Sacri­fi­cial woman

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards For The New Mex­i­can

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.

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