Ágora (2009) 





Director:     Alejandro Amenábar.

Starring:      Rachel Weisz (Hypatia),  Max Minghella (Davus),  Oscar Isaac (Orestes),  Ashraf Barhom (Ammonius),  Michael Lonsdale (Theon),  Rupert Evans (Synesius),  Richard Durden (Olympius),  Sami Samir (Cyril),  Manuel Cauchi (Theophilus),  Homayoun Ershadi (Aspasius),  Oshri Cohen (Medorus),  Harry Borg (Prefect Evagrius),  Charles Thake (Hesiquius),  Yousef 'Joe' Sweid (Peter ).

Davus a slave of the philosopher  Hypatia of Alexandria falls in love with her; she was killed in 415 by a Christian mob involved in anti-Jewish antics


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


"By the end of the 4th century AD, the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse.  Yet Alexandria, in the province of Egypt, still retained much of its splendor.  It boasted one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the legendary lighthouse, as well as the greatest library on earth . . .The city's long established pagan cult was now challenged by the Jewish faith and a rapidly spreading religion until recently banned:  Christianity."

391 AD Alexandria Library.  Hypatia teaches a class to a group of male students.  She talks about subjects such as why do things fall straight to the ground.  One of her students, Orestes, is trying to court her. 

Agora gets out of the bath and is dried off by two young men, one of them named Davus, a Christian.  A pagan speaker and a Christian speaker square off against each other in the public square.  The Christian walks across the burning embers of a fire pit and then challenges the pagan to do the same.  The pagan refuses, so the Christians throw the man onto the embers.  He gets burned a bit before he can scramble out of the fire pit. 

Davus commits some offense and the father of Hypatia is going to whip him.  Hypatia tries to stop it, but she can't and Davus is whipped.  Later Hypatia goes to Davus and puts salve on his wounds.  She tells him that the master (her father) is upset with himself about this. 

Hypatia talks about Ptolemy's system which says that the earth is the center of the cosmos.  Davus has made a model of the system.  Orestes says that the system is "all so whimsical".  Hypatia tells her students to give Davus a round of applause for his model.

Ammonius, the Christian speaker, says that the Kingdom of God is upon the people.  He is one of the Parabalano, which is somewhat of a Christian para-military group run by Christian monks. 

A theater presentation is in progress when suddenly Orestes steps forward in front of the audience and declares his love for Hypatia, who is in the audience along with her father.  Orestes plays his melody for the public and the audience approves of it as they clap for him.  He gives the aulos to Hypatia after the performance.  Theon says that his daughter will not give up her freedom.  Davus watched the performance and later he prays to God:  "Don't let anyone else have her."

The next day Hypatia gives to Orestes a piece of cloth with her menstrual blood on it.  She says she does this to show Orestes that there's little harmony or beauty in her.  A messenger comes to tell everyone that Olympius requires Hypatia's presence urgently in the Serapeum.  Before leaving Davus picks up the bloody cloth.

The pagan Olympius talks of killing Christians.  Hypatia speaks up and tells Olympius that he is just inciting the crowd to be vile murderers.  Olympius turns to Theon for his opinion and he says:  "The insult must be answered."  Orestes gets a short sword and starts killing Christians.  The pagans shout:  "Glory to Serapis!" as they go to the attack.  Medorus, Theon's slave, is told by a pagan to grab a weapon and start killing Christians.  Medorus just stands there amidst the killing, so the man comes over, throws a knife at his feet, and tells him to start killing.  Medorus grabs the knife and shoves it deep into the man's gut.  He then sees Theon standing in the middle of the fighting.  He shouts that he is a Christian and grabs a small log and hits Theon about the head with it.  Orestes sees this and kills Medorus with his sword.

Someone shouts that the Parabalani are coming and the pagans start running for safety.  Olympius gives the order to close the gates to the Serapeum.  After the gates are closed, he says that the Christians in the Serapeum will be put into the cellar.  Olympius starts to go after Hypatia and her students, but Orestes threatens to knock down anyone who interferes with Hypatia and her students.  Hypataia thanks Orestes for his protection.

Roman soldiers arrive and fight with the Christians to regain order in Alexandria.  Hypatia tells her students that no one should leave the group.  At night student Synesius gets up and another student asks him what is he doing?  Someone says that Synesius is a Christian. 

Hypatia goes to check on her father's head wound.  Theon says to her:  "How can I have been so wrong?"  He adds:  "I wanted you to be free."  Hypatia responds:  "I am free." 

At night Hypatia talks about the stars.  She tells Orestes that he is right.  The heavens should be simple.  She goes to the top of the Serapeum to look at the heavens. She asks:  "What if there were a simpler explanation?"  A man shouts down to her that Aristarchus believed that the earth moves around the sun, but there are lots of problems with his model. 

Outside the gates a Roman shouts to make way for the prefect.  The prefect tells the people to listen up.  Emperor Flavius Theodsius Augustus has decided that the insurgents (the pagans) shall be pardoned and freed, but they must abandon the Serapeum and the library immediately.   This order from the emperor means that the Christians will be able to enter the Serapeum and dispose of the premises as they see fit.  A big roar of approval comes up from the Christians. 

Hearing the announcement, Hypatia and Theon, together with the students, try to grab the most important manuscripts from the library to save them from the Christian mob.  The Christians start attacking the gates and the pagans start to leave the Serapeum out a back exit.  Hypatia asks Davus why are slaves never around when one needs them?  Davus starts helping her. 

The Christians start breaking through the gates. Davus grabs a weapon and says he will fight.  Hypatia yells to him not to go, but Davus ignores her.  The Christians shout:  "God is one!" as they rush into the Serapeum.  Davus just stands there as the Christians swarm past him.  They start pushing some of the pillars of the buildings down.  Ammonius sees Davus in the crowd and yells to him to come and help him tear down the pagan statues.  Davus starts his own attack on a statue with his sword, hitting it over and over again.  He then pushes the statue over and it cracks in several places.  The people roar their approval for Davus. 

Going into the library the Christians start throwing the manuscripts and various loose items into the middle of a large circular room.  Manuscripts are also taken outside and burned. 

Theon's wound is festering and Hypatia cries over her father.  Later she looks over some of the saved manuscripts.  Davus comes in and pushes her up against a wall and starts sexually assaulting her, but soon he starts crying with his head on her shoulder.  He gives her his sword and Hypatia tells him:  "You're free.  Go!  Go!" 

Henceforth in Alexandria, only Jewish and Christians are allowed to worship openly.  All pagan symbols are to be removed from the city.  After the storming of the library, many pagans convert to Christianity.  This gives Alexandria a time of peace.  Hypatia continues her teaching and research.  Her former disciples start occupying important posts among the social elite.  The Roman Empire divides into two parts and many Christians see this as a sign of the coming end of the earth and start leading holier lives.  The order of monks known as "Parabalani" take charge of patrolling the streets of Alexandria to insure Christian morality.  The pagans are no longer a real presence in the city.

The library, some years later.  A funeral is being held.  The library is in very bad shape.  There are goats being kept there and there is a mess everywhere one looks.  A musical performance is presented at the theater.  All of a sudden Christians on top of the theater start throwing stones at the actors and the audience and shout:  "Damned Jews!" 

The Jewish community leaders come to prefect Orestes and complain that Bishop Cyril and his Christians stoned them.  Bishop Cyril speaks in his own defense.  Orestes tries to keep order by saying that all here present are brothers. 

Hypatia sails on a small ship.  With her is Orestes and her servant Aspasius.  She asks Orestes why does Cyril talk about "cleaning up" the Jews?  Orestes does not want to talk about this matter.  So Hypatia starts thinking about astro-physics.  She says that the earth may be moving around the sun.  Hypatia has her servant climb up the mast with a sack.  On her order, he drops the sack from the mast to the deck.  She had theorized that the sack would fall quite a ways from the mast, but it didn't.  It came down very close to the mast.  Hypatia has to think some more why this happens. 

At night someone yells for the Parbalani to come to Saint Alexander because the building is on fire. The Parabalani and other Christians run over and into Saint Alexander's church.  But they don't find any fire.  Suddenly they realize that the Jews have trapped them in by closing and locking the doors from the outside.  There are Jews up on the second floor and they start throwing stones down upon the Christians.  They knock everyone down and many are killed. 

Cyril comes to examine the place.  He says to his followers that they should feel sorry for the executioners of these Christians for Jews will be cursed and exiled.  Christians start killing any Jewish person they can get their hands on.  Davus takes part in this.  He sees Hypatia in the street and turns his head away to hide from her the fact that his face, hands and sword are all bloody.   The Christians start saying there will be no more Jews in Alexandria.  Hypatia goes to Orestes and asks him:  Where are the troops to stop this?  And why can't Orestes lock up Bishop Cyri?  Orestes says that if he defends the Jews, half the Christians will rise up against him.  Hypatia tells him that Cyril will keep on killing people until there is no one to govern.  The Christians are yelling:  "Jews out!" as the Jews move out of the city. 

The Bishop of Cyrene (Hypatia's former student Synesius) arrives.  People wonder what's he doing here?  Synesius speaks with Hypatia.  Orestes greets the bishop.  Meanwhile, Davus is helping to move the dead bodies of Jews out of the city to a mass funeral pyre.  Later Davus asks Ammonius if God ever speaks to him?  Ammonius says yes.  Davus asks:  "Do you ever think we are mistaken?"   He also says:  "I was forgiven, but now I can't forgive."  Ammonius tells Davus that they are still alive and that God wants them herr to do what they do. 

Cyril and Synesius meet together.  Cyril will also meet with Orestes.  Orestes wonders why would Cyril come without any concrete proposals? 

Hypatia speaks out against being baptized.  Many think the problem is that Hypatia doesn't believe in anything.  She says she believes in philosophy.  A man says that's not of much help to them. 

Hypatia wonders if this is all that life holds for her?  No husband, no children.  She says her father loved a woman. 

Hypatia suggests that maybe the earth does not move in a circle.  There may be another shape.  She adds that she has to rethink everything.

Cyril is preaching an anti-woman sermon. He says that woman does not have authority over man, but rather should remain in silence. He says he knows that some men believe in the woman Hypatia, but he regards her as a witch.  He asks everyone to kneel before the book he holds.  Orestes does not and he falls under suspicion.  The monks start shouting:  "Kneel!  Kneel!"  The atmosphere of the place grows  nastier and Orestes leaves.  He tells the mob that he is as Christian as they are.  Ammonius throws a rock and hits Orestes in the forehead.  He goes down. Others also throw stones at Orestes. 

Orestes is taken away.  The news comes that the culprit (Ammonius) has been executed.  Hypatia is told that she can't walk on the streets right now.  Cyril has made serious accusations about her, namely, ungodliness and witchcraft.  Orestes starts to have his cuts sewed up, but Synesius comes to talk with him.  Orestes tells everyone to get out.  When everyone is gone, Orestes tell Synesius:  "It's me that snake Cyril is after."    Orestes asks Synesius to swear his loyalty to him and the Roman Empire.  He wants Synesius to condemn Cyril or get out.  Synesius says he will do it on his knees, if need be.  But Synesius wants to know from Orestes if he is a true Christian?  Orestes says he would not betray Hypatia.  Synesius insists that Cyril read what is written.  The scripture is correct.  He then asks Orestes:  "Don't you see the insult to God in front of everyone?"   He wants Orestes to tell God that he believes in what is written. 

Cyril proclaims Ammonius a martyr and a saint.  He will be Saint Tomasias.  The Parabalani shout:  "We want justice!"  They want to hurt Orestes where it will hurt the most.  They want to hurt that "whore" Hypatia. 

Hypatia talks with Aspasius about the path the earth takes.  She thinks it is the shape of the ellipse.  Hypatia says after all, the circle is just a perfect ellipse. 

Orestes and Synesius talk to Hypatia.  They tell her that it has been announced that all dignitaries who have not become Christians will have to be baptized.  Hypatia says that they are peddling faith.  Then she says she is not a government dignitary.  Orestes tells her that everyone knows that she is the person he trusts the most.  Synesius says she's as Christian as they are.  Hypatia says:  "But you can't question what you believe.  I must." 

Davus starts asking for Hypatia saying he needs to speak to her.  He is told she's at the Prefect's Palace. 

Orestes tells Hypatia if she doesn't agree with them, he won't be able to protect her anymore.  And he says:  "I can't go on without you.  Without you, I can't defeat Cyril."    Hypatia responds:  "Cyril has already won."  The Romans offer an escort to Hypatia, but she says no. 

The Parabalani spot Davus on the street and tell him that they have found Hypatia.  And sure enough, Hypatia is walking surrounded by Parbalani.  They push her down calling her a witch.  They take her to the Serapeum where they strip her naked and call her a whore.  Someone suggests that they should skin Hypatia alive.  Another says they should stone her.  Davus tells them that he will hold her here while the others gather stones.  Davus grabs her from behind and puts his hands over her mouth and nose.  He suffocates her.  When the others come in, he tells them that Hypatia suddenly fainted.  The Parabalani start stoning the dead body. 

"Hypatia's mutilated body was dragged through the streets and burned on a pyre.  Orestes disappeared, never to be seen again.  Cyril seized the power of Alexandria.  Much later, Cyril was declared a saint and a doctor of the church.  Although none of Hypatia's works survived, it is known that she was an outstanding astronomer and renowned for her mathematical studies on conic curves.  1,200 years later, in the 17th century, the astronomer Johannes Kepler discovered that one of these curves, the ellipse, governs the motion of the planets." 


Good film about the astronomer and mathematician known as Hypatia, daughter of Theon.   She was a very good person and a wonderful scholar.  Her only sin was that she was caught in the fight between three different religions:  paganism, Judaism and Christianity.  She was not a believer in any of the religions and that proved a problem. The Christians pushed the pagans and then the Jews out of Alexandria, Egypt.  Then they maintained that any dignitary (including Hypatia) in Alexandria must be baptized.  Hypatia resisted being baptized.  Her only other possible sin was that she was caught between two powerful men competing for power in Alexandria.  She was an ally of Orestes, but that brought the ire of Cyril down upon her.  He preached an anti-woman sermon and said that Hypatia was a witch.  He created an atmosphere that would prove very difficult for Hypatia.  Rachel Weisz (as Hypatia) was very good. 

Long live the separation of church and state and tolerance for the beliefs of others

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

48 BC -- Julius Caesar accidentally burns down the Library of Alexandria when he sets fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas' attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea. Scholars start using a related library in the temple known as the Serapeum, which is described as the "daughter library" (which was also a temple to the god Serapis).

Between 350-370 – Hypatia (known later as Hypatia of Alexandria) is born, the daughter of Theon, the last known mathematician associated with the museum of Alexandria.

365 – Alexandria is devastated by a tsunami from an earthquake on Crete.

Her father becomes her teacher.

She studies in Athens and Italy.

 385-412  – reign of Cyril of Alexandria's maternal uncle Theophilus as Patriarch of Alexandria.  He was a Coptic Pope during the conflict between the newly dominant Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria.

391 – the Patriarch Theophilus destroys all pagan temples in Alexandria under orders from Emperor Theodosius I, who had condemned Cyril of Alexandria for behaving like a proud pharaoh..

391 – Theophilus discovers a hidden pagan temple and he mockingly displays the pagan artifacts to the public. This offended the pagans so much that they attack the Christians, who counter-attacks, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum.  The daughter library is destroyed by Theophilus, who ordered the destruction of the Serapeum.

late 4th century – persecution of pagans by newly Christianized Romans becomes rampant.

c. 400 AD – Hypatia becomes head of the Platonist school at Alexandria.

She is considered the first notable woman in mathematics. (She also taught the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato and astronomy.)

412-444  --  reign of Cyril of Alexandria as Pope or Patriarch of Alexandria.  At this time in Alexandria there are many disputes between pagans, Jews and Christians. Orestes, the prefect of the city, often opposes the actions of Cyril in Alexandria.  Two factions of Christians coalesce around the two men: the moderate Orestes, supported by Hypatia, and the more rigid Cyril.   Orestes, Praefectus augustalis of the Diocese of Egypt, resists Cyril's agenda of ecclesiastical encroachment onto secular prerogatives.

Cyril demands that the Jews be removed from the city of Alexandria. Orestes refuses to remove the Jews. So Cyril leads a mob of Christians against the Jews. Synagogues are plundered and destroyed and Orestes is killed. A great many of the Jews are driven out of the city.  (Christians speculate that these acts of brutality were in retaliation for Alexandrian Jews instigating the death of monk Hierax and luring Christians into the streets at night claiming their church was on fire and then slaughtering them.)

415  --  Some Christians think that Hypatia's influence has caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. A group of Christians supporting Cyril grab Hypatia.  They strip her naked and drag her to a church where they start tearing off her flesh with oyster shells.  After tearing her body apart, they burned the parts.  The depth of Cyril's involvement in the murder is a matter of dispute. 

5th century  --  the Brucheum and Jewish quarters are desolate.

431  --  at the Council of Ephesus, Nestorian bishops declared Cyril of Alexandria a heretic, labeling him as a "monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church".



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