Agora: It’s a Riot

I finally watched Agora on DVD last night. It’s one rioting mob after another interspersed with astronomy lessons.

You have your Pagan mob, your Jewish mob, your Christian mob(s). A Muslim mob would have fit right in, but had not yet been invented.

And did Hypatia really discover that planetary orbits were elliptical, not perfect Platonic circles? No. It was the sort of issue that would have engaged her interest, however.

Here is the historical part: There was a Pagan neoplatonic philosopher-teacher in 5th-century Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of an intellectual father, who was murdered by a sort of Christian Taliban.

There was a Roman prefect (governor) named Orestes and a fanatical monk named Ammonius. And Mullah Bishop Cyril, of course.

And the rest is movie-making. (Military historians will note that the Roman soldiers look more like the 1st century CE than the 5th.)  For more on the actual Hyptia—and on the movie version—visit Egregores.

UPDATE: See also Kallisti’s review with its “motivational poster.

“Agora”: Pagans vs. Christians or Atheists vs. Religious?

Living in the cinematic boonies as I do, I will probably not see Agora until it comes out on DVD.

Here is a long dissection of it, from period-incorrect Roman armor to its avoidance of exactly what Hypatia taught:

But because the film never bothers to make her neo-Platonist asceticism clear – exactly what her philosophical views might be is never explored except in the vaguest terms – this incident doesn’t really make much cultural sense – she comes as a modern career academic “married to her job” rather than a disciple of the school of Plotinus.

Writer Tim O’Neill also notes that the conflict in the movie is not Pagans versus Christians so much as it is non-theistic philosophy (rational) versus religious people (fanatical).

Nevertheless, it is tempting to read Hypatia’s story as (not hostile to science) Pagans versus (book-burning) Christians. I nudged it that way a little bit myself in the entry I wrote on Hypatia years ago in the Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics. I had a little fun with the telling.

But is that how the conflict should be framed?

It’s Time to Critique "Personal Growth"

Jason Pitzl-Waters offers more links on the Sedona sweat-lodge deaths, including to the Beyond Growth blog, which has been critiquing James Arthur Ray for some time.

(Related: I want to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s newest, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.)

I sometimes wonder at the whole concept of “growth.” Did Socrates talk about “growth”? I don’t think so. Wisdom, yes, attained by philosophical inquiry, life experience, and maybe the gift of the gods—chiefly the first. I expect he would have scorned a workshop that involved putting a couple dozen people (Correction: 64 people) in a sweat lodge and heating it until they collapsed. Not much logos there. Not much inquiry. Not much virtue.

While I am waiting for the book, I think I shall be reading the blog.