS Freeman is also one of those horrid "amateurs".

you might also correct your 'dribble' (unless you are foaming at the mouth) to 'drivel' which, if I may be allowed to interpret, is what you meant to say.

I meant precisely what I said. And I clearly meant that it's this "Caturo" person who is doing the dribbling.

Now, unless you actually have something of substance to add rather than rather flaccid attempts at being slightly bitchy, you can now go away.

Goodbye.

Tim O'Neill said...

Mr "If I Say It Enough It Becomes True!" stated:

That's blatantly wrong. The Christian intolerance is visible in Damascius' account.

Where? In your imagination only. Damascius tells us that Cyril's motive was "envy". Nothing more. And he even notes that while "according to some, [this was the fault of] Cyril", he points out that others attributed it to "the inveterate insolence and rebelliousness of the Alexandrians".

No, the ad hominem «argument» does not help you either.

What frigging "ad hominem"? Your anti-Christian bias in this is perfectly blatant. What bias do I have? I'm an atheist, so if anything I should be inclined towards the idea that she was the victim of Christian intolerance. Except, unlike you, I'm looking at the sources objectively and making sure I don't read in things that aren't there or clutching at a later source simply because it says what I want the earlier ones to say.

Especially because that one also turns against you, since your bias is evident since the first lines of your mediocre post, namely, but not only, in your hurry to discredit all the aspects of the film and in your feeble attempt of being sarcastic.

What fucking twaddle. I only wanted to criticise ONE aspect of this film: its distortion of history and its perpetuation of this myth of Hypatia as some kind of martyr. And I do so because I don't like biases that warp the objective analysis of history.

Which, still, does not help you, for what is known is that Hypatia was not a Christian. Therefore, the most obvious conclusion, until further and more precise proof, Cyril acted out of religious intolerance.

That isn't the "most obvious conclusion", it's simply your assumption. Damascius says NOTHING about "religious intolerance", nor does he imply any such thing. You had to use Reedy's mistranslation to even try to pretend he does, but unfortunately for you αἵρεσιν doesn't specifically mean "sect". Damascius tells us Cyril's motive was "envy" and Socrates says explicitly "(Hypatia) fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed". So that's "envy" and "political jealousy" in BOTH of our earliest sources. Could they make it more clear to you? Open your eyes.

if Socrates Scholasticus's account that the murder was contrary to Christian tolerance was correct, such a murderer like Cyril would never have been sainted.

That still makes no sense.

The fact that the reference you quote is «IN THE PAST TENSE», as you so vividly yell, does NOT OBVIOUSLY MEAN that the library had gone entirely by the time that the temple was burned down by the Christian mob.

So Ammianus tells us that the Serapeum used to contain a library and then goes on in the very same sentence to talk about how the former Great Library was burned by Caesar. Yet - somehow - this sentence ISN'T telling us that it contained no library when Ammianus visited Alexandria? This makes sense to you?

And Rufinus Tyrannius, Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, Theodoret and Eunapius of Antioch all give us accounts of the destruction of the Serapeum, yet none of them so much as hint about any library or books being destroyed. Eunapius was a vehement anti-Christian, yet he somehow forgets to mention that this Christian mob not only destroyed a beautiful temple but also burned the last part of the Great Library of Alexandria. This all makes sense to you?

What absolute garbage. There is NO evidence that there was still any kind of library in the Serapeum when it was destroyed. Ammianus makes it perfectly clear that it no longer contained any book collection when he was there. Again, your warped bias has you imagining things that simply aren't in the evidence.

Caturo said...

«Catura, I told you that you were wasting your time. 'Amateurs' are remarkably certain of their interpretations and know exactly what our meagre sources really mean.»

Right on the mark, Judith. Actually, I was thinking precisely the same, it's typical of non academic observers to take as absolute certainties their feeble hypothesis.

Tim O'Neill said...

When will this bullshit stop?:

Right on the mark, Judith. Actually, I was thinking precisely the same, it's typical of non academic observers to take as absolute certainties their feeble hypothesis.

Yet again, I've got the academic who has devoted a whole monograph on Hypatia in history and myth on my side. In fact, I first got an inkling that the standard "Hypatia as martyr" story was crap from reading Dzielska's study. So who are the "non academic observers" in this little discussion again?

You've failed at every turn and your little friend hasn't even bothered to actually enter the debate and is simply squealing from the sidelines. Give up. Seriously, just give up.

Caturo said...

That's blatantly wrong. The Christian intolerance is visible in Damascius' account.

«Where? In your imagination only. Damascius tells us that Cyril's motive was "envy"´»

Wrong again. Your habilities as an «historian» are violently limited by your narrow analysis, quite common in pre-university students. Again, once and for all: the fact that Damascius use the word «envy» DOES NOT, by any mean, imply that it was just a personal matter, let alone a political matter - because, since we are chosing to be petty, well, no political dispute and fear of being politically defeated in the political arena is explained by the meaning of the word «envy».


«And he even notes that while "according to some, [this was the fault of] Cyril", he points out that others attributed it to "the inveterate insolence and rebelliousness of the Alexandrians".»

Oh really, but which Alexandrians? The Pagan Alexandrians? Certainly not. The Christians, evidently, just like Nikiu confirms.


«Your anti-Christian bias in this is perfectly blatant»

Actually, that is irrelevant after the blatant, and non informed, and mediocre, bias that you display against a film which you most probably did not see.

Caturo said...

«Except, unlike you, I'm looking at the sources objectively»

That you are not being objective is a given. Or else, I am discussing with a ten years old child who does not distinguish between hypothesis and certainties.


«clutching at a later source»

No, you are just dismissing a later source just because you don't like it. And what is more significant, and blatantly show your lack of academic background, is that you really believe to be acting brilliantly just by saying that «it's a later source!», as if it were enough.

What we do have in fact is:
- sources that can be interpreted differently according the different perspectives;
- a blatantly direct source, saying what you don't like to read.

That's all - objectively speaking.


«What fucking twaddle. I only wanted to criticise ONE»

Garbage. You even pick the hypothetical «old age» of Hypatia to say that Amenabar chosed a younger actress, as if all that he wanted was to be comercial. What is worst is that even there you have no certainties that allow you to accuse Amenabar of distorting anything.


«aspect of this film: its distortion of history»

Not a single distortion of history in the film.

Caturo said...

Which, still, does not help you, for what is known is that Hypatia was not a Christian. Therefore, the most obvious conclusion, until further and more precise proof, Cyril acted out of religious intolerance.

«That isn't the "most obvious conclusion", it's simply your assumption»

No, it's what Nikiu says.


«Damascius says NOTHING about "religious intolerance",»

He does imply it, according one of the translations available. Yours is different, which does not mean that yours is the right one, or that «sect» could not mean «religious PARTY».


«nor does he imply any such thing»

Yes, he does.


«Damascius tells us Cyril's motive was "envy"»

A word that you certainly do not understand in it's general meanings.


«and Socrates says explicitly "(Hypatia) fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed".»

Yes - but, unfortunately for you, he does not says that such «political jealousy» is not related to religion, and this is happening in a social a political context dominated by the hate between religions, including Paganism.
Also, "she became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in 400" (Wikipedia), and Platonism was not well accepted by the Christians at the time - actually, the Neoplathonic Academy was closed by Justinian, precisely because it was a center of Hellenism.


if Socrates Scholasticus's account that the murder was contrary to Christian tolerance was correct, such a murderer like Cyril would never have been sainted.

«That still makes no sense.»

Yes, it does - Socrates Scholasticus's word deserves some doubt, thus it cannot be accepted as a certainty. Also, he MIGHT be hiding something or trying to deny it.



The fact that the reference you quote is «IN THE PAST TENSE», as you so vividly yell, does NOT OBVIOUSLY MEAN that the library had gone entirely by the time that the temple was burned down by the Christian mob.

«So Ammianus tells us that the Serapeum used to contain a library and then goes on in the very same sentence to talk about how the former Great Library was burned by Caesar. Yet - somehow - this sentence ISN'T telling us that it contained no library when Ammianus visited Alexandria? This makes sense to you?»

What does not make any sense, not by a long shot, is to presume that the very place in which he SAID that there was a library, suddenly stops having a library, as if the books were, what?, eaten by mice?

It is quite evident: if one says that a famous public building containning a library was burned down, it is not needed to say that each piece inside was equally burned, it goes without saying.

So, according to yourself, Ammianus SAID that the Serapeum had a library. And that's ALL. No more talk about books. And you assume that suddenly there were no books at the library?

...

Now, that is utterly ridiculous.


«And Rufinus Tyrannius, Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, Theodoret and Eunapius of Antioch all give us accounts of the destruction of the Serapeum, yet none of them so much as hint about any library or books being destroyed.»

Same as above... unless you imply that Ammianus was lying when he mentioned the library at the Serapeum.


«Ammianus makes it perfectly clear that it no longer contained any book collection»

WHERE does Ammianus says that?

Caturo said...

«Yet again, I've got the academic who has devoted a whole monograph on Hypatia in history and myth on my side. In fact,»

Well, bring her then to the debate, because your arguments, in particular, are not convincing.


«You've failed at every turn»

No, I debased each and every one of your arguments and «objections» to the film. And that's what is irritating you so much.

JuliannaLees said...

I've just come home from seeing the film - which I ENJOYED despite certain longueurs interspersed with horribly violent scenes. I knew that the film was fiction and not a documentary but looked forward to the reconstructions of Alexandria. So I was not disappointed. Now I've had the fun of learning how it really was as my previous knowledge of Hypatia's story was tenuous.

I've had an enjoyable film experience, I've learnt a lot from reading your site, tomorrow I'll discuss the ins & outs with husband & friends - so what's the problem? Let's have more films like "Agora"!

Judith Weingarten said...

This is exhausting but, Tim, I am an academic (sorry for that) albeit 1) I have also written an historical novel [shock,horror] and it's true that my academic specialization is in an earlier period. Say what you will, though, I am not an 'amateur' and neither, in my opinion, is Charles Freeman.

I have read, by the way, Dzielska's excellent study. She handled the sources well but I still think she was wrong to take Socrates Scholasticus so literally -- as if he didn't have an agenda, too.

Tim O'Neill said...

The torrent continues ... :

Wrong again. Your habilities as an «historian» are violently limited by your narrow analysis, quite common in pre-university students.

I love the way you keep trying to throw out this kind of crap and then have the balls to accuse me of ad hominems. Newsflash: I have a Masters degree and Dzielska has a PhD. "Pre-university students"?

the fact that Damascius use the word «envy» DOES NOT, by any mean, imply that it was just a personal matter, let alone a political matter

Damascius says Cyril was motivated by "envy" and calls him part of "the opposing faction". Socrates tells us Hypatia was murdered as a result of "political jealousies". I'm simply going on what the earliest sources tell us. You, on the other hand, are reading in some religious element that simply isn't there.

Actually, that is irrelevant after the blatant, and non informed, and mediocre, bias that you display against a film which you most probably did not see.

It hasn't been released in Australia yet, so my comments were made about what the director of the film said he was trying to depict. Was he lying? And what "bias" am I supposed to have? What position do you think I hold that somehow makes me unreasonably "biased" agains this film?

That you are not being objective is a given.

Yet you can't explain what position I hold that would make me unobjective. I'm not a Christian, so it can't be that. What is it then?

Or else, I am discussing with a ten years old child who does not distinguish between hypothesis and certainties.

I can distinguish between what is most likely given what the evidence says vs some wishful thinking motivated by a biased, anti-Christian agenda.

No, you are just dismissing a later source just because you don't like it. And what is more significant, and blatantly show your lack of academic background, is that you really believe to be acting brilliantly just by saying that «it's a later source!», as if it were enough.

I have a rather solid academic background thanks, so you might want to drop that rather pathetic insult. If Nikiu's version had any support in the earlier source, I wouldn't be arguing with you on this at all. But he doesn't. The motives he imputes are found nowhere in either Damascius nor Socrates. And any history undergraduate would tell you that when you find something in a much later source that is not in the earlier sources, the later source is suspect.

You even pick the hypothetical «old age» of Hypatia to say that Amenabar chosed a younger actress, as if all that he wanted was to be comercial.

If Hypatia was older, then this is another historical inaccuracy. So this is inconsistent with my criticisms of the film's depiction of history ... how, exactly? You're making no sense.

What is worst is that even there you have no certainties that allow you to accuse Amenabar of distorting anything.

I said that "but Maria Dzielska argues this is 15-20 years too late and suggests AD 350 to be more accurate". Then I say that if this were true then "should perhaps be played by Helen Mirren rather than Rachel Weisz".

"Argues"? "Suggests?" "Perhaps"? I know your grasp of English is weak, but how even you can translate those words into "certainties". In other words, more petty misrepresentation on your part.

Tim O'Neill said...

Part II:

That isn't the "most obvious conclusion", it's simply your assumption

No, it's what Nikiu says


We're talking about what Damascius says.

He does imply it, according one of the translations available.

No, the translator choose to read that in by translating αἵρεσιν as "sect" rather than "faction" or simply "group". So the translator has skewed the text to make it mean something that isn't there.

or that «sect» could not mean «religious PARTY»

The word "sect" isn't in the text - the word is αἵρεσιν, which has a much broader meaning. Take "sect" out of the translation and give it its broader meaning and all religious implications disappear
and Socrates says explicitly "(Hypatia) fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed"

Yes - but, unfortunately for you, he does not says that such «political jealousy» is not related to religion


And over and over again your argument depends on what the texts don't say and your consistent assumption of what you'd like them to mean. Damascius doesn't say anything about religion, but you blithely read that into his text anyway. Socrates says nothing about religion either, but because he doesn't specifically say the politics weren't religious (?!! why would he do that?), you read that in there as well.

In other words, it doesn't matter what they say, you're still going to read in a religious motive because ... well, because if you don't your whole anti-Christian hissy fit falls on its face.

this is happening in a social a political context dominated by the hate between religions, including Paganism.

Which is irrelevant since both the factions involved in this particular dispute are Christian ones.

Also, "she became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in 400" (Wikipedia), and Platonism was not well accepted by the Christians at the time

Right. And this would be the head of the neo-Platonic school that Socrates praises for her wisdom and who counted Bishop Synesius amongst her admirers? This would be the neo-Platonism that Clement of Alexandria embraced and began to reconcile with Christian theology a full century and a half before Hypatia was even born? The neo-Platonism that had been brough to a synthesis with Christianity long before Hypatia's time?

Again, you have no idea what you're talking about.

the Neoplathonic Academy was closed by Justinian, precisely because it was a center of Hellenism.

Garbage. A neo-Platonic academy in Athens was closed by Justinian over a century after Hypatia's death because it had been founded by an anti-Christian and remained a centre of anti-Christian teachings. Other neo-Platonic schools remained open throughout the Empire, including the one in Alexandria. And neo-Platonism remained the primary philosophy system thought to underpin Christian theology.

Socrates Scholasticus's word deserves some doubt, thus it cannot be accepted as a certainty. Also, he MIGHT be hiding something or trying to deny it.

Again with the wishful thinking. "Faction" might mean "sect". "Political jealousy" might be a reference to religious rivalry. Socrates might be hiding something.

And you still haven't explained why some Christians like Socrates may have disapproved of Cyril and yet he could still become a saint. You do realise that there was no "canonisation" process in the Fifth Century don't you? If enough people in your home city came to call you a saint, you were a saint. That's all it required back then.

Tim O'Neill said...

Part III:

What does not make any sense, not by a long shot, is to presume that the very place in which he SAID that there was a library, suddenly stops having a library, as if the books were, what?, eaten by mice?

He says it had housed a library in the past. And then he refers to the burning of the Great Library. We know the Serapeum had suffered several fires in the past and had been rebuilt entirely at least once. Exactly how any library it had once housed came to be destroyed we aren't told, but Ammianus makes it clear that it didn't house any library when he was there. The fact the accounts of its final destruction don't mention any library supports this.

So, again, you're assuming something that is not only not there but is contradicted by what Ammianus says.

if one says that a famous public building containning a library was burned down, it is not needed to say that each piece inside was equally burned

So you're ignoring the fact that Ammianus, writing some years before the destruction of the Serapeum uses the past tense about it housing a library, are assuming it still did and then are assuming none of the five accounts of its destruction mentions that the remains of the fabled Great Library also went up in smoke because this somehow didn't need to be said?

Your capacity for seeing things in the texts that aren't there and ignoring things that are is nothing short of astonishing.

Well, bring her then to the debate, because your arguments, in particular, are not convincing.

I'm not sure that Dr Dzielska has a blogger account. And my arguments and her's are the same. Perhaps you can write a book full of all your "maybes" and "might haves" and "it's implied" bullshit and see if you can get an academic press to publish it. Or perhaps winged monkeys will fly out your arse.

Let's see which happens first.

Tim O'Neill said...

JuliannaLees said:

I've just come home from seeing the film - which I ENJOYED .... I knew that the film was fiction and not a documentary

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a "historical" film on that basis and with that realisation in mind. Hell, I enjoy far schlockier pseudo-historical movies all the time: I just watch them as fantasies.

so what's the problem?

The problem is that people tend not to do their homework on whether what they have seen in a "historical" film or read about as "history" in a novel is accurate, they usually just accept it. So when a director like Amenabar assures them what he's depicted all happened, they believe him. It was the same when Dan Brown assured millions that the so-called "history" in The Da Vinci Code was "all true", most believed him.

Most people get their grasp of history from popular culture. That's why most people believe Medieval people thought the world was flat - because Washington Irving made this up in a novel in 1828 and popular culture has been perpetuating the myth ever since.

That's the problem - the distortion of accurate history.

Tim O'Neill said...

Judith:

This is exhausting but, Tim, I am an academic (sorry for that) albeit 1) I have also written an historical novel [shock,horror] and it's true that my academic specialization is in an earlier period.

According to your profile, your field is archaeology, not history. Mine is Medieval literature, not history. I have no doubt you've studied history in the course of your degrees, but then so have I. And I've also taught at university level.

So I am about as qualified as you, have about as much training in history as you and have even been a professional academic in the past. So stop the pathetic sneering about how I don't have the training or background to engage in this kind of analysis - I have as much as you do.

I am not an 'amateur' and neither, in my opinion, is Charles Freeman.

Perhaps you have a paid teaching or research position at an accredited university, but Freeman doesn't. So he's an amateur, like me. Amateurs can do excellent work, so there's nothing wrong with being an amateur scholar. Your rather pathetic attempts at school yard bitchiness tried to imply I don't have the background or training to do the kind of analysis I do here. You were totally wrong.

So unless you have something of substance and relevance to add to this discussion, you can now butt out.

Goodbye.

TonyTheProf said...

I think you are always going to get a degree of oversimplification and distortion in film; it's that kind of medium. Look at even recent history - "The Dish" (about the Australian relaying the Apollo signal from the moon) distorted some of what had occurred, while anyone watching "A Beautiful Mind" would never think that John Nash's hallucinations were auditory, and not visual as portrayed in the film. I've seen countless dramatised TV and film versions of the TH Huxley/Bishop Wilberforce debate, which is almost certainly a case of "spin" by Huxley.

If recent history and people can be distorted in film, then I don't think too much sleep should be lost over the film about Hypatia. Those that are interested will come across your site, and the excellent book by Maria Dzielska, which will show the limitations of the film.

Tim O'Neill said...

Tony wrote:

Those that are interested will come across your site, and the excellent book by Maria Dzielska, which will show the limitations of the film.

Absolutely. It's not like I'm picketing theatres or trying to boycott the film. Hell, I wrote a fucking blog post, I did't shoot the director.

What is remarkable is how many people have come here and tried so hard to defend the film's pseudo-history by pretending it's valid. Some people have some big, rusty, blunt axes to grind and don't want nasty reality to shatter their dearly-held ideological myths.

TonyTheProf said...

People often have a vested interest in pseudohistory, especially when it feeds conspiracy theories.

Look at the popularity of Dan "this is really factual" Brown, with his Da Vinci Code and Digital Fortress (the one with the 12 ton Enigma machine!)

Another example is the Margaret Murray myth of the "burning times" of witch trials as a persecution by Christians of an underground pagan movement.

In our current culture, usually anything that can be taken up as a cudgel to beat against Christianity is accepted at face value.

The only really nuanced historical film I've seen in the last five years is Ararat, because it is very subtle in its exploration of the Armenian genocide.

Humphrey said...

Edward Watts has a nice little essay on this in ‘Violence in Late Antiquity’ (ed Harold Allen Drake). He points out that John of Nikiu, writing in the seventh century, was ‘heavily dependent on the texts of John Malalas, John of Antioch and, for the Theodosian dynasty, Socrates Scholasticus (or another source who was dependent on Socrates). You can see the dependence on Socrates in his description of Cyril’s anti Jewish actions (also in the list of bishops and other details). The difference is that John of Nikiu was a monophysite bishop like Cyril and appears to presented the episode of Hypatia’s death in a more favourable light to reflect the providential role God had played in shaping events. Hence it doesn’t make a lot of sense to prefer his account because a) he is writing centuries later b) he is clearly relying on Socrates Scholasticus, the very source you are claiming is biased c) as a monophysite he has an interest in justifying Cyril’s actions.

As are engaging in an academic willy showing competition, I should also point out I have a masters in modern history.

TheOFloinn said...

he points out that others attributed it to "the inveterate insolence and rebelliousness of the Alexandrians".»

Oh really, but which Alexandrians? The Pagan Alexandrians? Certainly not. The Christians, evidently

All of them. The Romans were very familiar with the Alexandrine [and Egyptian] proclivity to riot long before there were any Christians on the scene. Egyptians vs. Greeks and Romans; vs. Jews. Later, Socrates Scholasticus would write: The Alexandrian public is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed. There were Jewish riots against Christians and pagans; pagan mobs attacked Christians Jews; Christians attacked pagans and Jews.

For example, Sozomen tells of an especially grotesque murder of several Christian women by a pagan mob in Heliopolis some time before the murder of Hypatia, during the reign of Julian: they were eviscerated and swine fodder mixed with their intestines, after which swine were set loose on them.

In another incident, related by Socrates Scholasticus, the Jews of Alexandria raised an alarm that the church of St. Alexander was on fire, and when the Christians rushed out to extinguish it set upon them and slew many. It was this incident which led the bishop to expel the Jews from Alexandria, which got him embroiled with the prefect, who disliked seeing such a chunk of population lost to the city. In the course of which Ammonius, one of the Nitrian monks, threw a rock at the prefect and bloodied him, was seized by the other citizens, and tortured to death by the prefect, which goaded the mob led by Peter the Reader to retaliate against one of Orestes' supposed supporters, whom they supposed to be the obstacle to the bishop and prefect reconciling.

Yet, despite such incidents as the virgins of Heliopolis, the ambush of the Christians, the murder of Hypatia, and the general hooliganism, the "three tribes" of the city got along tolerably well for most of the period under consideration.

In Socrates Scholasticus' Book VII: 13-15 you can see the whole thing building up from an essentially trivial beginning involving the regulation of public drunkedness and dancing.

Caturo said...

Wrong again. Your habilities as an «historian» are violently limited by your narrow analysis, quite common in pre-university students.

«I love the way you keep trying to throw out this kind of crap and then have the balls to accuse me of ad hominems.»

Yes - after you call me a fanatic, I do indeed accuse you of ad hominems. But perhaps this is not accurate to you, maybe you need another source, an older source, to prove that...


«I have a Masters degree and Dzielska has a PhD. "Pre-university students"?»

Well, I don't know what Dzielska says, but if she is an academic, I doubt that she ever declared that the film «Agora» is a blatant lie and a dishonest piece based only on her THEORIES. But I know that you did just that. And the fact that you now say that you have a Masters, that just makes your case even worst.


the fact that Damascius use the word «envy» DOES NOT, by any mean, imply that it was just a personal matter, let alone a political matter

«Damascius says Cyril was motivated by "envy" and calls him part of "the opposing faction". Socrates tells us Hypatia was murdered as a result of "political jealousies". I'm simply going on what the earliest sources tell us»

No. You are saying that Amenabar is lying and, lo, even that Nikiu is lying, just because Socrates Scholasticus does not refer (NOR DOES HE DENY) that the motive was religious.

Well – he does not say that on YOUR interpretation. Because, what Socrates really says is, I quote,

«it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop.»

He does refers THE CHRISTIANS. Not the entire population of Alexandria, not the Pagans, not the Jews, not even «the populace», but THE CHRISTIAN populace. So, what this means, objectively, was that there was a RELIGIOUS element in her murder.
Not even the Amenabar's movie show that, at least not directly.
And that is written in your most precious, well, your only source about this subject.

Caturo said...

Wrong again. Your habilities as an «historian» are violently limited by your narrow analysis, quite common in pre-university students.

«I love the way you keep trying to throw out this kind of crap and then have the balls to accuse me of ad hominems.»

Yes - after you call me a fanatic, I do indeed accuse you of ad hominems. But perhaps this is not accurate to you, maybe you need another source, an older source, to prove that...


«I have a Masters degree and Dzielska has a PhD. "Pre-university students"?»

Well, I don't know what Dzielska says, but if she is an academic, I doubt that she ever declared that the film «Agora» is a blatant lie and a dishonest piece based only on her THEORIES. But I know that you did just that. And the fact that you now say that you have a Masters, that just makes your case even worst.


the fact that Damascius use the word «envy» DOES NOT, by any mean, imply that it was just a personal matter, let alone a political matter

«Damascius says Cyril was motivated by "envy" and calls him part of "the opposing faction". Socrates tells us Hypatia was murdered as a result of "political jealousies". I'm simply going on what the earliest sources tell us»

No. You are saying that Amenabar is lying and, lo, even that Nikiu is lying, just because Socrates Scholasticus does not refer (NOR DOES HE DENY) that the motive was religious.

Well – he does not say that on YOUR interpretation. Because, what Socrates really says is, I quote,

«it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop.»

He does refers THE CHRISTIANS. Not the entire population of Alexandria, not the Pagans, not the Jews, not even «the populace», but THE CHRISTIAN populace. So, what this means, objectively, was that there was a RELIGIOUS element in her murder.
Not even the Amenabar's movie show that, at least not directly.
And that is written in your most precious, well, your only source about this subject.

Caturo said...

«You, on the other hand, are reading in some religious element that simply isn't there»

It is on Nikiu's version.


Actually, that is irrelevant after the blatant, and non informed, and mediocre, bias that you display against a film which you most probably did not see.

«It hasn't been released in Australia yet,»

Really, why am I not surprised?...


« so my comments were made about what the director of the film said he was trying to depict.»

Did he say that the case of Hypatia's murder was a matter of religion against science?...

Well, here,
http://www.in.com/videos/watchvideo-agora-interview-dalejandro-amenabar-5986197.html

he clearly states that Hypatia was NOT murdered because of her science, but because
1 – she was not baptized
2 – she was an influent female.

Caturo said...

«And what "bias" am I supposed to have?»

Those you show and were pointed out.


«What position do you think I hold that somehow»

That's your problem. It could be a non declared sympathy for Christianity (yes, it exists among declared right wing intellectual atheists), or just pure elitistic arrogance, whatever. The cause is not important.

That you are not being objective is a given.

«Yet you can't explain what position I hold that would make me unobjective.»

Nor do I need to do that. What I can say is what I see, and what I see is a bias in your arguments, a notorious prejudice (prejudice, pre-judgment based on non verified conceptions) against the film.

«I can distinguish between what is most likely»

Oh, most likely is DIFFERENT than a certainty. And it is not honest to accuse a film of being dishonest just because it's version SEEMS «unlikely», when in fact it is the most current version and it is openly confirmed by at least one source (oh dear, but the 21th century blogger O'Neill says that Nikiu's source is not important...).

Caturo said...

«If Nikiu's version had any support in the earlier source, I wouldn't be arguing with you on this at all. But he doesn't. The motives he imputes are found nowhere in either Damascius nor Socrates.»

Yes, it does, as can be read above. Also, he was a bishop on the city where it all happened. It is not likely, not by a long shot, that he did not have any other source, including oral sources of popular and even church «tales» about the case, in an age in which the oral testemonies and the collective social contacts were a lot stronger than today.


«If Hypatia was older, »

If. As a matter of fact, the most current account says that she was born in 370. So, by 415, she would be 45. Not that older than Rachel Weisz (which was 39 in 2009). Yes, your favorite author SAYS that most PROBABLY she was born in 350, but that's not Amenabar's fault.


«but how even you can translate those words into "certainties"»

Yes, this is an excellent example of your modus operandi – you start with suggestions and, suddenly, you end up with a certainty – Amenabar is trying to distort the historical past, oh what a vile snake's fat seller he is.

Caturo said...

He does imply it, according one of the translations available.

«No, the translator choose to read that in by translating αἵρεσιν as "sect" rather than "faction" or simply "group".»

And why is that certainly wrong? It is not the first time that «airesin» is translated as «sect».

http://strongsnumbers.com/greek/139.htm

Definition - choice, opinion
NASB Word Usage - factions (2), heresies (1), sect (6).
From haireomai; properly, a choice, i.e. (specially) a party or (abstractly) disunion -- heresy (which is the Greek word itself), sect.

Moreover, «group» and «faction» can work the same way.

«So the translator has skewed the text to make it mean something that isn't there.»

Another certainty of yours based in your constant wish to denigrate whoever contradicts your bias.

Caturo said...

or that «sect» could not mean «religious PARTY»

«The word "sect" isn't in the text - the word is αἵρεσιν, which has a much broader meaning. Take "sect" out of the translation and give it its broader meaning »

After all, you just can't do that, as proven above.

Caturo said...

«and Socrates says explicitly "(Hypatia) fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed"»

Hes does not say that the «jealousy» was exclusively political.


«And over and over again your argument depends on what the texts don't say »

Actually, YOUR arguments depend on what the texts don't say, and worst, they ignore or distort the parts of the text that do not favour your speech.
MINE, on the contrary, are based on blatant words, «official», explicit sources, that you just chose to consider as not valid.


this is happening in a social a political context dominated by the hate between religions, including Paganism.

«Which is irrelevant since both the factions involved in this particular dispute are Christian ones»

No, it is not irrelevant, since Hypatia was not a Christian. And so, the fact that she was not a Christian, made her position to become more fragile and an easier target.


Also, "she became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in 400" (Wikipedia), and Platonism was not well accepted by the Christians at the time

«Right. And this would be the head of the neo-Platonic school that Socrates praises for her wisdom and who counted Bishop Synesius amongst her admirers?»

Yes. It wasn't neither Synesius nor Socrates who killed her – and the last one is curiously interested in denying that the crime was a Christian attitude.


«This would be the neo-Platonism that Clement of Alexandria embraced and began to reconcile with Christian theology a full century and a half before Hypatia was even born?»

Yes – because, indeed, that effort of Clement was not convincent enough to make Justinian to spare the Academia.


«Again, you have no idea what you're talking»

Again, you have not a single objection to facts that don't fall down your head.


the Neoplathonic Academy was closed by Justinian, precisely because it was a center of Hellenism.

«A neo-Platonic academy in Athens was closed by Justinian over a century after Hypatia's death because it had been founded by an anti-Christian»

Actually, the Academy was a continuation of the previous one, that was it's intention.

«Other neo-Platonic schools remained open throughout the Empire,»

Only because they accepted Christianity as their faith.

«including the one in Alexandria»

And the head of this one was not a Christian.

Quite logic, indeed.

Caturo said...

«And you still haven't explained why some Christians like Socrates may have disapproved of Cyril and yet he could still become a saint.»

“Maybe» because Socrates is just an historian, an intellectual with no influence neither amongst the people nor amidst the church?...

«If enough people in your home city came to call you a saint, you were a saint.»

So, the vast majority of the Christians did not see any contradiction in calling saint to a murderer. Thank you...


What does not make any sense, not by a long shot, is to presume that the very place in which he SAID that there was a library, suddenly stops having a library, as if the books were, what?, eaten by mice?

«He says it had housed a library in the past. And then he refers to the burning of the Great Library. We know the Serapeum had suffered several fires in the past and had been rebuilt entirely at least once. »

Yes, and it had a library after that.

«Exactly how any library it had once housed came to be destroyed we aren't told,»

Case closed. Next...


«but Ammianus makes it clear that it didn't house any library when he was there»

No, he does not.

Meanwhile,
Aphthonius of Ephesus says that there was a library there, in the fourth century, precisely.


Also, Orosio admits that the Christians use to steal the books from the Pagan temples:
«


Today there exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen, and, when these temples were plundered, these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our time, which, indeed, is a true statement.»


«The fact the accounts of its final destruction don't mention any library supports this»

No, it does not. Again, you take assumptions and hypothesis as certainties.


if one says that a famous public building containning a library was burned down, it is not needed to say that each piece inside was equally burned

«So you're ignoring the fact that Ammianus, writing some years before the destruction of the Serapeum uses the past tense»

That's a minor detail, compared to what was said before.

Caturo said...

«Yet, despite such incidents as the virgins of Heliopolis, the ambush of the Christians, the murder of Hypatia, and the general hooliganism, the "three tribes" of the city got along tolerably well for most of the period under consideration.»

Really... despite all that violence, there was tolerance. Quite a feeble oxymoron.

TheOFloinn said...

So, the vast majority of the Christians did not see any contradiction in calling saint to a murderer. Thank you...

In which of the sources is Cyril guilty of murder? I don't mean "some say this, but others say that." It's what you'd expect from the partisans of each side in a dispute when matters were still fresh.

But surely, X can be envious of Y's popularity, and even bad mouth Y, and not be guilty of a crime carried out by someone else. Not every union leader was guilty of the attempted assassination of Frick by a union fanatic. It is a failure of the modern imagination, especially of those living in socialist societies, to be puzzled when people take action without being told to do so by an authority.

It is on Nikiu's version.

Of course, if we take Nikiu's version at face value, you would have to say that Hypatia really was a sorceror - and pagan Roman law proscribed the death penalty for that. Another possibility is that Nikiu is no more necessarily reliable on matters centuries before his birth than Washington Irving was on Columbus' voyage.

just because Socrates Scholasticus does not refer (NOR DOES HE DENY) that the motive was religious.

NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were commercial;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were socialist;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were communist;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were nautical;
Gee, this is fun.
+ + +
«Yet, despite such incidents as the virgins of Heliopolis, the ambush of the Christians, the murder of Hypatia, and the general hooliganism, the "three tribes" of the city got along tolerably well for most of the period under consideration.»

Really... despite all that violence, there was tolerance. Quite a feeble oxymoron.

How so? Don't suppose that every member of a community participated in the mobs, or that such things happened day-in and day-out. Based on the historical record, most years, even lifetimes, passed peacefully. For example, among Hypatia's devoted students was a Christian bishop. The evidence is that Christians attended lectures by pagans; pagans attended lectures by Christians; etc. That for most of the time the atmosphere was one of live-and-let-live. Convivencia.

None of this is startling if you discard the Boogey-man Theory of History and suppose as a starting point that people are people. The stark, ugly things do make the news, and they wind up in the history.

I do notice that you skipped over the examples of other riots that had taken place, since they did not fit your world-view of the Christians as uniquely wicked.

Humphrey said...

Anyone else having a heck of a lot of trouble reading Caturo's rants? Partly it's because there are so many quotations mixed in there and partly it's because there doesn't even appear to be any trace of a coherent argument.

Only thing I can really add is that 'Orosio' (you mean Paulus Orosius) isn't talking about the Serapeum since it had been raised to the ground by the time he was writing. All we can tell from his remark is that some temples (which were still standing) were emptied of books (by either pagans or Christians - it isn't clear) which were presumably sold or taken to other libraries.

There is scarcely any evidence that the Serapeum held a library at the time of it's destruction. Ammianus account says of the building "in it have been valuable libraries" which would count against this. It seems archaeological work at the Serapuem has shown that there were colonnaded spaces along the side of the temenos which could have held books (although M Rodziewicz points out that these were destroyed in the ‘early Roman period’).

As regards what happened to the semi legendary 'Great Library of Alexandria'. When this came up previously I wrote (borrowing heavily from Roger S Bagnall that

'The important point however is that while papyrus can last for hundreds of years under good conditions, the climate in Alexandria was far from ideal (Mediterranean conditions with high humidity). Combine that with the vagaries of mice, insects, fires and continual use and the upper limit for the survival of papyrus scrolls is about two to three hundred years. Hence ‘the likelihood is that by the reign of Tiberius, relatively little of what had been collected under the first three Ptolemies was still usable’. Bagnall concludes ‘even without hostile action, then, the library or libraries of Alexandria would not have survived antiquity. Indeed any library almost certainly would have been a sorry remnant well before late antiquity unless its books were constantly replaced by new copies’. There is no evidence that such replacement was going on in Alexandria, indeed to maintain such a large number of scrolls would have required an immense budget provided by the authorities. Hence I think the blame for the disappearance of the library lies both in the destruction exacted in Alexandria by Caesar, Caracalla, Aurelian and Diocletian and the more mundane (but no less important) lack of ‘sustained maintenance and management’ which would have halted the decay. Of course, the aforementioned political turmoil would have been little help in maintaining the impetus and continuing interest needed to keep the collection going. I doubt there was much left by 391AD which explains the silence.'

Subsequently I was listening to a lecture by Lawrence Principe and he said that the library was almost certainly destroyed by Diocletian when he levelled the palace district so who knows.

Caturo said...

So, the vast majority of the Christians did not see any contradiction in calling saint to a murderer. Thank you...

«In which of the sources is Cyril guilty of murder?»

Again?...

In Damascius'.


«It's what you'd expect from the partisans of each side in a dispute when matters were still fresh.»

Certainly. But it is not reasonable to just dismiss the partisans' claims just because they are partisans. All the sources must be analyzed.


It is on Nikiu's version.

«Of course, if we take Nikiu's version at face value, you would have to say that Hypatia really was a sorceror - and pagan Roman law proscribed the death penalty for that»

Wrong again. That was not always appliable - and, actually, Neo-Platonism was strictly associated to Magic.


«Another possibility is that Nikiu is no more necessarily reliable on matters centuries before his birth than Washington Irving was on Columbus' voyage.»

Quite a grotescque comparison, ignoring the natural continuity that existed in the official culture of Alexandria, thus, in the access to all sort of sources that Nikiu could have and that are now lost.


just because Socrates Scholasticus does not refer (NOR DOES HE DENY) that the motive was religious.

«NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were commercial;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were socialist;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were communist;
NOR DOES HE DENY that the motives were nautical;
Gee, this is fun.»

That might be fun for you, but it looks certainly ridiculous, since,
Cyril, Orestes and Hypatia, etc., were not businessmen,
Cyril, Orestes and Hypatia, etc., were not socialists,
Cyril, Orestes and Hypatia, etc., were not communists,
Cyril, Orestes and Hypatia, etc., were not sailors,

and since there were serious conflicts between Pagans and Christians,
and since Socrates clearly says that the CHRISTIAN (not businessmen, socialist, communist or sailor, but c h r i s t i a n) mob was against Hypatia.


«Yet, despite such incidents as the virgins of Heliopolis, the ambush of the Christians, the murder of Hypatia, and the general hooliganism, the "three tribes" of the city got along tolerably well for most of the period under consideration.»

Really... despite all that violence, there was tolerance. Quite a feeble oxymoron.

«Don't suppose that every member of a community participated in the mobs,»

That's not even an argument. It does not matter wether all or just the majority did this or that, but that there were mobs doing all that because of religious matters. And that is a fact, that no contemporary relativism can hide.


«For example, among Hypatia's devoted students was a Christian bishop.»

One exception, two, three, do not change the rule - moreover, there is a clear difference between intellectuals that happened to chose Christianity and Christian mobs and partisans, entirely devoted to the worship and imposition of the cult of Jesus.


«That for most of the time the atmosphere was one of live-and-let-live. Convivencia.»

No. Destroying an entire temple, burning it down, is not, and never was, considered as convivencia.


«suppose as a starting point that people are people»

Interestingly, people who were people were generally not destroying temples or killing because of religious matters before Christianity.


«I do notice that you skipped over the examples of other riots that had taken place, since they did not fit your»

Since they were not relevant for this discussion, and since they did not alter the fact that there were Christian mobs attacking Pagans and Pagan temples, and since this last tendency was frequent in other parts of the Empire. Only in a world-view based on trying to rewrite History in order to hide this or that can these evidences be forgotten.

Caturo said...

«only thing I can really add is that 'Orosio' (you mean Paulus Orosius) isn't talking about the Serapeum since it had been raised to the ground by the time he was writing»

Good - the only thing that Humphrey can add is what was already said, i.e., that Orosius did not mention the Serapeum. Quite a «coherent» contribution, but worthless. Because the fact that Orosius says that the Christians did that, strikes down the feeble and dishonest attempts to state that Amenabar is being dishonest just by showing the Christians doing havoc in a temple and in a library.



«All we can tell from his remark is that some temples (which were still standing) were emptied of books (by either pagans or Christians - it isn't clear)»

He says «our men». And he is a Christian.


«There is scarcely any evidence that the Serapeum held a library at the time of it's destruction»

Again - it is known that the Serapeum had a library. Period. And there is no reference to that library being emptied by Pagans before it's destruction by a Christian mob. And that's all. Just facts.


«Hence ‘the likelihood is that by the reign of Tiberius, relatively little of what had been collected under the first three Ptolemies was still usable’. Bagnall concludes ‘even without hostile action, then, the library or libraries of Alexandria would not have survived antiquity.»

Oh, great, and so the Christian face is saved. Our almost... if only bloody Orosius could shut up his big mouth!...


«Indeed any library almost certainly would have been a sorry remnant well before late antiquity unless its books were constantly replaced by new copies’. There is no evidence that such replacement was going on in Alexandria,»

And there is no evidence that such replacement was not going on in Alexandria. What is known is that part of that library was at the Serapeum, that there were scholars there, that the Serapeum had a Museum, and so, that most probably that replacement could have been going on.


«Hence I think the blame for the disappearance of the library lies both in the destruction exacted in Alexandria by Caesar, Caracalla, Aurelian and Diocletian and the more mundane (but no less important) lack of ‘sustained maintenance and management’ which would have halted the decay.»

Yes, the lack of budget from the authorities, as Humphrey says... and why was that? Because... the Christian rule determined that no Pagan temples would ever receive any budget from the State.

Humphrey said...

I can only tell you what I think. You can of course use the source material to string out any account you like but to me the evidence is thin. We have Aphthonius’s rhetorical description which mentions that

'Chambers are built within the colonnades. Some are repositories for the books, open to those who are diligent in philosophy and stirring up the whole city to mastery of wisdom.'

It is unclear whether this is a first hand account but it most likely comes second hand from Libanius of Antioch. However, when Ammianus’s visited around 363 he says of the temple:

'In here have been valuable libraries and the unanimous testimony of ancient records declares that seven hundred thousand books, brought together by the unremitting energy of the Ptolemies, were burned in the Alexandrine War when the city was sacked under the dictator Caesar'

Now at this point it can be argued that, despite being a first hand account, Ammianus could be mistaken or that his account is too brief for the weight which is placed upon it. Well the kicker for me is that Eunapius of Antioch doesn't mention the destruction of any books in his anti-christian account of the sack of the temple (neither do any of the other accounts for that matter). If the temple still contained a library I would have expected him to have used that in his polemic.

Then we have the account concerning George of Cappadocia who appears to have ransacked the temple sometime around AD361. Tellingly the pagan emperor Julian appears to have written to Ecdicius asking that the murdered George's 'very large and complete' personal library be transported to him.

As for lack of budget, I'm really referring to what had happened earlier in the troubled history of Alexandria; massacres, sieges, looting and the levelling of entire quarters of the city. It would have been hard to keep up the maintenance required to preserve what was left of the Great Library. Despite this Alexandria remained pre-eminent in medicine and philosophy until Arab forces invaded Egypt in the seventh century.

Dulce said...

I find there are two types of people when looking at history, there are those who are heavily textual, relying heavily on accounts from surviving sources, and there are those who attempt to read what was between the lines.

I read an opening to a book once that all the surviving texts we have from the entire Roman Empire would be enough to fill a single subsection at the library of congress. How little we know of what actually happened, especially in an age when exaggerating accounts was not seen as intellectually dishonest, nor purging materials seen contradictory to how one would want the story to be told for centuries after the events.

Imagine the decade of 2000-10, even not factoring in the internet, how much wealth of information and written texts there would be? Imagine it reduced to row on a bookshelf. Imagine great events like the 9/11, the War in Iraq, the economic crisis, being reduced to single paragraph descriptions from select different others. Imagine centuries of various powers with their own agenda being the holders of this information. How much left of it do you think there would be to paint an accurate picture of how the events transpired? That doesn't even begin to reveal how history of the antiquities is known. For then, there may have been only a few select scribes taking the responsibility of writing down history.


Agora may tell one side, but if it were to explore all possible scenarios it wouldn't be a movie, it would a documentary. Sometimes it's necessary to collapse our mind and enjoy "one" possible scenario for the entertainment of viewing history of how it *might* have occurred.

To me it was refreshing to see the period of history being covered. Likewise, it was refreshing to see somebody accurately depict the climate and mood of the Roman Empire in it's waning days without walking on eggshells to Christianity. Like it or not, these events did occur. Pagans and Christians clashed violently in the streets. And science and philosophy were often seen as extensions of the pagan false idols. What more was there to learn now that they had the Bible? This movie isn't a glamorization of paganism, science, nor the greco-roman culture. If anything, it shows the seething hatred of a young slave boy, how easy he could be swayed by giving bread to the poor that he walked by everyday instead of his wealthy masters in their secluded houses. Masters that he could never hope to achieve the same status. How the wealthy aristocratic children were guaranteed to find positions of authority regardless of the religious turmoil on the streets.

And the fact that these considerations were taken into account and applied them to the story of Hypatia, i found this to be a highly accurate account of history, even though it may not necessarily be an exact portrayal of how the events actually occurred.

To ignore the possibilities that the events as depicted are not plausibly accurate is intellectually dishonest. By relying on a couple paragraphs of hypatia's contemporaries in a seething review and imposing it as an authoritive account of "actual" history is a disservice to your readers.

Tim O'Neill said...

I find there are two types of people when looking at history, there are those who are heavily textual, relying heavily on accounts from surviving sources, and there are those who attempt to read what was between the lines.

I find there is a third type: those who begin with what they would like to find and who read their pre-supposed (and usually ideologically-driven) conclusions into the evidence. Or when they can’t do that, they insist that their conclusions are implicit but you have to “read between the lines”. They also like to dismiss those who insist on sticking to what the evidence actually says as being too narrow and rigid to see the bigger picture that’s just … well … there

The approach of this third type is called “dishonest pseudo historical crap”.

I read an opening to a book once that all the surviving texts we have from the entire Roman Empire would be enough to fill a single subsection at the library of congress. How little we know of what actually happened, especially in an age when exaggerating accounts was not seen as intellectually dishonest, nor purging materials seen contradictory to how one would want the story to be told for centuries after the events.

Anyone who has studied ancient or medieval history is well aware of the scanty nature of our source material and of our need to weigh the biases of our sources and, often, to make educated guesses about what they may not be telling us. But good training in the historical method also teaches us to be very wary of the temptation to see what we want to see both in the evidence we have and in the gaps between our sources.

Agora may tell one side, but if it were to explore all possible scenarios it wouldn't be a movie, it would a documentary. Sometimes it's necessary to collapse our mind and enjoy "one" possible scenario for the entertainment of viewing history of how it *might* have occurred.

And if Alejandro Amenabar had had the honesty or the brains to simply present his movie as what “might have been” I’d be prepared to cut him a fair degree of slack. I’d still have written an article on why the evidence indicates that Hypatia’s death had nothing to do with religion or science, but I’d acknowledge that he wasn’t claiming his version was historical fact. But he didn’t do that – he claimed it was historical fact.

(continued)

Tim O'Neill said...

(continued)

To me it was refreshing to see the period of history being covered. Likewise, it was refreshing to see somebody accurately depict the climate and mood of the Roman Empire in it's waning days without walking on eggshells to Christianity. Like it or not, these events did occur. Pagans and Christians clashed violently in the streets. And science and philosophy were often seen as extensions of the pagan false idols. What more was there to learn now that they had the Bible?

I would find it far more “refreshing” to see this period covered accurately. Yes, pagans and Christians clashed violently in the streets. People of all kinds had been clashing violently in the streets of Alexandria for centuries – the place was notorious for it. But pagans and Christians also worked happily alongside each other and pagan and Christian scholars studied philosophy together, to mutual benefit. That’s why Socrates Scholasticus was so rich in his praise of Hypatia and shocked at how she got caught up in the city’s violent politics or why a devoted pupil of hers, Synesius, could be a devotee of her philosophy and also a bishop. Yes, some Christians rejected philosophy as “pagan” and said that the Bible was all that was needed. And others said exactly the opposite, revered philosophy, recognised that reason was a key intellectual tool and fought (successfully) to preserve these things.

And that’s where this movie’s cartoonish depictions gets things so badly wrong. It finishes with the idea that Hypatia’s death ushered in “the Dark Ages” and that this was due to Christian fanaticism. In fact, the Dark Ages happened far away in western Europe, they had zero to do with Hypatia’s death or with any Christian fanaticism and there was no Dark Age in Alexandria or anywhere in the Eastern Empire. More importantly, the Christians who rejected the idea that “pagan” philosophy was to be rejected WON that debate and preserved enough logic and philosophy to plant the seeds of the revival of learning in the west in the Twelfth Century. And that revival sparked the greatest burst of activity in philosophy and science since the ancient Greeks and, in turn, laid the foundations of the Scientific Revolution.

Does Agora tell us any of this? Ummm, no – it depicts quite the opposite. In fac, it depicts a totally false version of history. And you think this is somehow a good thing?

To ignore the possibilities that the events as depicted are not plausibly accurate is intellectually dishonest. By relying on a couple paragraphs of hypatia's contemporaries in a seething review and imposing it as an authoritive account of "actual" history is a disservice to your readers.

See above for evidence of who is being “intellectually dishonest”. Amenábar presents a totally warped and ideologically-driven piece of pseudo history and trying to justifying with some hand waving about “reading between the lines” doesn’t change that. The contemporary accounts say nothing about Hypatia being murdered for anything other political revenge. All the creative, hopeful and wishful “reading between the lines” to discern things that aren’t there doesn’t change that for a second.

And most of my readers are pretty capable of looking after themselves.

TheOFloinn said...

Sometimes it's necessary to collapse our mind and enjoy "one" possible scenario for the entertainment of viewing history of how it *might* have occurred.

You are perfectly welcome to collapse your mind. I find mine functions better when fully erect.

To me it was refreshing to see the period of history being covered ... without walking on eggshells to Christianity.

What would actually be daring would be to depict Christianity with any sympathy.

science and philosophy were often seen as extensions of the pagan false idols.

By whom? The Academy of Alexandria passed without perceptible bump from pagan scholars to Christian and came to an end only after the muslim conquest. The pursuit of "science" (as the ancients conceived it) by Christian scholars like Philoponus and other was unabated. Hypatia, for example, appears as a neoPlatonist in the surviving records. That is a far cry from paganism. NeoPlatonists, for example, believed that God was unique, could not be portrayed, and existed as three divine "hypostases": the One, the Intellect, and the Soul.

What more was there to learn now that they had the Bible?

Plenty. They did not consider the Bible to be a science textbook. (That had to wait until scientism infected backwoods American revivalism.) Augustine said that you should not read the Bible to learn about the course of the sun and moon. You learn all you need to know about the natural world in the schools. The Christians did not use their texts the way a muslim or a modern fundamentalist do: as a complete set of rules for everything in life. They used them as a basis for reasoning about the world. The Christians believed in synderesis or "conscience," meaning that people were capable of reaching correct conclusions about the world through reason.

Ultimately, I believe that the complexities of realism are far more dramatic than the simplicities of fable. Portrayal of the tragedy would be more wrenching than the melodrama of the myth.

Tim O'Neill said...

TheOFloinn said...

The Academy of Alexandria passed without perceptible bump from pagan scholars to Christian and came to an end only after the muslim conquest. The pursuit of "science" (as the ancients conceived it) by Christian scholars like Philoponus and other was unabated.

Exactly. And if we look at the context and the aftermath of Hypatia's murder, do we find some pogrom against pagans or crackdown on Neo-Platonic scholars? No, we don't. It's business as usual. In fact, in the generation after Hypatia we find pagan Neo-Platonic philosophers happily continuing to teach - people like Syrianus, Hermias and Aedesia.

And the fact that Aedesia - not only a renowned pagan philosopher and teacher but a woman - was a revered scholarly figure in Alexandria also makes a nonsense of this "read between the lines" garbage about how Hypatia's death was part of some anti-pagan, anti-science, anti-woman oppression. The actual context shows it was nothing of the sort.

Of course, Aedesia and her compatriots stayed out of Alexandria's notoriously vicious city politics. Unlike Hypatia.

Ardagastus said...

Great review but what a hot thread!

I am mostly with you Tim, as I believe contemporary and near-contemporary sources should be most valued. Any other approach is wishful thinking.

For the cultural metamorphoses of the European West a good read (though perhaps a bit obsolete) is Pierre Riché's Education et culture dans l'Occident barbare (VIe-VIIIe siècle). As for Alexandria and the East in the 5th century I found a great perspective in the narratives of Peter Brown.

Caturo said...

« The Academy of Alexandria passed without perceptible bump from pagan scholars to Christian and came to an end only after the muslim conquest.»

Oh really, the imperial edicts fotbiding Pagan rituals under death penalty, were not a «perceptible bump», no sir...

TheOFloinn said...

To the extent that the Academy of Alexandria taught the neoPlatonism of Plotinus, "pagan rituals" would not have been practiced there. Plotinus in fact developed a triune monotheism very similar to the Christians' and was not especially friendly toward the old pagan irrationalism.

Tim O'Neill said...

It's bizarre the way whenever these people who scream so hysterically about how Christianity murdered ancient learning and philosophy are challenged to produce some evidence they are always forced to fall back on some vague reference to the Christian suppression of pagan cults. As though this irrelevant side issue somehow supports their case.

Charles Freeman also did this in his meandering non-reply to my critique of his The Closing of the Western Mind. I asked him what the hell the trashing of some gloomy Mithraeums and the closing down of weird superstitious cults where men in silly hats waved incense at painted statues had to do with the preservation of science and reason. As usual, he didn't reply.

The truth is that these people have a misty-eyed romanticised view of the ancient world that conflates anything "pagan" with the things they like (eg science and reason). Therefore any attack on anything pagan simply has to be an attack on the things they like.

This is nonsense.

The early Christians who DEFENDED the use of pagan wisdom and who WON THE DEBATE on that topic thus ENSHRINING THE RATIONAL ANALYSIS OF THE WORLD IN THE WESTERN TRADITION FOR CENTURIES TO COME (I'll keep using capital letters until certain recalcitrants jackhammer this stuff through their skulls) were perfectly capable of differentiating the wisdom of philosophers who happened to be pagans from the silly superstitions of gelded priests shaking rattles at garish statues of Cybele. Even if people like "Caturo" and Mr Freeman aren't capable of that simple and pretty damn obvious distinction.

Jonathan Wolfe said...

I just want to address one of Caturo's assertions (which does not even lend credit to his rather futile argument), which is that, Cyril of Alexandria was made a saint only because he instigated the killing of people like Hypatia out of religious fervor. The underlying assumption here is that being affiliated with murder should have disqualified him from sainthood. Unless it was "religious".

The underlying assumption is but a half-truth. No doubt, the murder of Hypatia was instigated by Cyril's factional wrangling, not by any "religious intolerance". How then could he have been made a saint if they knew that?

People have this misguided view that a saint must be a constant stream of virtue and perfection all his or her life. No saint is like that. Cyril may well have been canonized even with all his sins in mind, including those against Orestes and Hypatia. For crying out loud, St. Paul had Christians executed. St. Augustine was a libertine. There is even an anti-Pope in the ranks of the Western saints.

The fact of Cyril's sainthood is not an evidence of Christian intolerance of paganism or of religious motivations in Hypatia's murder. You'll have to do a lot of logical gymnastics to get from that point to "Hypatia was a pagan martyr".

berenike said...

:bow:

Mr O'Neill, you have the patience of a saint.

:bow:

I find there is a third type: those who begin with what they would like to find and who read their pre-supposed (and usually ideologically-driven) conclusions into the evidence.

I guffawed. I get this about three times a week. My sweet, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed, silver-haired, materialist atheist granny, who lives with me, adheres to a sadly common school of biblical criticism. All the bits she doesn't like were made up, usually to "persuade the primitive people of the time to observe the wise moral code being proposed".

me: "But granny, there's no evidence for that at all, of any kind, whatsoever."

Gran: "They made it up to convert more people to the teaching of Jesus about loving your neighbour as yourself."

me:"Granny, why would proclaiming what struck hearers as an abominable heresy make Jews more likely to listen to the bits that weren't abominable heresy?"

Gran: "They wanted to make the primitive people observe the beautiful ethical teaching of Jesus"

Me: "Granny, the Gospels suggest they quite liked the ethical teaching, it was the I and the Father are One stuff that made people really hostile. And again, why would Jesus make his acceptable rabbincal teachings, or his slightly radical-but-you-can-see-where-he's-coming-from ones, more acceptable by saying "the really important bit is that actually I'm pretty much God" ?"

Gran: "I can't argue with you, I'm too stupid, I just think we should all observe the teaching of Jesus"


OR:

Gran: "the miracles of Jesus were added in later by the disciples to make people believe in the ethical teaching they wanted to convince them of"

Me: "But there's absolutely no, none, not one eekle teeny bit of evidence for that."

Gran: "Obviously Jesus didn't walk on water or any of that stuff."

Me: "But even if you don't think he did, there's no evidence that they were added in later. You could say the evangelists were wrong or were lying, but there's nothing to suggest the miracles were later additions to an existing text."

[I've forgotten what she says to this, but you get the idea :D]

Usual ending: I roll my eyes and put the kettle on.


:)

You have much more patience than I do!

Ilíon said...

Stanley Guenter: "Doubting Thomas isn't held up in a favorable light in the Gospels; Jesus is made to say that those who do not doubt and do not ask for evidence before belief are blessed."

Mr Guenter, you have no idea what you're talking about.

Christ criticized Thomas not for questioning, but for doubting -- there is a difference between the two. Christ criticized Thomas for being unreasonable, and indeed, for being anti-reasonable.

Thomas knew Christ, personally. He knew, and had personally witnessed, Christ's miracles. He knew what Christ had said. He knew the persons, and their characters, telling him that they themselves had seen the risen Christ. Thomas' doubt was unreasonable.

On the other hand, we who have followed do not have the advantage that Thomas had of first-hand experience and knowledge. That is why we are more blessed than he for our belief and trust. It has nothing to do with "not asking for evidence."

Stanley Guenter: "... those who do not doubt and do not ask for evidence before belief are blessed."

Can you see me rolling my eyes?

You really ought to stop worshipping doubt. Who do you think you are, Hume?

Tom said...

I'm no historian, but I saw the movie, and Hypatia was clearly NOT killed for her beliefs (or lack thereof), but in order to weaken Orestes and as revenge for the execution of the radical Christian who threw the stone at the prefect's head...so your main point of critique actually doesn't exist at all...
The fact that her philosophy was not compatible to the radical Christianity shown in the movie simply made her an easier target, but it wasn't the reason for her being killed.

Tim O'Neill said...

The fact that her philosophy was not compatible to the radical Christianity shown in the movie simply made her an easier target, but it wasn't the reason for her being killed.

So the director's comments about his own movie were wrong then? Sorry, but I find that rather strange.

"From bloody clashes to public stonings and massacres, the city descends into inter-religious strife, and the victorious Christians turn their back on the rich scientific legacy of antiquity, defended by Hypatia."

You're saying this isn't in the movie?

Tom said...

Tim, you're quote certainly reflects the overlaying theme of the movie. The radical Christians in the movie certainly don't care for science but only for the word of god (and I don't think that's far from the truth).

But I've seen the movie and Hypatia most certainly wasn't killed because of her beliefs.

After the monk who attacked Orestes was executed, there's a scene where the parabolani debate. They want to take revenge on Orestes. Someone says that they can't get to Orestes himself as he's heavily guarded, so another one proposes to hit him somewhere else where it would hurt him, namely by killing Hypatia, which is what they go on to do.

Also, the criticism of Hypatia was basically never about her philosophy directly.
A moderate Christian once asks her why he should listen to someone who professes to not believe in anything, but that's about it and it was within a rather open atmosphere and not intimidating in any way.
Her science itself is never once attacked. One of the pagans once said that heliocentrism doesn't make sense, but this was all within some kind of scientific spirit.

The criticism on Hypatia by the radical Christians was always a tool to get to Orestes who was very close to her.
The decisive scene is when Cyril quotes the Bible (to Orestes) which said that women shouldn't teach and should be silent.
So again it was not about her science, but about her person. And at every point it is made clear, that this is part of the power struggle between Orestes and Cyril.

Tim O'Neill said...

Thanks for the details Tom. My article was about the comments the director made when the film was first released and I made it clear that I had not seen the movie myself (at that stage, May last year, virtually no-one had).

But it's the "overlaying theme of the movie" that I'm objecting to. Hypatia's death did NOT usher in some "Dark Age". Philosophy and science continued to be practised in Alexandria by both pagans and Christians for some time to come and continued to be practiced in the Eastern Empire long after that.

And Cyril's victory did NOT lead to some kind of fundamentalism. In fact, at around this time, the Christians who rejected Greek philosophy and learning and wanted to base all knowledge on the Bible [i]lost[/i] that debate. Reason and philosophy were enshrined in Christian thought as a result and the foundations of a later flowering of rational inquiry in the Christian West were laid.

This movie still preaches a message that is, historically-speaking, bullshit.

Anebo said...

Library is a misleading term. More accurate is the Museum or temple to the Muses. This was an administrative entity set up by Ptolemy II, which owned many buildings, including the Serapeum. In that sense, the Museum was destroyed by a Christian mob, aided by soldiers.

The Coptic life of Cyril accuses Hypatia of magic--probably in the mind of simple people like Paul the reader, her philosophical investigations amounted to magic, which as you say is not quite the same as a war between Christianity and science.

She was killed with ostraca. While the root meaning of that word is oyster shell, it more commonly referred to broken pieces of cermaics. So what the texts mean is that she was stoned to death with broken roof tiles, jugs, and any other trash lying to hand, not that she was butchered with stone age tools.

But in general a nice analysis of the film. I only wish I could see it.

TheOFloinn said...

1. Where do we read that the Museum owned the Serapeum?

2. Where do we read that there were any books in the Serapeum at the time it was profaned?

3. Where do we find in the primary sources any hint that Peter the reader or anyone else thought a) neoplatonic philosophy was magic or b) Hypatia was so accused? The motives described by those closest in time to the events were purely political.

4. I had read somewhere that the roof tiles were called "oyster shells" as a colloquialism due to their rounded shapes. The style of curved roof tiles is still common around the Med, as I understand it.

Anebo said...

The OFloinn? Is a type of troll?

In any case he seems to attempting to force the embarrassing confession that I don't know what I am talking about. I am sorry I can't oblige him.

For the administrative affairs of the Alexandrian Temple of the Muses, I will refer to any of the countless monographs on that institution.

To answer your remaining questions, I refer you the original sources, not any secondary sources that the unwashed mob (clearly not you) could more conveniently fine.

P.Coll.Youtie I.30=P. Yale 299 mentions that in the fourth century the Canopic Sarapeum (you didn't think we were talking about he Alexandrian one, did you?) possessed a scriptorium, hence also a library. The same source--ita fragmentary church hsitory--describes the Sarapeum as a school of black magic. For the specific accusations of magic made against Hypatia by Cyril, see the Coptic life. I see no reason his servant Paul would have had a different opinion. I do't see how you have read the scholarship over the last 50 years (Tupet, Fowden Athanassiadi--oh so many others)--on the place of the public intellectual in Late Antique society--and naturally you have read it, I'm sure--without realizing that the charge of magic is essentially political?
When you wrote this: "Of course, if we take Nikiu's version at face value, you would have to say that Hypatia really was a sorceror - and pagan Roman law proscribed the death penalty for that." you seem to have known all about the accusation of magic against Hypatia--but now you don't. Very interesting. It couldn't possibly, be, could it, that you knew when it suited your purpose to refute for the sake of refutation, and didn't know it now when ignorance suited the same purpose?


Ostracn is not a colloquialism. It is the ordinary Greek word for Oyster Shells, which was used to metaphorically describe pieces of broken ceramic. The term was quite common in every region and register of Greek.

To comment on some other areaqs of your pontification, the Neoplatonism of 415 was not Plotinian. The pressure of Christianity drove Neoplatonism more and more back toward ritual, as can be seen in the work and careers of Iamblichus, and Julain, and ultimately Proclus. Also, Cyril's persecution killed Hypatia and drove Isidorus and his circle out of Alexandria--to Athens, and eventually out of the Empire.

Philoponus as the successor of Isidore!

And don't bother to reply. I won't play anymore after this.

Minhyong Kim said...

Dear Mr. O'Neill,

Thank you very much for the informative article. I certainly share your dismay over the simplified projections of history and human motives that permeate public discourse. In fact, like you, I am (probably) an atheist, but find the liberal classification into the fundamentalists in black hats and enlightenment humanists in white about as disturbing as Mr. Bush's purported beliefs in axes of good and evil. Such simplications certainly affect and are affected by large-scale media events with consequences that are probably serious.

Nevertheless, I hope you won't mind too much if I put forward one suggestion: I do think it's possible to phrase your basic arguments in terms that are less aggressive, and hence, more likely to be read and understood. (Hence, I am referring mostly to the comments, rather than the main article.) During the years I lived in America, probably the aspect of the political culture I found most disappointing was the ingrained habit of almost any commentator, public or private, to present arguments intended only for those who already agreed. What I gathered from your post and the few links I've discovered here is that your genuine intention is to do better than that. But then, the question of persuasive style needs to be taken seriously. In particular, my feeling is that your exchange with Ms. Weingarten could have gone in a much more constructive direction had this question of style been dealt with more carefully.

Once again, I apologize for the unsolicited advice. It is only because I'm tremendously impressed by your learning, resources, and energy, and because I believe you are genuinely trying to do good with them that I trouble you with it at all.

Sincerely,

Minhyong Kim

Ilíon said...

On the other hand, is there really any idea more simplistic than the amusing -- and self-contradictory! -- denial that there is moral good, that it is knowable, and that some people choose to repudiate it?

H Niyazi said...

I'm not sure why you have "Hollywood" in your title Mr. O'Neill. This is very much a Spanish production, with US companies such as Miramax and Paramount acting as distributors in UK/US.

But hey, don't let facts stop you!

I actually just saw the film today. Whether or not it meets your lofty standards, if it inspires one person to go read more about Hypatia, or gives courage to a young woman interested in Science, then it isn't all bad.

It's a shame that the useful historical information in your article is hidden amidst bile and vitriole for your pet causes. At your age, if you still feel the teenage need to tell us "umm...Im like totally an atheist, dude", It makes progressing through the rest your work somewhat daunting - and I say that as a devoutly unreligious person!

I think I much rather prefer to hear about Hypatia from Bettany Hughes ;)

H.

Tim O'Neill said...

H Niyazi wrote:

I'm not sure why you have "Hollywood" in your title Mr. O'Neill. This is very much a Spanish production, with US companies such as Miramax and Paramount acting as distributors in UK/US.

It was shorthand for "distorted pseudo historical film-making". I originally entitled it something like that, but Blogger limits the length of your post title. So I went for something snappier.

I actually just saw the film today. Whether or not it meets your lofty standards, if it inspires one person to go read more about Hypatia, or gives courage to a young woman interested in Science, then it isn't all bad.

Just not as good as an actual historical film that told the real story without trying to crowbar a clumsy sermon into it. Unfortunately, if those people are inspired to read about the real Hypatia they will now have to work hard to jettison a whole raft of nonsense about how she was killed for her learning, how her death ushered in a dark age of ignorance and how she discovered elliptical orbits and heliocentrism etc.

It's a shame that the useful historical information in your article is hidden amidst bile and vitriole for your pet causes. At your age, if you still feel the teenage need to tell us "umm...Im like totally an atheist, dude"

Then you seem to have totally missed my point. I was making a criticism of unthinking atheists who accept any anti-Christian version of a story without checking their facts. So I was hardly simply inserting the fact that I was an atheist into my post as some teenage need to flaunt my atheism. I was noting this purely to fend off the inevitable response that I was only criticising this movie because it offended my Christian faith etc - an assumption people have consistently made about me when I used to point out the pseudo historical gibberish in The Da Vinci Code.

Exactly how you've come to the conclusion that I mentioned being an atheist because I "still feel the teenage need to tell us "umm...Im like totally an atheist, dude"" is a mystery, given that my mentioning of my atheist was totally relevant to what I was saying and is the only time that I can think of that I've mentioned it on this blog.

It seems you didn't read my article carefully at all and your response was merely looking for nits to pick at. Did my article bother you for some reason? Perhaps you need to go away and ponder why.

Ilíon said...

H Niyazi (of Two-Tongues): "... But hey, don't let facts stop you!
... Whether or not it meets your lofty standards, if it inspires one person to go read more about Hypatia, or gives courage to a young woman interested in Science, then it isn't all bad.
"

By all means, let's "raise consciousness" and "make people feel good about themselves." Regardless of the truth of the matter.


H Niyazi (of Two-Tongues): "- and I say that as a devoutly unreligious person! "

Thank God!

Now, if Mr O'Neill can see his way to come over to the right side, Cosmic Balance shall be restored.

Ilíon said...

TimO'Neill: "It was shorthand for "distorted pseudo historical film-making". I originally entitled it something like that, but Blogger limits the length of your post title. So I went for something snappier."

I think that was clear to anyone not playing "Gotcha!"

Ilíon said...

TimO'Neill: "... I was noting this purely to fend off the inevitable response that I was only criticising this movie because it offended my Christian faith etc ..."

I think that was *also* clear to anyone not playing "Gotcha!"

Humphrey said...

Almost a year since this review was written and still the outraged Hypatians keep coming (I think that says more about the film's limited distribution and relatively poor performance outside of Spain than anything else)

Anonymous said...

Please note that in the film it is clear that the library is located in the Serapeum, and that it is NOT the Great Library of Alexandria. The fact is mentioned indirectly on a couple of occasions throughout the film.

Tim O'Neill said...

Please note that in the film it is clear that the library is located in the Serapeum, and that it is NOT the Great Library of Alexandria. The fact is mentioned indirectly on a couple of occasions throughout the film.

That doesn't make any difference - the evidence still indicates that there was no longer any library in the Serapeum either. So what the movie shows is still pseudo historical fantasy presented to push an ideological agenda.

Anonymous said...

Mr. O'Neill, excuse me please, I want to ask you, if I can write you personaly, in what way?

Tim O'Neill said...

You can contact me via the e-mail address at the bottom of this link:

http://www.historyversusthedavincicode.com/author.html

But if you're thinking of doing so to try to convert me to Christianity forget about it now - you will be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Since you seem to ironically embody the most Catholic of principles ("ROMA LOCUTA EST, CAUSA FINITA EST") in your definitive criticism of Hollywood's historical ineptitude, do you hold the same contemptuous opinions of other anti-clerical works of art and literature,(both speculative and historical) being such an ardent atheist as you proclaim? And what of Brecht's Galileo? Luther by John Osborne? Goya's Ghosts by Milos Forman? Bunuel's L Age d' Or? The Mission by Roland Joffe?
Scorsese's Last Temptation? Godard's Hail Mary? Preminger's The Cardinal? Pasolini's Salo?
Abigail Williams and the Reverend Samuel Parris? Constantine's Sword by James Carroll?

All cheap revisionist trash as well?

Tim O'Neill said...

do you hold the same contemptuous opinions of other anti-clerical works of art and literature,(both speculative and historical) being such an ardent atheist as you proclaim? And what of Brecht's Galileo? Luther by John Osborne? Goya's Ghosts by Milos Forman? Bunuel's L Age d' Or? The Mission by Roland Joffe?
Scorsese's Last Temptation? Godard's Hail Mary? Preminger's The Cardinal? Pasolini's Salo?
Abigail Williams and the Reverend Samuel Parris? Constantine's Sword by James Carroll?

All cheap revisionist trash as well?


You seem highly confused. My objections to this movie are based on (i) its distortions of history and (ii) its director's pretentions to presenting history accurately. That's all.

As it happens, I like and admire most of the works you mention. Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and Joffe's The Mission are two of my favourite films of all time. But the former never claimed to be presenting accurate history and the latter didn't distort history as badly as this movie does.

You might want to get that bee out of your bonnet.

Baron Korf said...

It is kind of funny really. We Catholics seem to produce our holiest men and women in times of persecution, and display our sins most brazenly when we are in power. That might be why our faith, at its core, does not have a socio-political structure.

Nice job. It is refreshing to see an atheist who does his research. So many out there will latch on to the slightest rumor that it must make your work all the more difficult.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still pray for your conversion. But in the meanwhile I can still respect you as a man of learning.

Anonymous said...

While noting that the following does not, by any logical necessity, lead to error or falsehood in terms of conclusions, it seems somewhat telling (or at least, shall we say, intellectually "suspicious") that those who have most adamantly critiqued O'Neill in his portrayal of Christians in relation to this particular episode of history, use some rather ideologically loaded terms of ideas within their own accounts.

For example, speaking of "Christian natural intolerance, the constant hate for the possibility that a non Christian could be socially and culturally important."

Or, "Roman Christianity has always been hostile to women including in the area of education and its long history is ample proof of this. The Romanising of religion did bring on a dark age of ignorance that continues to this day to insist that children are taught what to think rather than how to think."

One could argue for particular examples or instances of course, but what makes these particularly eye-raising is the absolute generality of such claims; claims which a variety of historical arguments and examples can readily contradict. These are rather absolutized simplications and amount to, I would suggest, a caricature.

I cannot help but note that there is a certain irony in this given the themes under discussion.

Alvin said...

To Tim O Neill,

I am a deist and consider myself sympathetic to Christianity, First of all, if you have time and are reading this. I would like to thank you for your brilliant defence of the objectivity of History and not History as distorted by anti-christian bigoted media producers and bloggers like the ones you've talked to.

Although it shocks me that in this day and age of such strident secularism, and access to information via the internet, educated people can willingly maintain ignorance and be blinded by their ideology in the face of asserted facts just to debunk Christianity, most of them are atheists, so thanks again for being one of the rare few that can still maintain the balance between objectivity and skepticism of religion.

You do christians in the west at least a favour, by honouring the truth about their history despite being told to be bigoted, ignorant, and crazy people by the huge majority of fundamentalist secularists who like the Nazis and pseudo-christians in europe viewed minority groups who don't hold to their values as sub-human, which I'm seeing more and more in the west.

I know that you're an atheist and you would most likely disagree with me on the merits of Christianity, but Thanks again for being one of the few who could at least see the truth and are willing to follow it wherever it leads

Alvin said...

To Tim O Neill,

I am a deist and consider myself sympathetic to Christianity, First of all, if you have time and are reading this. I would like to thank you for your brilliant defence of the objectivity of History and not History as distorted by anti-christian bigoted media producers and bloggers like the ones you've talked to.

Although it shocks me that in this day and age of such strident secularism, and access to information via the internet, educated people can willingly maintain ignorance and be blinded by their ideology in the face of asserted facts just to debunk Christianity, most of them are atheists, so thanks again for being one of the rare few that can still maintain the balance between objectivity and skepticism of religion.

You do christians in the west at least a favour, by honouring the truth about their history despite being told to be bigoted, ignorant, and crazy people by the huge majority of fundamentalist secularists who like the Nazis and pseudo-christians in europe viewed minority groups who don't hold to their values as sub-human, which I'm seeing more and more in the west.

I know that you're an atheist and you would most likely disagree with me on the merits of Christianity, but Thanks again for being one of the few who could at least see the truth and are willing to follow it wherever it leads

Homage said...

This is a really interesting post. I only found it after I wrote about Agora, but I've added a link so my readers - both of them, ha ha - can follow on to your expert perspective. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing up a lot of questions I had while squirming through 2 (or was it 4?) hours of watching Agora. Greatly enjoyed reading your insights.
What bugged me though was your absolute certainty that Hypatia was not killed for being a freethinker - how can you rely so faithfully on accounts authored by people who had "their own wheelbarrows to push". It would not be the first time that a proud woman who was not intimidated by males or dogmas was persecuted as a witch. Isn't it interesting and revealing about their motives, that the lynching monks felt the need to strip Hypatia naked. And don't tell me they had to do that in order to skin her properly. In that sense the movie's version is as believable as any other. Historians, who, as you well know (from your comments on Gibbon) can be a very prejudiced bunch of "arrogant bastards" (sorry, borrowed from your self description). In particular the christian historians must have had definitive agendas. So even Hollywood's interpretation might have some truth when it comes to why Hypatia was chosen by christian fanatics for a good bit of stoning and skinning.
As a Jerusalemite I know a bit about this type of mentality.

Tim O'Neill said...

Anonymous asked;

What bugged me though was your absolute certainty that Hypatia was not killed for being a freethinker - how can you rely so faithfully on accounts authored by people who had "their own wheelbarrows to push".

I said nothing about "absolute certainty". The study of history is about what is most probable, given the evidence. To simply say the accounts had "their own wheelbarrows to push" doesn't give us the right to, therefore, ignore what they say and make up some other story that appeals to us more. Unless we can see clear indications that our sources have an agenda, we have to accept what they say.

In this case, it's hard to see that the consistent story we find in our two most detailed and earliest sources can be due to any such agendas. Scholasticus was a Christian and one with no love for Cyril. He also gives a detailed political context that makes it clear that Hypatia was killed in revenge for the murder of one of Cyril's followers. And Damascius supports this, yet he was a pagan. So why would both a pagan and a Christian, with very different agendas, tell us the same story - that her murder was political? The most obvious answer is that it's because this was true.

It would not be the first time that a proud woman who was not intimidated by males or dogmas was persecuted as a witch.

No, it wouldn't be. So we have to look at the context and see if this is likely to have been the case here - we can't just assume it because it makes for a good story. Firstly, as I note above, we have two early detailed sources by two totally different types of writer who say it was due to politics and had nothing to do with her being a female teacher. Secondly, we have an another example of a female teacher in Alexandria - Aedesia - who was also a neo-Platonist, a pagan and a renowned teacher. If she had also been killed or oppressed you have a case. But she wasn't. So why would uppity women teachers be a problem in the 410s but not in the following decades?

Isn't it interesting and revealing about their motives, that the lynching monks felt the need to strip Hypatia naked. And don't tell me they had to do that in order to skin her properly.

Sorry, but why can't I tell you that? Is it possible to skin someone alive through their clothes? Hypatia's murder was revenge for the death of Ammonius, who Orestes had tortured to death. So Cyril's followers took revenge by torturing Hypatia to death.

The movie may tell a story we find plausible. But it doesn't tell the story we find in the evidence. History is about evidence, not neat little stories.

Anebo said...

Could you get off the 'skinning' please.

Evidently this comes from Gibbon. I assume you have a sufficient command of the sources to see that there is no mention of any such thing in any ancient text. Killing someone with tiles means stoning them to death. I said this before, and it is not some bizarre pet theory. Go look it up the uses of 'ostracon' in the LSJ yourself.

Tim O'Neill said...

Good point.

Jarett said...

Of course, we don't "know" the motivations of the players and the mob, and thus the question of to what degree and in which ways dogmatism actually played a role in the historical incident, is of course debatable - but that merely makes the movie speculative, not inaccurate, or pseudo-historical. Moreover, it's important to note that the theme of the film is not really a judgement on the historical incident at all. It's a modern theme aimed at a modern audience, and is really about the modern world - and to read into the film's exploration of the political and social consequences of dogmatism a definite (as opposed to speculative) statement on the history itself is to misunderstand the theme and the purpose of the film.

Essentially, if anyone is walking away from the film with the historical notion that Christian fundamentalism in the fourth century gave rise to the Dark Ages of western Europe through the persecution and killing of philosophers and scholars such as Hypatia, it's because they brought that idea into the theatre with them. And that isn't a failing on the part of the film, because the film never presents that notion at all.

(Of course it doesn't go out of its way to counter any such misconceptions either, but I don't think 'doing your utmost to correct common historical fallacies' was on the director's agenda when deciding to make this film.)

So if this is one of your main objections to the film, I'd have to say that IMO you're guilty of reading into the film your own preconceptions about what its theme must entail. The ideas you object to in your comment simply aren't in the film.

Jarett said...

Hi Tim,

Now that this movie is out in Canada I was able to see it (personally, I loved it). Read through some of the arguments here - quite interesting - and wanted to comment that I quite disagree with your view of the theme of the movie. Specifically, per your comment:

"But it's the "overlaying theme of the movie" that I'm objecting to. Hypatia's death did NOT usher in some "Dark Age". Philosophy and science continued to be practised in Alexandria by both pagans and Christians for some time to come and continued to be practiced in the Eastern Empire long after that.

And Cyril's victory did NOT lead to some kind of fundamentalism. In fact, at around this time, the Christians who rejected Greek philosophy and learning and wanted to base all knowledge on the Bible [i]lost[/i] that debate. Reason and philosophy were enshrined in Christian thought as a result and the foundations of a later flowering of rational inquiry in the Christian West were laid."

I don't think there is really anything in the film to support either of these ideas. Nowhere in the film is it suggested that this event ushered in a Dark Age, or signaled a rise in religious fundamentalism. Essentially, you are objecting to a theme that doesn't exist (in this film).

The film tells the story of Hypatia in the vein of Gibbon, which may not be accurate, but is at the very least informed (certainly far more informed than the historical sensibilities of the average filmgoer). And importantly, it was, to me at least, very clear from the film that the story is somewhat fictionalized and not 100% historical 'fact'. Her death is shown in the film as directly of political motivation (which I gather from the discussion above is the academic consensus on the history). But the theme of the movie revolves around its portrayal of the beliefs and motivations of those surrounding the circumstances of her death - specifically that their thinking, and their values, stem from dogmatism (in this case religious), a dogmatism which serves as a tool for the politics of ambitious leaders (Cyril). Hypatia is merely one more casualty, made all the more tragic by the film's speculation over what learnings this intelligent woman may have discovered (or been capable of discovering) had history evolved differently. In short: the theme is that dogmatism mixed with politics leads to tragic and undesirable consequences, intended or unintended (such as the death of the brightest philosopher of the time).

Tim O'Neill said...

Jarett said:

I don't think there is really anything in the film to support either of these ideas. Nowhere in the film is it suggested that this event ushered in a Dark Age, or signaled a rise in religious fundamentalism. Essentially, you are objecting to a theme that doesn't exist (in this film).

Then we must have seen different movies. As I detail in my more recent follow up article (http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2010/05/hypatia-and-agora-redux.html), this is precisely what is strongly emphasised both in the movie itself and in what the director said about it.

Why else does it emphasise that the "library" it (wrongly) claims was in the Serapeum contained "all that remains of the wisdom of men"? How does that not imply that its destruction somehow also destroyed knowledge found nowhere else? Why did Amenábar introduce the movie at Cannes by claiming that without the destruction of this "library" we might now be living in colonies on Mars? Why does this video promoting the movie in Germany explicitly claim that Hypatia DID discover heliocentrism? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNlDCCvNyJY) To pretend that the movie doesn't make precisely these claims is totally naive - the theme is quite clear. The director has even said that this was his intention, so perhaps you better go explain to him what his movie does and doesn't mean.

In short: the theme is that dogmatism mixed with politics leads to tragic and undesirable consequences, intended or unintended (such as the death of the brightest philosopher of the time).

Except there is nothing in the sources that indicates that religious dogmatism was part of the equation at all. The movie changes the history to delibrately distort things to introduce that element at every turn, as I detail in my follow-up article.

Anebo said...

That German video is bizarre. Of course she could not have discovered Heliocentrism (remember Aristarchus about 500 or 600 years earlier).

Tim O'Neill said...

She also couldn't have espoused heliocentrism because (i) she was the daughter of the most famous editor of Ptolemy and almost certainly accepted the Ptolemaic model and (ii) someone would have mentioned it if she had because any espousal of Aristarchus' theory would have been highly unusual given that it had long since been rejected.

We only know of Aristarchus' ideas from two brief, dismissive mentions. It was regarded as nonsense.

TheOFloinn said...

Aristarchus did not discover heliocentrism.

a) It's not clear from the surviving fragment if he thought the sun the center or the Central Fire. Pythagoreans thought the sun was a mirror.
b) He did not discover it; he simply asserted it. The Fire was in the center because Fire was nobler than Earth and the center was a nobler position than the periphery. There are many names for this kind of reasoning, but "science" isn't one of them. Neither is "discovery."
c) If Aristarchus discovered heliocentrism, then Jonathon Swift discovered the moons of Mars.

Anonymous said...

You know? I actually miss Caturo's feeble ranting and raving. Good comedy.

Anonymous said...

The Dark Ages are a western European phenomenon, whereas Christianity was as strong, or even stronger, in the east as well.

It could have quite simply been a different power dynamic.

Taking your account of Hypatia's death into it, the Christian Church in the West looks to have been subject to a destabilising power struggle at the time of the fall.

While the East possibly either wasn't, or the struggle was more disproportionate and thus more quickly overcome.

In the West it is difficult to imagine that such a power struggle would be devoid of Christian arguments for which side should win.

Tim O'Neill said...

An anonymous person tried this:

In the West it is difficult to imagine that such a power struggle would be devoid of Christian arguments for which side should win.

In other words, you clearly have no clues about what was happening in the West and are now just grasping hopefully at anything that makes it sound like you have some kind of case. Pathetic.

Abraxas123 said...

Finally saw the film almost a year after its release, hardly having enough car chases and explosions to merit a big PR push in the Bible Belt.

So you really think this was just another Church-bashing pandering to neo-atheists? Without repeating some of the other objections above, do you really believe:

1) that Cyril was just doing what any good bishop would do under like circumstances? Do you know what the Novations stood for and why he persecuted them? Why he called in his personal army of Nitrian monks (though how they could remotely be considered "men of God" is beyond me) to do his dirty work?

2) that Giordano Bruno's brutal execution was just because he was a nutcase and raving mystic, so not really a true attack on science?

3) that what we now think of as scientific principles of investigation were not undermined, threatened, and eventually completely subjugated by the forced primacy of "Christian" scripture?

Come on! Hypatia's brutal murder at the hands of a Christian mob of "Taliban" may not have signaled the beginning of the Dark Ages, but it was entirely consistent with the end of rational free-thinking represented by Hellenistic science.

This film bent over backwards to present a balanced view of the murder of Hypatia. If anything, it made the Christians look better than how most of the historical references presented it.

TonyTheProf said...

Surely the question is not whether Cyril was a Christian fanatic, but whether he was more representative of the Christian church than the Christians who studied under Hypatia (and who saw nothing inherently anti-Christian in her beliefs)?

And to lump this together with Giordano Bruno etc as "crimes by the church" is rather like looking at "crimes of Rome" as something that was inherently part of the Roman Empire, and a reason for not looking at the good that Rome did as well.

Tim O'Neill said...

do you really believe:

1) that Cyril was just doing what any good bishop would do under like circumstances?<


No.

Do you know what the Novations stood for and why he persecuted them? Why he called in his personal army of Nitrian monks (though how they could remotely be considered "men of God" is beyond me) to do his dirty work?

Yes, yes and yes.

2) that Giordano Bruno's brutal execution was just because he was a nutcase and raving mystic, so not really a true attack on science?

Yes.

3) that what we now think of as scientific principles of investigation were not undermined, threatened, and eventually completely subjugated by the forced primacy of "Christian" scripture?

No. What we now think of as scientific principles didn’t exist in Greek or Roman times any more than they existed in the Medieval period.

Come on! Hypatia's brutal murder at the hands of a Christian mob of "Taliban" may not have signaled the beginning of the Dark Ages, but it was entirely consistent with the end of rational free-thinking represented by Hellenistic science.
Garbage. Go crack open a book on rational inquiry in the Middle Ages. Grant’s God and Reason in the Middle Ages would be a good place to start. Educate yourself before cluttering up this discussion with your bigoted nonsense again.

Tony said...

I'd agree in part - Bruno's trial focussed more on his pantheistic beliefs than his science, but nevertheless the Catholic church was by that time become firmly entrenched in Aristotelian science as underpinning its theology, which was a bad mistake (and of the kind that Augustine had warned about centuries before)

Tim O'Neill said...

Bruno never did any "science". He accepted heliocentrism because it fitted with his purely mystical world view. And heliocentirsm wasn't even heretical anyway. 77 years before Bruno was put to death for his religious ideas, Pope Clement VII enjoyed a lecture on Copernicus' theories by Johann Widmanstadt delivered in the Vatican gardens. He found the lecture so fascinating he rewarded Widmanstadt with a gift of a precious manuscript.

Funny how these "Christianity stifled science" clowns don't seem to know about things like that.

Tony said...

"he defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures: "Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…]). "

That's from the Vatican Archives

http://asv.vatican.va/en/doc/1597.htm

So I don't think you can totally write off his scientific ideas. There's precious little in the way of documents, because most have been lost, so we have to take what we can (and not assume because there is little scientific material, that some at any rate did not underpin Bruno's ideas)

The Vatican's own published note states:

"In the same rooms where Giordano Bruno was questioned, for the same important reasons of the relationship between science and faith, at the dawning of the new astronomy and at the decline of Aristotle’s philosophy, sixteen years later, Cardinal Bellarmino, who then contested Bruno’s heretical theses, summoned Galileo Galilei, who also faced a famous inquisitorial trial, which, luckily for him, ended with a simple abjuration. "

I think the Vatican's assessment is a fair one, but maybe I'm biased towards Catholicism!

Tim O'Neill said...

In 1600 it was not considered heretical to believe the sun went around the earth. As I noted, 77 years before Bruno's trial the Pope himself was happily contemplating this very idea. Bruno, however, also believed that the Trinity was a fraud, that Jesus wasn't divine, that Mary wasn't a virgin, that Transubstantiation wasn't true and that souls reincarnated.

Those are the reasons he was tried for heresy, not his beliefs about heliocentrism.

Of course he was questioned about heliocentrism too and of course he pointed to the fact that they could be substantiated by reason. New Age teachers try to defend their claim that "we create our own reality" with reference to quantum mechanics, but that doesn't make them quantum physicists.

To depict this mystic as a scientist is a wild distortion of history.

TheOFloinn said...

The translator of Bruno's Ash Wednesday Supper commented that, if they had bothered to read the book, the Copernicans themselves would have happily burned Bruno. Where he mentions Copernicus, he disparages him in favor of the genius of Bruno. Yet where he tries to get specific about astronomy, he shows he is unfamiliar with it.

Tim O'Neill said...

Over one year and 153 comments later, I think it's time to close this discussion. We've been over the same ground several times and it's now becoming little more than place where those outraged that their myths are being questioned can come and shreik and stamp their feet. Besides, there is a much more detailed analysis of this movie in my recent blog post and anyone who really wants to discuss the history (as opposed to shout that Hypatia WAS murdered for being a pagan/scientist/woman/rather pretty) can do so there.

http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2010/05/hypatia-and-agora-redux.html

Comments closed.