Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hypatia of Alexandria: The Passing of Philosophy to Religion

In 2009, the feature film `Agora' depicted the triumph of Christianity over paganism in Alexandria, Egypt, focusing on the life of the Neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia of Alexandria (lived 370-415 CE). Writer and Director Alejandro Amenabar went to great lengths in maintaining historical accuracy in the film and although some details and sequences in the film depart from history for dramatic purposes (such as Hypatia's death scene) the film is accurate in its portrayal of early Christian zeal and the destruction which follows in the wake of religious extremism.

To the early Christians, Christ's return was not a matter of theological debate but an imminent reality. Claims to `ultimate truth' which contradicted the Christian vision could hardly be tolerated when believers held to the understanding that, `like a thief in the night', the master might return and find them not at the ready.`Agora' was criticized for its depiction of early Christians as brutal and destructive but, in this, the film was entirely accurate. When one believes that one has the ultimate truth one is hardly inclined to tolerate differing views. The behavior of the early Christians was in keeping with that of any zealous follower of any ideology before or since whether of the Egyptians who sought to wipe out the monotheism of Akhenaten (c. 1353-1356 BCE) or those who supported the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960's. My article on Hypatia of Alexandria, published through Ancient History Encyclopedia, examines Hypatia's death in light of the new vision of the Christians in 415 CE and the religious intolerance Christianity encouraged.

The article link is here:

And the piece begins:

Hypatia, the much loved pagan philosopher of Alexandria, Egypt, has long been acknowledged as the symbol of the passing of the old ways and the triumph of the new. Hypatia (370-415 CE) was the daughter of Theon, the last professor of the Alexandrian University (associated closely with the famous Library of Alexandria). Theon was a brilliant mathematician who closely copied Euclid's Elements and the works of Ptolemy and, in the language of our day, home-schooled his daughter in mathematics and philosophy (Deakin in Science/Ockham). Hypatia helped her father in writing commentaries on these works and, in time, wrote her own works and lectured extensively, becoming a woman of note in a culture dominated by male writers and thinkers...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Religious Intolerance: The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Egypt

At its height, Alexandria, Egypt was the cultural center of the ancient world. The great temples, the library (whether it was as vast as legend has it is of no matter) and the free exchange of ideas attracted scholars and inspired scientists from all over the world. The Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, presided over the port and ships from every sea-faring nation passed beneath that light. Founded by Alexander the Great, the city was greatly admired for its physical beauty and careful planning by a number of ancient writers. The decline of Alexandria can be attributed directly to religious intolerance as my article in Ancient History Encyclopedia explains.

The article in full is here:

And the piece begins:

Alexandria is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It is most famous in antiquity as the site of the Pharos, the great lighthouse, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, for the Temple of Serapis, the Serapion, which was part of the legendary library at Alexandria, as a seat of learning and, once, the largest and most prosperous city in the world. It also became infamous for the religious strife which resulted in the martyrdom of the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in 415 CE. The city grew from a small port town to become the grandest and most important metropolis in ancient Egypt.

After conquering Syria in 332 BCE, Alexander the Great swept down into Egypt with his army. He founded Alexandria in the small port town of Rhakotis by the sea and set about the task of turning it into a great capital. It is said that he designed the plan for the city which was so greatly admired later by the historian Strabo (63 BCE-21CE) who wrote,

“The city has magnificent public precincts and royal palaces which cover a fourth or even a third of the entire area. For just as each of the kings would, from a love of splendour, add some ornament to the public monuments, so he would provide himself at his own expense with a residence in addition to those already standing.”