Woman holds up Half the Sky

Some thoughts on watching Alejandro Amenabars’ film “Agora”.


 “All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self respecting persons as final” 

                                                     – Hypatia of Alexandria


“Goddamn Christians!”

I was watching Alejandro Amenabar’s 2009 film on the Life and Death of Hypatia of Alexandria, and the phrase just slipped to my lips. It was an emotional response of course, and what I really meant was that I hate religious fanatics of All denominations. But the bloody murder of Hypatia is a sore point that sticks in the craw of all those of us who stand for Reason and Philosophy. Like the deaths of Socrates and Giordano Bruno, the martyrdom of Hypatia should never be forgotten.


The basic story of Hypatia is easily told. Born around 370C.E. she was the daughter of Theon the mathematician and Head librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria, she herself was a famous Astronomer, mathematician and philosopher. Devoting her life to science she maintained her independence and never married. Though a “mere woman”, her intellect was so respected that her opinions were often sought by Orestes, the Governor of Alexandria. She was in fact an unofficial member of the governing council. That a woman, and a proud pagan at that, should have such influence was anathema to the increasingly powerful Christian sect. Before long they were spreading libelous rumours that she was a witch who used her sorceries to enthrall the Governor and Council.

Quoting “Saint” Paul’s injunction in Corinthians for women to “shut up and sit down the back” (I’m paraphrasing here), the vile “Saint” Cyril ordered a christian hit-squad to assassinate Hypatia, burn her books and destroy her “devilish instruments of witch-craft” i.e., the astrolabes and other scientific instruments of her work.

Fanatics are always cruel, and these ignorant scum were no exception. Brutally they skinned her alive with Abalone shells. With this barbarous act Cyril sent the Roman world a message. It was no longer safe to oppose the Christian tide.

Hypatia’s murder in 415 C.E. in fact symbolises the end of Classic Civilization and the beginning of the barbarism of the Dark Ages. Within a few years the last philosophical schools in Athens would be forceably closed by an intolerant Christian Emperor. Part of the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed when Christian mobs sacked the Temple of Serapis where it was housed. The Library remnants would be burnt in succeeding centuries by another mob of monotheistic fanatics, when Islam rode into town and used the “infidel” manuscripts to heat their baths.


“Agora” itself is a beautifully filmed movie, almost every scene is visually stunning. While at the beginning it may seem a little slow moving at times, you can always immerse yourself in contemplating the wonderful re-creation of 4th century Alexandria. Indeed, the producers of this film have laboured hard to create a proudly authentic mise-en-scene . This is as far as you can get from the cardboard sword-and-sandals epic of yore. Historically also the film is largely faithful to the facts, aside from the addition of a fictitious and entirely superfluous “love” triangle.

Rachel Weisz in the title role is perfect as the humanist heroine, investing her role with a gentle dignity.

I tried but I couldn’t bring myself to watch the end of this movie. I knew what was coming and I just couldn’t bear to see it. I tried twice in fact, but as events inexorably unfolded and that fatal scene drew close it became too upsetting. Now my reaction may seem puzzling when you consider I myself have previously painted the scene of Hypatia’s death! (The picture heading this sermon in fact. My art has been accused of being “dark”, and this is without doubt one of the darkest.)

Perhaps what makes it so deeply disturbing is that I know very well that scenes just like that are being played out across the world to this very day.

To this very day Knowledge, Learning and Culture are under threat from ignorant, intolerant religious fanatics.

To this very day women are being humiliated, tortured and killed for being intelligent and independent.

Among the bravest humans on this planet today are those women in places like Afghanistan who labour to educate a generation of young girls and free them from a life of ignorance & poverty. Among the lowest are those that would maim, mutilate or murder them for doing so.

If the West’s armies were in Afghanistan to protect these women and their basic human rights I would support them being there for a hundred years if necessary. But that’s not really why we went there, is it?. That was just window dressing. We went there for Revenge, and Mission Accomplished we are pulling out and leaving the unfortunate women of Afghanistan to their fate.


And before the West goes patting itself on the back, it should be reminded that its own treatment of women in the past has been pretty shabby, to say the least. For the greater part of Western History women have been treated as mere chattels, denied education or political representation. Neither Cromwell’s Commonwealth nor the French Revolution had women’s rights on the agenda. Not till the historic efforts of the Suffragettes did things begin to change. I’m proud that my home state of Queensland was the first place in the world where women got the vote, but that was only a mere hundred and ten years or so ago, a mere blink of the eye. Bit by bit the rest of the West grudgingly followed but even today there are cantons in Switzerland where women cannot vote. 

Yes and even today we as a culture continue to diminish women and the role they play. We underpay them, bully them, depict them as brainless bimbos, castrating bitches etc etc etc..

I haven’t the time or space to fully catalogue our failings.

Still advances have been made in Gender equality, mainly under the aegis of good old Secular Humanism, and these advances should be acknowledged and defended fiercely.

I’m all for cultural tolerance and diversity, but I’ve got no patience at all for so called “traditional” cultures that treat women as something less than men. The Burqa. Clitoral circumcision. Abandoning new born babies because they’re female. Denying girls education. Etc. Such “traditions” are primitive and backward and must be utterly crushed and wiped from the face of the Earth for all time. I make no apologies for saying this. Who’s with me?


Women Hold up Half the Sky” Chairman Mao once acknowledged, and this may well be the only statement he ever uttered that I agree with. (I would probably add, “and then some” in point of fact.) And there can be no doubt that back in 4th Century Alexandria, the astronomer Hypatia helped hold up more of the Sky than most.

You know, the word “Apologise” has been bandied around a lot these days. The Pope apologised to the Jews for past wrongs committed in the Church’s name. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Aborigines for stealing their land and their children. Perhaps its time we men issued a General Apology to women. Hell, I’ll do it myself.

Ladies, Girls, on behalf of my largely worthless gender,

I would like to apologise for our actions & attitudes for, oh.. say the last 4,000 years.

Honestly, I’m really, really sorry.



The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

Every story  he tells is a  lie

and all his lies are True.



~ by reverendhellfire on April 22, 2012.


  1. I’m with you all the way, Rev. Hellfire. The west gives lip service to gender equality and silently concurs with all the actions of the religious fanatics who downgrade women and persecute them to death if they can. Afghanistan is one of the worst, but only one of many bastions of bigotry in the name of ‘god’ or of patriarchy or of simply brutal force.

  2. Agora is a wonderful film and Hypatia is a role model for everyone!

  3. I found this “sermon” very moving & an echo of my own thoughts on the sad & brutal plight of women in many parts of the world. Of course it still flourishes here in our own country, perhaps not always as openly but it is here. There are many ways to castigate women that whilst not as brutal as Hypatia’s death & torture are none the less a “death” of sorts, stripping women of their pride& their rights. The domestic abuse against women & girls in the Western & presumedly more civilized countries is something we should all be ashamed of. It is in every street in every city & town but fear often prevents people talking openly about what they are going through. To me the worst aspect of violence against women is that the victims are so beaten down they believe they do not deserve better & are only good enough to be treated badly. Not all of this abuse is physical but mental abuse can sometimes do more damage, any female who is dominated by what religion & their male partners deem fit are in fact abused persons. I do not have a solution to any of this & the only thing I personally can do is speak out when I can against it & do my small bit to empower women I meet……

    • Yes its terrible to see a slave that has come to accept their slavery as their natural condition. And quite right, we must each do our small part in our own corner of the world to change things for the better. Keep holding up the Sky, sister!

  4. the province where i live women (goddesses) are quite often seen saving the male Gods 🙂

    i really love that part.

    • Yep, you gotta respect a girl like Kali!
      I must confess a woeful ignorance of Hindu philosophy (I promise to rectify that and do some more research soon) but it has always seemed to me that Hinduism is superior to many other religions in that it recognises & values the Female Principle in Godhead. I mean, look at Christianities dysfunctional holy trinity- father, son and.. who? Holy Ghost? What happened to the Mother? She’s been written out of the script! Misogyny writ large.
      So hail to Kali, Tara, Durga and all their Avatars!

  5. Rev. H.,

    Thank you for visiting my site and liking my poem about imagination — I appreciate this! And thanks to your post, I now know something about Hypatia of Alexandria – I’m grateful. However, knowing how things can be distorted, I would like to read a fuller, fairer treatment of her life. This doesn’t mean that, as a Christian, I don’t own up to our sins. It just means that when you realize that we Christians are daily being trounced, physically and verbally, I tend to be very careful and prayerful about what I believe that throws us again under the wheels of a chariot.

    And you know, humanist are fond of saying we are irrational. I don’t get that – some are, certainly, but it isn’t an irrational faith, far from it.

    Soli Deo Gloria – Solus Christus!


    • Don’t worry, I dont want to throw Christians under any chariot wheels, I just want them to leave the rest of us be. The Pagan Emperor Julian issued an “Edict of Toleration” for all religions back around 361 C.E. and as far as I’m concerned that legislation should still be still in effect.
      Glad you found Hypatia’s story of interest and by all means do some research. I think you’ll find that my retelling of events is sadly only too accurate. Cyril was a vile man with much blood on his hands. His death squad incidently was called the parabolani. They massacred jews too.
      Speaking of research you may be interested in a book I’ve just read: “James the Brother of Jesus. Recovering the true history of early Christianity” by respected scholar Robert Eisenman.
      well best wishes, and remember,

  6. Of the more than 300 listed mathematicians of ancient Greece [1], about 12% were women. Most of them were connected with the Pythagorean School and of Ionian origin. This number is not larger in our modern times and shows that the situation of women in ancient Greece was not worse or better than in our times. The first “known” mathematician Aithra, leads the list of both men and women. The last important mathematician in the Greek line was Hypatia of Alexandria (Υπατία η Αλεξανδρινή ) .

    • Thanks for the info. I’m not suprised most of the female mathematicians were Pythagoreans.
      They were quite subversive in their way, or at least Roman authorities thought so. Seem to recall Livy mentioning about a bunch of pythagorean scrolls that were found and the consuls thought it best to burn them

  7. Came over by reference on cognifeeder.

    In re: Christians

    Nothing new under the sun; praise be to Holy Mother Oil…

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