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Archive for June, 2010

Fresco from PompeiiIn Part I of this two-part series, I talked about using books and libraries in doing historical research. Although print matter is a good place to start, in today’s world you can’t ignore the Internet. But there are two problems: quantity and quality – too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Unlike traditionally published books, which have to go through some screening process (in academic circles that can be quite rigorous), anyone can put anything up on the Net and pass it off as truth.  So what’s a good historical fiction writer to do?

Stick to sites that have some stake in maintaining their reputation for accuracy such as universities and historical, archaeological and professional societies.   Many sites  not only update articles, but blog and twitter as well.  Others aggregate the news. The Archaeological Institute of America has a daily update of archaeology in the news. When you find an interesting one, subscribe to their RSS feed, get email alerts or tweets when new information is posted. Google also has  Google Scholar (click on the “more” button at the Google.com home page) that searches professional and scholarly literature. Many newspapers and local government organizations are digitizing their archives and can be a great source of primary material. (Remember your best friend the research librarian? Tap them for help on accessing those databases.)

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Agora Movie poster

In Parts I & II of this series on the history behind the movie, I talked about several major historical events of the times and a couple of my favorite anecdotes that made it into the film. In Part III, I’ll look at the major characters, how they were portrayed in the film and what we know about their real lives. Because I’ve written so extensively about Hypatia (essays, guest blogs, and a novel,) I’ll save her for last. (more…)

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Agora Movie posterIn Part I of this series, I talked about some of the controversy surrounding this film and dealt with a few of the historical events depicted: the fire-walking Christian, Hypatia’s science and students, and (one of my favorite stories) the bloody handkerchief. In Part II, I continue with the events depicted in the movie including the destruction of the Temple of Serapis and the Great Library, the expulsion of the Jews from Alexandria, and Hypatia’s murder. In Part III, I’ll deal with the characters. Again, for those who haven’t seen the movie – spoilers! (more…)

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Finally! The movie Agora starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, the Lady Philosopher of Alexandria made it to the US shores. I’ve been following the controversy around this film for several months. Alejandro Amenábar wrote (with Mateo Gil) and directed this English language film with an international cast.  Because it shows early Christians as intolerant and murderous, it kicked up some dust in Catholic European countries. There was even some talk about whether it would make it across the pond. In New York City, it is only in two “art house” theaters, hardly a major release, but it did garner a “critics’ choice” designation by the New York Times.

But, why was I excited? Because the movie is about my people and my events; characters and times I’ve studied and lived with for over twenty years; characters and events featured in my book Selene of Alexandria. Normally, I’ll go to a historical movie with some relish, but this time it was with eager anticipation and some trepidation. Would the writers/director get it right—the setting, the politics, my beloved characters? And here’s the answer: big picture yes, details no.  For the record, this is not a movie review. I’ll leave the assessment of Agora’s worth as a piece of art to others. For those who haven’t seen the movie, there are spoilers.  But if you know the story of Hypatia, you basically know the movie plot. What I talk about is the history behind the movie-what the writers/director got right and what (in my opinion) they got wrong. (more…)

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