Agora; swords, sandals, and smarts epic; not rated; The Screen; 3 chiles
IThere is a hero in Alejandro Amenábar’s Agora, and there is a villain. The hero is knowledge. The villain is religion.
Fleshing out these abstract concepts are men and women — or more accurately, a woman. The best of them is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), the legendary philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician of ancient Alexandria. The worst are Pope Cyril of Alexandria (Sami Samir) and the Christian rabble-rouser Ammonius (Ashraf Barhom), both of whom wound up as saints. In between are scholars, slaves, politicians, and religious leaders of varying stripes and convictions.
Hypatia was a remarkable woman. She was the daughter of Theon (Michael Lonsdale), a noted scholar and mathematician who was the last head of the Museum of Alexandria. By all accounts, she outstripped her father intellectually and moved among men as a respected teacher and thinker in a time and a culture in which women did not generally lay much claim to gender equality.
The centerpiece of the movie is the destruction of the famous Royal Library of Alexandria, the repository of the knowledge and culture of the ancient world. In Amenábar’s version, drawing on an account set down about 50 years after the event, this was the work of rampaging Christian zealots in A.D. 391. Historical sources offer a few other theories. According to Plutarch, the library caught fire from drifting sparks when Julius Caesar set fire to his ships in the harbor in A.D. 48. In fact, there were a few libraries in Alexandria, and all those books and records probably didn’t go up in a single puff of smoke.