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Re: [neoplatonism] Re: Agora: the movie about Hypatia

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  • John Uebersax
    Dear yorghl, ... Thank you very much for correcting this mistake. My point was not to criticize the movie -- which naturally one cannot do very well unless and
    Message 1 of 22 , Feb 10, 2010
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      Dear yorghl,

      > it is not Pedro Almodovar, but Alejandro Amenabar, who is the director of Agora.

      Thank you very much for correcting this mistake.

      My point was not to criticize the movie -- which naturally one cannot do very well unless and until one sees it.  My main point was that Christian churches have some genuine reasons to be sensitive to the issue of stereotypes.  How that concern is expressed, of course, is another matter.

      John Uebersax













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    • John Uebersax
      ... Okay, I made an easy mistake between two Spanish directors whose last names begin with A .  It seems to me if the situation were reversed and you made
      Message 2 of 22 , Feb 10, 2010
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        MC wrote:

        >  It's even less clear why Pedro Almodovar appears in this post: he
        >  had, as far as I know, nothing to do with this film.

        Okay, I made an easy mistake between two Spanish directors whose last names begin with "A".  It seems to me if the situation were reversed and you made the error, I'd would be pleased to have the opportunity to overlook it, especially inasmuch as it matters little for the main point -- and certainly not use it as a reason for sarcasm.

        >  M.C. Perhaps. Does it also depend on whether or not they have actually
        >  seen the film? I suspect most of those who complain have not. I also
        >  suspect you have not. Topic for consideration: what is the relation
        >  between the "prejudiced thinking" you so rightly condemn, and the practice
        >  of condemning that which one knows only by hearsay?

        Except that I'm not condemning anything.  I'm only suggesting that one shouldn't judge too quickly any complaints that Christian groups might raise against the movie -- provided they focus on the issue of stereotypes, and not free speech.

        I also thought I chose my words rather carefully, bracketing everything within the conditional "*IF* the film perpetuates a stereotype."

        >  The point of the film is clearly not to denigrate *Christianity* - which,
        >  the last time I checked, is not coextensive with Cyril of Alexandria or
        >  with 5th century Alexandria - but to denigrate *fundamentalism*.

        Example:  when they make shoot-em-up movies where Islamic characters are the
        bad guys, does that reinforce stereotypes?  What about cowboy movies where
        Native Americans are the villains?  Certainly the latter group has complained,
        and perhaps the former as well.  The problem of stereotypes and stereotyping
        exists as a psychological and cultural phenomenon.  For both of these examples, a similar argument could be made:  but the movie doesn't claim to represent *all* Muslims,
        or *all* Native Americans.  If stereotyping operated in a rational way, that would be a valid point.  But stereotypes operate at a non-rational level. 

        > But perhaps the director - Amenabar, not Almodovar - is wrong: perhaps the mob
        > who pulled Hypatia from her carriage, stripped her naked, tore the flesh
        > from her bones with seashells...

        Or perhaps Gibbons was wrong.

        > seem hard to understand why it should be forbidden to make a film about
        > them.

        Not forbidden -- just shallow.  Perhaps someone would be so kind as to point out how anything I wrote even remotely suggests I believe people should be forbidden to make this or any other film? 

        My reply came to a suggestion that professional philosophers draft a letter supporting the film.  Is that something you would like to do?  If so, I'd love to see it.  If not, maybe you shouldn't criticize me so harshly for supplying reasons not to do so.

        John Uebersax












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      • Goya
        ... M.C. It matters to the following extent: when you confuse directors names, or when you misspell Gibbon s name, as you do below, it suggests, at least to
        Message 3 of 22 , Feb 11, 2010
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          > MC wrote:
          >
          >>  It's even less clear why Pedro Almodovar appears in this post: he
          >>  had, as far as I know, nothing to do with this film.
          >
          > Okay, I made an easy mistake between two Spanish directors whose last
          > names begin with "A".  It seems to me if the situation were reversed and
          > you made the error, I'd would be pleased to have the opportunity to
          > overlook it, especially inasmuch as it matters little for the main point
          > -- and certainly not use it as a reason for sarcasm.

          M.C. It matters to the following extent: when you confuse directors'
          names, or when you misspell Gibbon's name, as you do below, it suggests,
          at least to me, that you may not be as familiar with the subject-matter as
          one might have wished. In other words, that you have not done your
          homework.



          > <snip>
          >
          >> 
          >
          > Example:  when they make shoot-em-up movies where Islamic characters are
          > the
          > bad guys, does that reinforce stereotypes?  What about cowboy movies where
          > Native Americans are the villains? 

          M.C. Your analogies are interesting, but I find them inept, for at least
          these two reasons:

          1. In order for a stereotype to be perpetuated, it must first *exist*. Now
          is it really true that movies are full of depictions of Christians,
          ancient or modern, as ignorant, intolerant and violent? I don't believe it
          is: I can think only of Buñuel's Simon del Desierto, a film made on a
          shoestring budget in Mexico, which can hardly be said to constitute a
          trend.

          2. Your example of Islamic characters is particularly interesting. In
          fact, Muslim directors have not shied away for portraying Islamic
          fundamentalists in a very negative light indeed: one thinks of the work of
          the great Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, and his depiction of
          Avicenna's struggles against narrow-minded clerics (Destiny/al-massir,
          1997). They made such films not to denigrate Islam, nor to perpetuate
          stereotypes, but to call attention to what, in their view, represented a
          danger to and a betrayal of Islamic ideals : fundamentalism, intolerance,
          and extremism.

          Now I don't know whether Almenabar is Christian or not. But he is a
          representative of a still largely-Christian culture, which, it seems to
          me, is perfectly justified in asking questions about the episodes of
          intolerance which have occasionally besmirched Christianity's past (in the
          view of all but its most rabid apologists)

          <snip> 
          >
          >> But perhaps the director - Amenabar, not Almodovar - is wrong: perhaps
          >> the mob
          >> who pulled Hypatia from her carriage, stripped her naked, tore the flesh
          >> from her bones with seashells...
          >
          > Or perhaps Gibbons was wrong.

          M.C. Ah yes. So much for that, then: the whole Hypatia story is simply a
          legend made up by Gibbon.

          This might almost be a credible possibility - if Gibbon were our only
          source. But of course he's not: we have ancient information from the Suda,
          Photius, Philostorgius, Damascius, Malalas, etc. Gibbon himself based his
          account primarily on the Ecclesiastical History by the 5th-century
          Christian Socrates of Constantinople (7, 15): Here's a translation
          (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26017.htm) :

          There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the
          philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as
          to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to
          the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of
          philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive
          her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner,
          which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she
          not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates.
          Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men
          on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
          Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time
          prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was
          calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who
          prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them
          therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was
          a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from
          her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they
          completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing
          her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron,
          and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not
          only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. *And surely
          nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance
          of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort*. This happened in the
          month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate,
          under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.

          M.C. I couldn't agree more with the phrase I have placed within asterisks
          (ἀλλότριον
          γὰρ παντελῶς
          τῶν
          φρονούντων τὰ
          Χριστοῦ φόνοι
          καὶ μάχαι καὶ
          τὰ τούτοις
          παραπλήσια) and it is
          also a pretty good summary of what Amenabar's film is about. One wishes
          current protesters would imitate the frankness and objectivity of Socrates
          Scholasticus.


          P.S. Yes, I know Socrates and all the other ancient witnesses may have
          made the whole thing up, although their motives are impossible to imagine
          (they were almost all Christian!). For that matter, perhaps the Aeneid was
          in fact a fake written by a medieval monk....

          Michael Chase
          CNRS UPR 76
          Paris-Villejuif
          France
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