Alejandro Amenabar's film about Hypatia, Agora, is opening in the US -- if anyone notices a film about Late Antique Alexandria and its mix of religion and violence, the movie is certain to evoke Pavlovian culture-war reactions from all and sundry...In any case, here's an interview with the star, Rachel Weisz, stressing the theme of opposition to religious intolerance / fundamentalism, and noting (?!) that basically ancient science and acting are interchangeable -- neither one involves telescopes (I know: Totally unfair!):
"What's remarkable is that everything she was doing was imaginary because she was working in the time before the telescope. Everything she was figuring out, she was doing with her imagination. There was some math to back it up - but what she did was imagine things. Which is what I do for a living as well."
And here's a thoughtful essay by Nathan Schneider, generally against the portrayal offered, although appreciative of the lack of sex / the contrast with (e.g.) HBO's Rome series. In particular, some interesting final thoughts:
The best-developed character in Agora, held as a foil against the street riots, is the sky. Amenábar used a starscape calibrated to look exactly as it would have in antiquity, accounting for axial precession. Several times he juxtaposes the stars’ stillness, and the Earth’s roundness, with the chaos below. Like a good Platonist, Hypatia was obsessed with the stars, which Plato and Aristotle held to be demigods, eternal as the universe and its Prime Mover. Contemplating of their order and their perfection is where her philosophy lurked. Unfortunately, other Platonic legacies mar her contemplation in Agora: an obsession with the circle, which blinds her to the elliptical motion of the planets, together with sitting atop a society predicated on slavery and gross inequity.
The Christians turn out to be even worse astronomers, but they do get some things right. The Parabalani—a band of the patriarch’s bodyguards that Agora implicates in Hypatia’s murder—were actually a fellowship chosen from among the poor, principally to serve the poor. They tended to the sick and buried the dead, risking infection in the process. Between violent mob scenes, the movie does at least give a glimpse of what brought so many in the vast Alexandrian underclasses to wear the sign of the cross: bread, freedom, and the good news of the Beatitudes. Hypatia’s slave Davus is, to her, only a slave, albeit a clever one; among Christians, he learns that feeding the hungry is better than fattening the full.
In any case, it's clear that any discussion will be a fruitful venue for centuries of cultural anxieties and antagonisms to be aired willy nilly...