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Film / Agora

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Studying what would be lost for centuries

Ágora (written and directed by your favorite LGBT Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar) is a movie portraying the life of the female philosopher Hypatia (played by Rachel Weisz), from the destruction of Alexandria to her death at the hands of fanatical Christians. It takes a number of liberties with the history it's trying to depict, so take it with a grain of salt.

Agora provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: Possibly subverted. The real Hypatia was over 60, while Rachel Weisz was nearly 40 at the time of filming. However, other sources identified Hypatia's age to be about 30, and given the other liberties taken by the film (see Artistic License - History below), maybe they deliberately chose those to believe them in order to make her younger.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In Real Life, Hypatia was an ardent Neoplatonist. In the film, she is still officially such, as she teaches in a Platonic school and is labelled as a pagan, but she actually declares herself an atheist or an agnostic (presumably so the faith vs. science controversy will be clear). This allows her to use empirical reasoning, which in real life was contrary to her school of thought and religion. Consequently, she is shown making astronomical advances which rely on these methods (despite there being no contemporary evidence tying her to these advances in real life).
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    • While there was really a Serapeum in which was housed an academy, the notion that it carried rescued books from the burned Great Library is highly questionable, as contemporary evidence suggests the collection was considered a thing of the past by 378 C.E. and Socrates of Constantinople, no enemy of knowledge, only mentioned religious artifacts being destroyed by the Christians, not books.
    • The film gives the impression that, after the pagans disappeared from Alexandria, Hypatia was only known among her former disciples and her Christian enemies. In real life, Hypatia was very popular and respected by Christians and non-Christians alike, and and pretty much everyone was horrified by the news of her murder. While her murderers were certainly Christians and probably in league with Cyril and the Parabalani, some chroniclers claim she was killed by entirely political reasons (namely, a rumor accusing her of manipulating Orestes in his enmity with Cyril) instead of religious disputes.
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    • According to Neoplatonist chronicler Damascius, Hypatia was celibate and her rejection of a suitor via menstrual rags was even nastier than portrayed in Agora: she did not use it to merely dispel his idealization of her, but to condemn his sexuality. The Hypatia from the film doesn't seem to be all out for celibacy, given the mentioned modification, and even has a scene lamenting she has never loved someone. (That said, there is modern debate about whether she was just like Damascius describes her or if he was trying to make her look the purest, holiest possible for propaganda reasons; he acknowledges she was married, which is not incompatible with celibacy but makes an interesting clue.)
    • The Roman soldiers use equipment from the first century AD when the film is actually set in the fifth century AD.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Cyril quotes passages from The Bible to turn the mob against Orestes, specifically quoting verses that state women should be submissive to men, which led the mob to consider Hypatia a witch and kill her.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Hypatia is murdered, Christianity takes over and scientific advance is halted. The end.
  • Barefoot Sage: Played with; Hypatia isn't always barefoot, but she seems to have a habit of taking off her sandals when teaching her students this way.
  • Black And Black Morality: Neither the Christians, nor the pagans, nor the Jews are portrayed in what could be described a positive way - they all are equally violent, ignorant and bent on provocation and escalation.
  • Church Militant: The Parabalani monks will stone you to death, skin you alive and generally kill you in the most unpleasant ways if you are against their faith.
  • Corrupt Church: Subverted; it's not corrupt, not in the classic sense of the word, but rather the opposite: sincere and very fanatical.
  • Cycle of Revenge: What begins with a couple of public speeches and marketplace debates between dissenting religious groups soon spirals into attacks and acts of public humiliation. Those soon culminate in fully-fledged riots and pogroms, usually in direct retaliation.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Hypatia calls Davus an "idiot" while packing and generally adheres to the idea that slaves are lower than free people (even if she still treats Davus better than she treats some free men). This drives him to participate in the sacking of the library, and he is only barely able to restrain himself from sexually assaulting her when next they meet.
  • The Empire: Literally, since it's the Roman Empire we're talking about.
  • A Father to His Men: A Mother To Her Students, that is. Or, in Orestes and Davus' case, actually a Love Interest.
  • Foreign-Looking Font: On the posters, the pseudo-Greek font uses Lambdas in place of Latin alphabet 'A's or Alphas in Greek meaning that if we ignore the fact that a Latin alphabet 'R' is used in place of the correct Greek Rho (which looks like a 'P') and that a Latin 'G' is used in place of a Greek Gamma then the film's title reads: LGORL.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The Christians and Jews dress mostly in black or grey (with some clerical orders using white) while pagans use white. Fun fact: none are truly good; in fact, the only color associated with good is red, which is both used by the Roman army and Hypatia herself after Alexandria's library's demise. Justified because it's historically accurate.
  • The Heretic: Hypatia, after paganism became illegal. Considering she was a principled atheist ("You do not question what you believe; you cannot. I must."), she was technically a heretic from the beginning.
  • Hot Teacher: Hypatia fits the description of this trope most closely, with her student Orestes and her slave/research assistant Davus falling in love/lust with her. (You might think she'd be listed as a Hot Librarian or Hot Scientist, but she doesn't really fit those tropes as defined on this wiki.)
  • Karma Houdini: Cyril eventually came to be remembered as a saint, despite how horrible his actions were.
  • Love Triangle: Hypatia, Orestes and Davus.
  • Mercy Kill: Davus asphyxiates Hypatia so she wouldn't have to suffer a much more painful death by stoning at the hands of the other parabolani.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Davus manages to stop himself during his attack on Hypatia, and offers his knife to her, expecting to be killed. Instead, she gives him his freedom.
  • Noble Bigot:
    • Christians in the movie are genuinely good people... unless you belong to any religion but theirs.
    • Hypatia herself doesn't consider slaves to be people, even if she usually treats them kindly.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The whole reason Christians started slaughtering pagans and later Jews. Subverted because Christians are obviously as religious as the others are.
  • Pet the Dog: Cyril is shown giving bread to the poor and teaches Davus to be kind to them.
  • Pretty Boy: Bishop Synesius of Cyrene, played by the British actor Rupert Evans.
  • Race Lift: The ethnic Jews are all portrayed by white actors. Although Christianity encouraged conversion and gained a number of followers from all religions, Jews at this point were still a small ethnoreligious group from the Levant.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The film contains a number of myths about Hypatia and the Library of Alexandria that are so common in pop-culture that the real history sounds implausible to many people. To what degree the movie is guilty of spreading historical myths is, however, somewhat open to debate.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Hypatia correctly comes to the conclusion that planets orbit in ellipses, but on the assumption that summer and winter come when the Earth is closer to and farther away from the sun, not due to the tilt of the Earth's axis of rotation.
  • Shameful Strip: The mob strips Hypatia naked before they try to stone her.
  • Toppled Statue: Christians destroy the statues in the Library of the Serapeum.


Example of: