1

In the movie "Agora" an ultimatum is given to Hypatia, either she adopts Christianity or the prefect would not be able to protect her anymore. Hypatia chooses the latter and is subsequently murdered. Although this is most probably not based on true historical events, it prompted the question of why Hypatia seemed so opposed to Christianity. Most of her pupils had already converted during her lifetime, and some even became bishops, and Hypatia was on friendly terms with them.

It is widely assumed that Hypatia was murdered because of her affiliations with paganism. Although it is known that Hypatia was a neoplatonist, and neoplatonism is not at all related to paganism, Hypatia could have still been considered a pagan in Christian eyes as they wouldn't be able to differentiate between a neo-platonist and a pagan. Given that the pagans in Alexandria were persecuted at that time why did she not adopt Christianity out of fear? I read that lots of Romans converted out of fear, paganism has even been outlawed in some areas. Were the Neoplatonists opposed to Christianity on philosophical grounds? Or was she simply unaware that she was in danger?

5
  • 3
    What has your preliminary research revealed? Does Wikipedia:Hypatia (e.g. "Hypatia became extremely popular with the people of Alexandria and exerted profound political influence." and the remainder of that section.) or Wikipedia:Neoplatonism answer the question? If not, why not?
    – MCW
    Jan 28, 2022 at 13:42
  • 3
    Agora presents a highly...um, romanticized...version of history. ("Romanticized" being much politer than "tendentiously fictional".) If I were to try to describe something as complicated as the Neoplatonism of Late Antiquity in brief, it might be called paganism's attempt to adapt to a radical change in peoples' idea of what a religion is. (But that too would be a gross oversimplification, though probably not quite so gross.)
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 28, 2022 at 14:18
  • 1
    @MarkOlson I'm aware of that. I think the entire movie is full of inaccuracies. They portray as if Hypatia was killed in a religious fanatical suppression against women, which is completely fictional. Also the scene where they throw the library scrolls in fire looks more like a Nazi riot on Kristallnacht than a true Alexandrian uprising. The movie just made me wonder how Hypatia (or any Neoplatonist) would have viewed the Christians around them.
    – Bach
    Jan 28, 2022 at 15:44
  • 1
    That information is in the Wikipedia page Hypatia was a key ally of the ruler for a while.
    – MCW
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    I don't know enough about that to write an answer, but what I do know points to a very complex situation with multiple conflicting groups: It seems unlikely that the remnants of paganism found unity in neoplatonism. (And Alexandria was riven by factionalism with the Greeks hating the Jews who hated the Egyptians who hated the Greeks. Add Christians vs. pagans and the usual class divisions and Arianism splitting Christianity and I'm pretty sure Hypatia was probably nearly as confused about what she stood for as we are!)
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:09

1 Answer 1

5

There were Christian Neo-Platonists like John Philoponus and pagan Neo-Platonists like Proclus, who lived in Alexandria and Athens respectively. Philoponus wrote a famous refutation of Proclus' (and Aristotle's) doctrine of the eternity of the cosmos, and defending the Christian doctrine of the creation. So there were Neo-Platonists on both sides of the divide.

2
  • Thanks. Just to clarify, believing in the eternity of the cosmos does not ipso facto make one a pagan sympathizer (it's only pagan in the sense that it contradicts biblical creation). I'm talking about core pagan beliefs, like polytheism, magic, sacrifice, etc. in that sense I'm pretty sure neoplatonists could not relate to paganism as they had more of transcendental view of a higher power, neither did they believe in superstitious practices. In this sense, I think it's ridiculous to call Hypatia a pagan.
    – Bach
    Jan 28, 2022 at 18:35
  • Some of the Neo-Platonists, such as Jamblichus, are full of magic, astrology and other irrational stuff.
    – fdb
    Jan 29, 2022 at 12:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.