A study of the reception of the life and death of the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia of Alexandra in Amenabar's film Agorá.
Van der Heijden, Gillian.
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The film Agorá is better appreciated through a little knowledge of the rise of Christianity and its opposition to Paganism which professed ethical principles inherited from Greek mythology and acknowledged, seasonal rituals and wealth in land and livestock. Neoplatonism developed from the Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle over a period of centuries. The learned proponents of Neoplatonic philosophies were viewed as elitists. Alexandria clung to Neoplatonic philosophy despite the edicts of Constantine the Great; a brief account of his influence and exertions to establish Christianity throughout the Roman Empire caused dissension among Christian bishops and split the Empire into two religious divisions, namely the Orthodox See of Byzantine and the Holy Roman Catholic Church of Rome. Chapter Two acknowledges that little information about Hypatia could be retrieved from the past but the discovery of the archived Letters of Synesius (played by Rupert Evans) redeemed her name from total obliteration; these letters, together with a selection of other authors are discussed. How the film Agorá was produced is examined in Chapter Three, in which media in film communicates and reflects social conflicts, local politics and power struggles of past and recent times, resulting in interaction with the audiences’ reception and perception in current times. Chapters Four and Five describe how Amenábar produced Agorá and the contents of the chapter that relate to what Amenábar says are on the Spanish Blu-Ray disc and his personal commentary comprises a scene by scene explanation of production methods. Although the video disc is recorded with Amenábar speaking in Spanish, the subtitles run in English; it is these comments that formed the bases of note taking in the progress of this dissertation with the intention of bringing new material to bear on the subject of Agorá as related to Amenábar’s production methods. The disc is mentioned as source material in references. Chapter Six focuses on Davus (played by Max Minghella), who is a fictitious central character in slave service to Hypatia. Slavery is current in the twenty first century, when migrant workers contract themselves to twelve years labour and surrender individual freedom for livelihood; current cinema audiences are aware of this exploitation and empathise with those so exploited. Amenábar returns to this form of service in the time frame of Hypatia’s epoch. Mateo Gil the screen script writer seemed aware of the name Davus as used in the Classic Discourses of Plato, because Davus was a commonly known slave name. The other classic description of slavery is more humorous in Horace’s iv Saturnalia, the Roman Festival that allowed the slave to speak his mind freely to his master for three days of festivities during the winter solstice of Capricorn from 17 to 19 December; the festival was marked by abundant feasting, drunken revelry and Saturn’s mis-rule. The tradition accompanied sigillariae (gift giving) while the elite wore a mixture of colourful clothes called synthesis (put-together) and waited on slaves. The Saturnalia cap of freedom was called a pilleum and was worn extensively while winter decorations of holly and berries festooned the halls; the festival was later incorporated into the Christian festival of Christmas. Slavery remained an element in Alexandria during distant centuries.1 Chapter Seven is the Summary and Conclusion of the entire dissertation and reviews the six chapters and contents in the light of film media productions and their influence on conditions in the current twenty-first century through the qualitative examples of love and hate, intolerance and destruction as seen in Agorá. One truth is evident that it is easier to destroy than to construct as the film testifies, when after the fall of the Roman Empire the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its Patriarchs attempted to reign over the chaos of the dogmatic Dark Ages and condemned to death independent research thinkers as heretics. Intelligent progress was polarised from the fifth century CE until the commencement of the Protestant Reformations of the fifteenth century. The limits and delimits in the dissertation on Agorá are usually referred to as paradigms. A paradigm recognises the limits of an argument. In Agora the time-line paradigm establishes the limitations of time over events. Methodology falls into either Qualitative Methodology which examines sentiments and feelings; and Quantitative Methodology which controls the value of quantities in film management, Agorá is limited to the timeline paradigm between 391–415 CE, which marks the end of the fourth century and the commencement of the fifth century CE. Mise en scene of the historical period agrees with known data regarding fashions, furniture and household items, architecture, cultural traditions and character types. The cinematic re-creation of the historical destruction of the Serapeon, as represented through modern technology and viewed by twenty-first century audiences, crosses the boundary between time-line paradigms when past social conflict relates to modern conditions, and impacts on the senses of the audience, who are immersed in the drama. Film viewing is unlike reading printed publication matter as the audience cannot step back and logically reason filmic events, which engage an individual viewer’s sensitive, confidential and psychological emotional responses. Although the scenes in Alexandria occurred seventeen hundred years ago an audience reflects on similar social conditions in current times. Modern technology brings the feeling of the fictionalised past to the experience of present day audiences; this defines a delimitation of the timeline paradigm. As already mentioned, the film Agorá is better appreciated through a study of the rise of Christianity and its opposition to Paganism. However, in the early fourth century CE Constantine the Great firmly established Christianity throughout the Roman Empire; a brief account of his influence and Christian regime follows in Chapter One.