I had a lighter topic to talk about today, but that was before I saw a movie tonight with my husband that I hadn’t seen since it came out years ago.
In this story, a woman was dragged down a street in the middle of the day into a church, stripped and beat to death with roofing tiles. Then her body was torn apart and set on fire.
Even though that event could have easily taken place today, anywhere in the world and for whatever reason—or lack of reason–it happened over 1,600 years ago in Alexandria, Egypt around 415 CE.
Touted in smithsonianmag.com as “one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria and one of the first women to teach mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy”, Hypatia, daughter of mathematician and astronomer Theon, was also a “pagan who spoke publicly about Neoplatonism, a non-Christian philosophy.”
This stance, along with her association with Alexandria’s governor, Orestes, would in time lead to her death.
And although the 2009 film Agora (aɡərə/noun: in ancient Greece, a public open space used for assemblies and markets) was visually pleasing and ultimately entertaining (for one thing, Rachel Weisz, the star, was young and beautiful, where the real Hypatia would probably have been in her 50s or 60s at the time of her death–a death greatly sanitized in the movie version) it was still accompanied by a mounting sense of dread and disbelief (for me) as ignorance, fanaticism and escalating violence unfolded between the Christians and the pagans and later the Christians and the Jews.
In the wake of the synagogue shootings that just happened in Pittsburgh, the movie’s depiction of the consequences of rigid intolerance was like fingernails across a blackboard. In that moment, it felt like nothing had changed and like nothing was ever going to change.
I mean, they’re old themes. We know these themes. How often have these familiar themes have played out before: the fear of/destruction of self-empowerment and self-determination.
The impregnation of society with a simmering blind aggression blatantly absent of empathy or love.
Calculating “leaders” spewing negative rhetoric intended to electrify and enrage the masses.
The aggravated mobs dancing obediently at the ends of their puppet strings, foaming at the mouth.
At some point I realized watching Agora and turning on the nightly news were basically one in the same. I felt like I’d climbed into the TV set, into the movie, into 1,600 years ago, then taken two steps forward right back into 2018.
Like my last post about The Wall, an invisible force appearing out of nowhere to trap a woman alone in the Austrian Alps, Hypatia’s story could be and is anyone’s story. Symbolically, I could be dragged through the street in broad daylight, stripped, humiliated, you could be stoned to death, dismembered, and those parts of us set on fire in order to disappear us completely from the world. Because 1600 years ago, and now, and probably in some repeating loop far into the unseen ages, rage and anger, bolstered by ignorance and self-righteousness, are more easily accessible and more immediately gratifying than reason, compassion and clemency.