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Here we go again. I just saw the new film “Agora,” which is a re-telling of the story of Hypatia, the brilliant woman philosopher from Alexandria, who was killed, supposedly by a mob of “Christians,” in the year 415. Along with the tales of Galileo and Giordano Bruno, the legend of Hypatia is a favorite of anti-religious ideologues. I first heard the story from Carl Sagan, the popular scientist whose multi-part program “Cosmos” was widely watched back in the 1970’s. “Cosmos” in fact comes to its climax with Sagan’s melodramatic rehearsal of the narrative. Hypatia, he explained, was a scientist and philosopher who ran afoul of Cyril, the wicked bishop of Alexandria, who then stirred up a mob of his superstitious followers who subsequently put Hypatia to death. Sagan commented: “the supreme tragedy was that when the Christians came to burn down the great library of Alexandria, there was no one to stop them.” And just to rub it in, he said, “and they made Cyril a saint.” Sagan’s account found its roots in Edward Gibbon’s version of the story in his deeply anti-Christian classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, Gibbon was the first to link the murder of Hypatia with the burning down of the Alexandrian library. Alejandro Amenabar’s new film stands firmly in the Gibbon/Sagan tradition, presenting Hypatia as a saint of secular rationalism who desperately gathers scrolls from the library before it is invaded by hysterical Christians and who goes nobly to her death, defending reason and science against the avatars of religious superstition.
Posted: 5/10/2010 4:21:49 PM by Word On Fire Admin | with 15 comments


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