Alejandro Amenabar directs Rachel Weisz as Hypatia on the set of the movie Agora.

Alejandro Amenabar directs Rachel Weisz as Hypatia on the set of the movie Agora.


The Renaissance artist Raphael, defying the Pope who commissioned the work, painted Hypatia into his 1510 masterpiece The School of Athens. The only woman among the sages, Hypatia gazes provocatively at the viewer as if she knows her story will be mined for rich polemical ore by social critics for centuries to come.


In the years before the French Revolution the liberal firebrand Voltaire cited Hypatia's murder as one of the more egregious crimes committed by the Church, setting the tone for the 1853 novel Hypatia, New Foes with an Old Face by Charles Kingsley, chaplain to Queen Victoria. Kingsley's novel is a screed against Catholicism that depicts Hypatia as a mystic torn between paganism and Christianity. Ironically, although Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob she was probably the model for St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose dubious historicity prompted Church leaders during Vatican II to demote her to a saint worthy of merely optional veneration.


Astronomer Carl Sagan, guiding TV viewers through a recreation of the Great Library of Alexandria in his 1980 PBS series Cosmos, portrayed Hypatia as the last of the great classical thinkers, whose demise marks the beginning of the Dark Ages. She is considered by many to be the first female scientist and a lunar crater located about 100 miles south of Tranquility Base is named after her. (Bishop Cyril, her enemy, is commemorated by a much larger crater in the same region).


Despite her dramatic story, Hypatia has never been the subject of a movie until recently. The $72 million English language film Agora by Chilean director Alejandro Amenabar was released in Spain in late 2009 and in the U.S. in 2010. Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia. The plot revolves around the struggle of Hypatia's slave who is torn between his love for her and the promise of freedom offered by religious fanatics who have besieged the Great Library.


site contents copyright © 2016 Don Dixon