Monday, June 22, 2009

Hypatia Movie

There's a Hypatia movie coming out.

Pro: It's good to see a movie where the main protagonist is an important historical philosopher.

Con: All the indications are that they won't get her philosophy right. She was a Fourth Century Neoplatonist; it looks like they are going to try to make her a secular humanist, which she certainly was not. Disappointing waste; the Neoplatonism of the time, which of course is post-Iamblichus, is an extraordinarily complex and aesthetic blending of Platonic intellectualism and pagan religion, complete with philosophical lectures and religious rituals. It would make a mind-blowing big-screen spectacle.

Pro: Rachel Weisz will make a lovely Hypatia.

Con: She will be far too young; Hypatia was almost certainly in her sixties when she was killed. And that's just the most forgivable jumbling of chronology.

Pro: I'm all for a philosophical martyrdom story.

Con: Trapped in the Library of Alexandria while it is burning, the victim of people trying to prevent her from revealing that the earth revolves around the sun? What? What? I say again, what?

It looks like it will be awful. But if it does well enough, Roger Pearse is probably right:

Let’s welcome it. It should stir up interest in late antiquity, particularly if they can make the Byzantine world glow with light and colour. It doesn’t really matter if a shoal of false impressions get created. What we need to think of is the impressionable teenagers staring open-mouthed at the screen and thinking "Wow! I want to know more about that." Some will go on to become academics, more will buy books about the subject, and a few will get rich in the stock market and fund archaeological expeditions.

And, since Hypatia sometimes gets mentioned in my intro courses, if it does well, it would be a good learning example for how to approach the history of philosophy properly, even though (and perhaps especially since) it deviates from actual history. St. Cyril, of course, won't get a fair shake; but he hasn't since Kingsley, so that's nothing new.

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