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Rebirth of Reason

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Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 1:31pmSanction this postReply

Thanks for posting! The movie looks great. By the way, in his excellent TV documentary series Cosmos (here's my review) Carl Sagan featured Hypatia of Alexandria and her conflict with the Christians in one of his segments.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 4:13pmSanction this postReply
Except that was a Gibbonized version of what took place, one which a number of historians dispute...

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Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 6:06pmSanction this postReply
Ed, thanks for the link to your outstanding review.  The Cosmos presentation "Backbone of the Night" inspired me to build a collection of ancient coins from the towns and times of philosophers, from Thales to Hypatia.

Robert, pray tell, reverend sir, what is a more accurate retelling?

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Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 7:03pmSanction this postReply

Post 4

Monday, December 21, 2009 - 5:08amSanction this postReply
Thanks, Robert!  I will followup on the sources cited. 

I requested the Historia Ecclesiastica by Socrates Scholasticus via interlibrary loan.  The edition is from 1853 and is, of course, an English translation.  I point out what Biblical scholars say about the KJV not coming from the oldest manuscripts: the oldest writings are not necessarily correct.  That said, it seems that Gibbon and Sagan read their own expectations into the facts.  As for the Library.  The Library was an interest of mine to understand the coinage of the early Ptolemies. Ptolemy II built it.  Every ship that docked had to give it books for copying and the copies were returned to the ship, with the originals kept.  Estimates of its size vary.  Egypt refused to export papyrus, at least to the town of Pergamum which was building its own library. (Pergamum used sheep skins, whence "parchment" from the town's name.) When Mark Antony became governor, he made that library a gift to Cleopatra to replace the damage done by Julius Caesar.  In that fracas, it seems that rather than the "library" burning, it was only a warehouse, not the main branch.  After all of that -- and probably before -- the Library was likely looted from the inside, white chiton crime, as it were.  I suggest that because under Ptolemy V (I think) hard times from wars led the house to stop funding the library.  The unemployed scholars found new homes across the Koine and brought a renaissance to the late hellenistic culture. 

Be all that as it may, just one quibble...

Her birth year is often given as AD 370, but Maria Dzielska argues this is 15-20 years too late and suggests AD 350 to 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.

That would be this Helen Mirren?
(Old age is not what it used to be.)


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 12/21, 5:36am)

Post 5

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - 6:58pmSanction this postReply
Robert -- Just to let you know, I got THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY by Socrates Scholasticus and read the relevant sections, before, during and after Hypatia. In fact, I read a bit more...

The book is available on Google Books. I like the real thing.

Anyway, it is as you say, a brief and secular account in which Cyril himself is not to blame for inciting the crowd, but one of his self-appointed mobsters, Peter.

Socrates does allow that Hypatia's "influence" with Orestes -- who was himself struck by a stone thrown during a mobbing earlier -- was a barrier to Cyril's political goals.

But there is not much more, the entire account running about 250 words.

So, what we have, pretty much, is like the much-touted 300, a movie about a time and place in which the director and the audience bring themselves to a historical event. In a sense, it is art, not history.

Similarly -- and differently -- how many versions of the Gunfight at the OK Corral have you seen? I don't know if the Clantons will ever come out well, but you never know ...

Interpretations of the past are always about the present. We will have to judge the movie on its own terms, as always.

The narrative of Socrates Scholasticus is contemporary, more or less. He was born perhaps in 380 CE and his tutors were men who had come to Constantinople from Alexandria when the pagan temples there were torn down. Also, the narrative about Hypatia is believable specifically because it does not contain any mention of demons, spirits, angels or miracles, all of which run through the history as if physically real.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011 - 2:31pmSanction this postReply
If you have not seen this yet, you are missing an opportunity.  The limitations of retelling 250 words in 2 hours being what they are, this film has much to offer.  Like the story of the Alamo or the Titanic, it is a projection of us onto them.  I borrowed the DVD from my local library, appropriately enough.

 Ideas have consequences.  The characters seek goals based on their values; and the events around them test and prove those beliefs.  We see her own students drawn to the foci of religion and faith.  She stands at the center - with a few others - dedicated to reason.  The story plays out over decades.  Young Synesius becomes the Bishop of Cyrene, a proto-Aquinas for whom faith is the validation of reason. Young Orestes becomes the Prefect of the city, the secular Roman who adopts Christianity for convenience.  Young Davus, her slave, follows his heart through Ptolemy's astronomy to Jesus and Cyril and fanaticism, choosing to stand by Hypatia  in her moment of death, ultimately to be left metaphysically alone in the universe. 

The cinematography is worldclass because it aims at a global audience.  It was produced in Spain, and shot on Malta.  The historical advisor was Justin Pollard.  Pollard graduated with honors in archaeology and anthropology from Downing College, Cambridge, and has nine books to his credit including, The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind ( with Howard Reid) and Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England.     He also worked on Pirates of the Caribbean as well as two recent "Elizabeth" movies. 

While greatly extrapolated and interpolated from the original two paragraphs of account left to us by Socrates Scholasticus in Historia Ecclesiastica, the film stands on its own. 

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Thursday, April 30 - 7:18pmSanction this postReply

Deakin asserts – and it seems accepted – that the version we have today of Ptolemy’s Almagest is the work that Hypatia edited. Developing his story only from English translations, Deakin also attributes to her commentaries on the works of Diophantus, Apollonius, and Euclid. The last was most likely a continuation of the edition begun by her father, Theon.


In addition, Hypatia probably constructed or had built for her several complex mechanisms. Whether they were for computing time (water clock) or some other purpose (hydrometer for specific gravity) is not clear. She apparently did create an improved astrolabe.




"Although this outrageous crime has made Hypatia a powerful symbol of intellectual freedom and feminist aspiration to this day, Deakin makes clear that the important intellectual contributions of her life’s work should not be overshadowed by her tragic death." – Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr by Michael A. B. Deakin. (From the publisher’s website. http://www.prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=60&products_id=1754)

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