Hypatia of Alexandria

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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.

Información en español


About dbarrado

Born in Madrid, Spain, David Barrado completed a degree in physics, specializing in astrophysics, at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. At this same university he started work on a doctorate that he would go on to complete at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge (USA). He then spent several years as a post-doctoral researcher at a number of institutes in the United States (including as a Fulbright scholar during his time at CfA), Germany (Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, in Heidelberg) and Spain (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). David now works at the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC, Madrid) as a member of the National Technical Aerospace Institute (INTA), part of the Astrobiology Center (CAB), a combined institute made up of INTA and the Center for Higher Scientific Research (CSIC). With the INTA team he led research on the MIRI, an infrared instrument that will fly with the forthcoming space telescope, the JWST. He has also been involved in the development of a number of other astronomical instruments. For two years he was head of the Stellar and Exoplanets Astrophysics Laboratory, as a member of the CAB, and later Director of the Hispano-German Astronomy Center observatory in Calar Alto for three years. His research interests focus on the properties of stars in open star clusters, as well as detecting and characterizing substellar objects and exoplanets. More generally he has specialized in studying the formation of stars and planetary systems using various observational techniques: from visible light to distant infrared, using images and spectroscopes, via both terrestrial and space telescopes. This observation work has seen him publish close to one hundred and fifty articles in prestigious scientific journals. He also combines his research with tireless outreach activities. With Spanish blog, Cuaderno de Bitacora Estelar (see http://www.madrimasd.org/blogs/astrofisica/) has a very large audience.

2 Responses to Hypatia of Alexandria

  1. Tim van Kempen says:

    oh.. come on , not releasing it because it is anti-christian?? even if it was anti-christian, it should be released under the freedom of speech..

    hmm.. what a strange country i moved to.

  2. Tim van Kempen says:

    PS, i will try to see if i can watch the movie.. Hypatia was one of the few overlaps we had in high school between physics and latin.

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