I have watched a very interesting movie last weekend: “Ágora”, by the Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar. It is a story about a very interesting character, the astronomer Hypatia, who live in the IV-V centuries, during the end of the Roman empire. We know for sure few things about her life and death. She was killed during by Christian zelots during these turbulent years, when paganism (and the classical culture) was dying, and a new order and way of understanding the world was appearing
As a matter of fact, I do not care whether the story in the movie is accurate or is the re-interpretation of several historical facts using our own situation. What really matter to me are two facts:
First, Hypatia herself, as scientist. The way she understands her environment, her compromise with knowledge. Her humility recognizing her limitations and, above all, her flexibility to reevaluate her initial assumptions and to challenge what she believed previously to be the truth.
Second, the intolerance, then and now. There are always bigots (whether religious extremist, political, moralist or otherwise) trying to restrict knowledge and freedom. They know science and culture are barriers against barbarism, and they are one of the first targets.
I have read in the newspaper that the movie might not be distributed in USA, since some people believe it is anti-christian (it is not), despite its quality, the important casting and the amazing reconstruction of the ancient city of Alexandria, where it takes place. It would be a shame if the intolerants win again.
For those of you who didn´t have the opportunity to watch “Cosmos”, by Carl Sagan, I do recommend to try to, at least, have a look at the episode discussing the destruction of the Library and the Serapeum.
After 1600 years, Hypatia is still a example: of what a scientist ought to be, but, above everything, how a human being has to behave.