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Agoraposter09 [1]1,636 words

Slovak translation here [2]

Agora [3] (2009) should simply be called Hypatia, for it tells the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, the philosopher and mathematician who was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE. Hypatia’s life coincides with the destruction of ancient paganism by Christianity, thus her murder symbolizes the death of a whole civilization. 

After the death of Julian “the Apostate” in 363 CE, Rome was ruled by Christians to the very end. Jovian, Julian’s ephemeral successor, set the tone, ordering the library of Antioch burned to the ground and instituting the death penalty for worshiping pagan gods. From that point forward, pagan civilization was slowly ground to dust between totalitarian edicts from the imperial throne and Taliban-style mob violence in the streets.

In 391 CE, when Agora opens, Theodosius “the Great,” who reigned from 379 to 395, is Emperor in Constantinople, and Alexandria is divided between Christians, pagans, and Jews, who are locked in constant violence. A Christian mob, which had taken over a temple of Dionysus, paraded the sacred cult objects in the street and mocked them. Pagans, enraged at the profanation of the mysteries, attacked them, and rioting spread through the city. The pagans found that they were outnumbered and took refuge in the Serapeum.

The Serapeum was the temple of Serapis, a late Egyptian combination of Osiris and the Apis bull who, portrayed in Greek fashion, was the patron god of Alexandria. The Serapeum had been built by the Macedonian Pharaoh Ptolemy III and continuously adorned by Macedonian Pharaohs and Roman Emperors for 600 years. The Serapeum also housed a satellite collection of the Library of Alexandria, all that remained of the great library which may have ceased to exist more than a century before. The Serapeum, therefore, could reasonably likened to the Vatican of antiquity. Ammianus Marcellinus, the 4th-century CE historian, who could only have seen it in decay, described it as follows:

The Serapeum, splendid to a point that words would only diminish its beauty, has such spacious rooms flanked by columns, filled with such life-like statues and a multitude of other works of such art, that nothing, except the Capitolium, which attests to Rome’s venerable eternity, can be considered as ambitious in the whole world. (Res Gestae, XXII, 16)

Theodosius ended the siege of the Serapeum by granting pardons to the besieged pagans. Once they departed, a Christian mob looted and demolished the structure. Theodosius closed all pagan temples, and the Serapeum was not the only one destroyed. In 393, Theodosius also banned the Olympic games.

Alexandria_Serapeum [4]

What remains today of the Serapeum of Alexandria

In 415 CE, Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, clashed with Orestes, the Imperial Prefect, and Alexandria’s large Jewish community. Christians protested Jewish exhibitions of dancing. To keep the peace, Orestes banned the exhibitions, but he also publicly tortured a Christian, Hierax, who used the ban as a pretext to incite the crowd against the Jews. Cyril fulminated anew against the Jews, who retaliated by luring Christians into a church and stoning them to death. Christian mobs retaliated by killing and plundering Jews, then expelling them from the city. This hardened the opposition between Cyril and Orestes. When Orestes rebuffed Cyril, he was stoned by a monk, Ammonius, whom Orestes had arrested and tortured to death. Cyril then declared Ammonius a saint.

As you might have guessed, this did not end well.

Hypatia_(Charles_William_Mitchell) [5]

Charles William Mitchell, Hypatia

Unable to avenge themselves on Orestes directly, the Christians decided to strike at Hypatia, a highly regarded and well-connected member of the Alexandrian elite and one of its last pagans. Orestes was known to seek her guidance, thus she was a convenient scapegoat for his obstinacy, and since she was both a woman and a pagan, it was easy incite the crowd against her. She was accused of witchcraft. One day, she was seized by a mob of Christians, taken to a church, stripped naked, and flayed alive with broken tiles. Then her body was dismembered (like Osiris) and burned. Orestes resigned in disgust or was recalled to Constantinople, leaving Cyril — and Christianity — in control of Alexandria.

Agora is the fifth feature film directed by Chilean-Spanish auteur Alejandro Amenábar (who also composed the score and co-authored the script). (Amenábar’s best-known film is The Others [2001] starring Nicole Kidman; another film, Abre los Ojos [Open Your Eyes, 1997], was remade as Vanilla Sky [6] [2001].)

Although Agora is generally true to the spirit of the events it depicts, Amenábar took some liberties with facts to bring Hypatia’s story to the screen. (For a brief and readable summa of Hypatia’s life and legend by an imaginative but sober scholar, see Maria Dzielska’s Hypatia of Alexandria [7], trans. F. Lyra [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995].)

First, Hypatia is portrayed as a young woman throughout, even though the story spans a period of 25 years, and Hypatia was a woman in her 60s when she died. (Jewish actress Rachel Weisz is quite good in the role of Hypatia. She is entirely convincing as an intellectual, with adorable touches of girlishness.)

Second, Orestes is portrayed as her student and would-be lover, although he was probably many years her junior, and there is no evidence that he studied with her or knew her before he arrived in Alexandria as Prefect. (Hypatia’s rebuff — her soiled menstrual rag — really did happen, but to another suitor.) (Oscar Isaac is quite good in the role of Orestes.)

Third, Synesius, the Bishop of Cyrene (now in Libya) actually was Hypatia’s student, but again he would have been considerably younger than her, and he died in 413 CE, two years before Hypatia. (In the movie he is well-played by Rupert Evans.)

Fourth, Hypatia’s father Theon (played by Michael Lonsdale, a.k.a. Sir Hugo Drax) is accurately portrayed as a mathematician and astronomer who was a leading figure in the Library of Alexandria, but there is no evidence that he died during the riots of 391.

Fifth, Hypatia’s work on the heliocentric hypothesis, including the elliptical orbits of the planets, is of course fictional, but it does illustrate her primary focus on mathematics and astronomy and the terrible loss to science and culture caused not just by her death, but by the death of classical antiquity.

Sixth, the character of the slave Davus (played by Max Minghella) is entirely fictional, but he is an almost Nietzschean portrait of the typical demographic profile and resentful motives of Christian converts. But Hypatia’s casually patronizing attitude toward him also shows why slaves had good reason to resent their masters.

Hypatia in Raphael's The School of Athens [8]

Hypatia in Raphael’s The School of Athens

Seventh, Amenábar’s vision of the Serapeum is impressive. One can quibble about details — it is shown as a blend of Ptolemaic Egyptian and Greek architecture, which may be correct — but the feel is right. And the movie’s depiction of the siege and despoilation of the temple and its library is very moving. But although there is no way these events can make Christians look good, the movie actually skews the picture in favor of the Christians by portraying their provocation of the pagans as trivial (pelting statues with fruit) and depicting the Serapeum as being vandalized but not destroyed. (It is turned into a church and a stable.)

Eighth, when an Alexandrian dignitary accuses Hypatia of believing in “nothing at all,” her retort is that she believes in “philosophy,” which seems to be an expression of the 18th-century Enlightenment view popularized by John Toland, Gibbon, and Voltaire of Hypatia as an advocate of reason and science against religious superstition. But that dichotomy meant nothing in ancient Alexandria. Hypatia’s father Theon was not just an astronomer and mathematician, he also was a student of the Hermetic and Orphic mysteries, and there is no reason to suppose that Hypatia was any less mystically inclined. Hypatia was apparently not devoted to the public cults of Alexandria. But she was not irreligious; she was simply not Christian.

Ninth, Hypatia’s death was so horrible that it cannot be portrayed in a movie. It was far more horrible than the crucifixion of Jesus, and that already pushes the limits of representability in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The proper solution, of course, would be simply not to show it. But instead Amenábar elects to show something that never happened, and he transforms Hypatia’s death from an act of Christian savagery to an act of Christian mercy. Again, it is impossible for Christians to come off well in this tale, but Amenábar is repeatedly willing to falsify facts to put Christians in a less bad light.

Tenth and finally, like most movies today, Agora casts blacks against type. There are black students in the Serapeum and black dignitaries in the Alexandrian Senate. This is highly unlikely. However, Amenábar’s casting of the monk Ammonius (Ashraf Barhom) and the Bishop Cyril (Sami Samir) verges on the Politically Incorrect, because their two swarthy, Semitic countenances will make any European think of ISIS, the Taliban, and the Salafists hawking falafel on the corner, in other words: those who long to do to the Vatican and Notre Dame today what the Christians did to the Serapeum and Library of Alexandria so long ago.

One of the most striking scenes in Agora is during the siege of the Serapeum. One of the pagans, who up to that moment had thought that this was his civilization, looks down at the vast mob of angry Christians and asks, “Since when were there so many Christians?” By then, however, it was too late. Our job, as White Nationalists, is to wake up our people while there is still time.

I highly recommend Agora to all my readers, particularly to lovers of antiquity, to neo-pagans who want a glimpse of paganism without barbarism, and to defenders of European civilization from the next wave of Biblical monotheism.