Hypatia Comes to the Screen

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Filming is currently underway on “Agora”, a work directed by Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others”, “The Sea Inside”), that centers on the efforts of female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia to save the collected wisdom of Alexandria. Starring in the role of Hypatia will be Academy Award-winning English actress Rachel Weisz.

Max Minghella, Alejandro Amenabar, and Rachel Weisz.

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that Hollywood would make a film set in the ancient library of Alexandria but, as Sophocles would say, polla ta deina (or, roughly translated, wonders never cease). According to Amenabar, ‘It’s amazing to think that [ancient Alexandria] should be condemned to oblivion, not least by filmmakers. Our entire team is devoted to bringing ancient Alexandria back to life by using a hyper-realist approach. We want the audience to see, feel and smell a remote civilization as if it were as real as the present day.'”

This film, more than any other recent film set during the classical period, will be closely watched by modern Pagans (especially Hellenic reconstructionists). Many of whom consider Hypatia to be one of the primary martyrs of pre-Christian pagan religion.

“Yet even she 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 by scraping her skin off with tiles and bits of shell. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.”Socrates of Constantinople

Hypatia was renowned for her knowledge and virtue, and reportedly remained a virgin until her death (she once repelled a suitor by showing him her menstrual rags). But virgin or not, such things can’t stop a romantic sub-plot from being introduced into the film.

“Set in Roman Egypt in the fourth century, “Agora” tells the story of the legendary astronomer Hypatia (Weisz), trapped in the legendary Library of Alexandria, and her fight to save the old world’s wisdom from the religious riots sweeping the streets of Alexandria. Her slave Davus (Minghella) wrestles with his yearning for freedom and his professed love for his mistress.”

All the same, the director (who also co-wrote the script) seems passionate about the film, and according to Rachel Weisz the work “gets to the heart of the ugliness and the beauty of what it is to be human.” So for now, I’m feeling quite positive about the film’s prospects. With “Agora” currently filming, and “Cowboys for Christ” scheduled to start shooting in April, it looks like 2009 may be a very good year for Pagan-friendly films.