Hollywood dramatizations and blatant fictionalizing of historical and other truths does such disservice to the public in general and to their viewers in particular. Dumbing our world down is such a disgrace. This post takes offence over how “Agora” the movie got Hypatía so wrong.
“Agora offers no hint that Hypatía was also an internationally regarded philosopher, and the head of the Neoplatonist Academy in Alexandria. Socrates Scholasticus wrote that she “made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time.”
He went on to praise “her extraordinary dignity” and powerful civic authority: “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 the presence of the magistrates.”
“Although some sources place the birth of Hypatía around 370, her biographer Marie Dzielska concluded that she was more likely born in 350. That would make her about 40 girlish depiction of Hypatia when the Serapeum was torn down, and over 60 at her death in 415.
The movie shows a young, and at times girlish, Hypatía. Rachel Weisz is 30 and doesn’t age a whit during the course of the film. This Hypatía does not “put on her philosophers’ cloak and walk through the middle of town,” as Damascius described. Instead, she throws a diaphanous dark cloth over one shoulder. She is not shown, either, receiving crowds of visitors at her home. But Weisz does project the woman’s profound intelligence.
“The emphasis is on Hypatía as an astronomer and mathematician, leaving out her teaching as a philosopher. Her attainments in those fields were famous, although none of her writings survive. She wrote commentaries and edited works on astronomy and mathematics. She charted the planets, worked with conic sections, invented the hydrometer, and worked with astrolabes.
(Some say she invented this instrument, but scholars say it is more likely that she refined it). The film shows some of this, but it also invents a storyline about her investigating Aristarchus’ heliocentric model.
“All right, this is a fictionalized story, not a biography, but here’s the difficulty. Most people will never learn anything more about Hypatía than what is in this movie. Thus, we find a reviewer relating its fiction as fact: “She discovered that the sun was the center of the universe a millennium before Copernicus did.” [Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook, July 18–24, 2010, p. 24]
“So when the fictionalized Orestes tells Hypatía: “I won’t be able to protect you any longer!” it makes her look as if she is dependent on him. In reality, she had considerable political capital, with other movers and shakers coming to her for advice.
What’s more, her backing was probably instrumental in Orestes’ being appointed as prefect of Alexandria. Likewise, when the eminent female philosopher goes to speak before the city magistrates, it is a one-off affair, with her standing modestly at the margins, her arms hanging at her sides.
We have gotten so used to seeing hesitant females in film that even a giant like Hypatía cannot be portrayed as a mature woman at the height of her powers, who is accustomed to speaking authoritatively and having men listen to her. I wanted to see the movie show this dimension of her, because it is not something we often get to see onscreen. And that would have been true to her history.”
*Excerpted from Suppressed Histories Archives
I guess stupid truly is as stupid does. This is the true tragedy of a Hollywoodized distortion. In celebration of Women’s History Month this is our battle cry!
The National Women’s History Alliance — which spearheaded the movement for March being declared National Women’s History Month — has announced the women’s history theme for 2023, “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”