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: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/76/

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...

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