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Agora

(directed by Alejandro
Amenábar, Mod Producciones, etc,
2009; distributed by Newmarket
Films). A review by Chelisa Elmore
of Eta Eta at Virginia Tech

Agora is a fictional historical drama based on
the historical character of Hypatia (played
by Rachel Weisz), a fourth century C.E.
philosopher, astronomer, and teacher from
Alexandria. Although primarily a drama,
the film also includes several scenes of violent
fighting to appeal to people who prefer
action movies, though only occasionally
does the director take this violence to the
point of discomfort for people, like me,
who avert their eyes from blood and gore.
The plot of Agora centers on the tension
between pagans and Christians during the
later life of Hypatia. The majority of the
movie takes place in Hypatia’s classroom,
where the larger issues of religion play out
on a smaller scale. However, these issues are
not contained to her classroom, and there
are many scenes where the city becomes
a battlefield for the two opposing religious
beliefs, both literally and figuratively.
If you are quick to judge movies about
antiquity by their historical accuracy,
be forewarned that the storyline greatly
expands upon our very limited information
about Hypatia in order to develop a betterrounded,
more watchable story and to provide
context not preserved in the original
sources. The most obvious liberties are the
elaboration of Hypatia’s presumed theories
and ideas, and the romantic themes in
the movie. Agora also uses anachronistic
background images. For example, I noticed
the Capitoline wolf, which was enhanced
during the Renaissance, appearing in the
movie not in its ancient but rather in its
Renaissance form. However, the director
does attempt to present cultural aspects of
antiquity in accurate ways as well, often in
such small details as women performing
in the role of mourners at the funeral of
Theos, Hypatia’s father.
Overall, Agora is a good movie for any
Eta Sigma Phi chapter to watch and discuss
while keeping in mind that its primary
value is entertainment. Indeed, if this
movie spikes your interest about Hypatia,
there have been many representations of
Hypatia since the 19th century to satisfy
uncomfortyour
interest. These representations, similarly
to Agora, present Hypatia in a positive
and sympathetic light. From the 19th
century, these include two poems, Hypatia
and Hypatia et Cyrille, by Charles-Marie-
René Leconte de Lisle, and a photograph
by Julia Margaret Cameron. In the 20th
century, Hypatia has appeared in books as
both a fictional character who only shares
some characteristics with the historical
Hypatia, such as the character Hypatia in
the play The Five Historical Girls Theorem
by Rinne Goff, and as a fictional version of
her historical character, as in the Heirs of
Alexandria series by Mercedes Lackey, Eric
Flint and Dave Freer. In the 21st century,
these presentations continues, not only
with the film Agora, but in alternative
histories, such as Hypatia y la eternidad, by
Ramon Galí, and biographies like Michael
Deakin’s Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician
and Martyr.

About the Author
Chelisa Elmore is a rising senior in the Eta
Eta chapter at Virginia Tech, majoring in
Classical Studies and Spanish. Her interest
in the Classics did not materialize until
college, but since then she has embraced
it completely. In addition to watching
movies, she spends her free time reading a
wide variety of books.

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