Larry Rohter

Gibbon, Hypatia and Bigotry

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One of my favorite historians is Edward Gibbon.  I have made my way through his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire several times.  I find his style entertaining, his wit dry, and his scholarship, for his time, adequate.  Unfortunately Gibbon was also an anti-Catholic bigot, in part a reaction to a brief conversion to the Faith as a teen-ager, which exposed him to considerable paternal displeasure.  His bigotry is on full display whenever he treats of the Church, but usually he does not distort the facts.  That was not the case in his account of the female philosopher Hypatia, and the fate she met in Egypt in 391 AD.  That account, usually in distorted form, is a staple of anti-Catholic and atheist websites.  Now Hypatia is the heroine of a Catholic bashing movie Agora. The English trailer of the movie is at the top of this post.  David Hart has a superb post at First Things correcting Gibbon and the movie.

The occasion of my misery is the release of Alejandro Amenábar’s film Agora, which purports to be a historical account of the murder of the female philosopher Hypatia by a Christian mob in the early fifth century, of the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, and (more generally) of an alleged conflict that raged in the ancient world between Greek science and Christian faith. I have not actually seen the movie, and have no intention of doing so (I would say you couldn’t pay me to watch it, but that’s not, strictly speaking, true). All I know about it is what I have read in an article by Larry Rohter in the New York Times. But that is enough to put my teeth on edge.

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