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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Before I researched my newest novel, Sword of the Gladiatrix, I got most of my ideas and impressions of gladiators from the media: Russel Crowe in Gladiator and (for those of us of a certain age) Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. More recently Starz had a fantastic (in more ways than one) show that ran for three seasons titled Spartacus: War of the Damned. All of these shows perpetuate some myths that I hope to bust wide open in this post. They also got a couple of things right, which I’ll point out.

Myth #1: All gladiators were men.

female-gladiator-statue

Bronze statue of a gladiatrix

Most were, but not all. Here I’ll give Gladiator a weak thumbs up—they had women in chariots fighting against a group of men in a re-enactment of a classic battle in an arena scene, but other than that, women gladiators don’t show up in most visual media. It’s left to us lowly writers to correct the balance. If you look closely, women in the arena show up in art, literature, and law. Sword of the Gladiatrix was inspired by a particular stone carving of two female gladiators in the British Museum. More recently, archaeologists have uncovered a bronze statue of a gladiatrix holding a sica—a curved sword. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, Martial, and Juvenal all write about female gladiators—usually (except for Martial) with some element of dismay or sarcasm. An organizer in Ostia brags on his tombstone that he was the first person to put women in the arena as fighters. My favorite evidence is in the law: The first Roman Emperor Augustus forbade recruiting noble and free women as gladiators. Nearly two hundred years later, Emperor Septimus Severus banned single combat by women in the arena. If women weren’t being recruited and fighting, why have a ban? Human nature being what it is, these prohibitions probably made the fights all the more popular because they were illegal. I’m sure female gladiatorial contests continued for some time. (more…)

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Hypatia: Hher Life and Times coverHypatia of Alexandria.
Who was she? A brilliant young mathematician and scientist, murdered by a religious mob? An aging academic taken out by a rival political party? A sorceress who kept the Prefect and people of Alexandria in thrall through satanic wiles? Did she discover that the earth circled the sun 1000 years before Copernicus or was she merely a gifted geometry teacher?

Hypatia has been the subject of much mythmaking through the centuries. She’s featured in poetry, plays, novels and movies. Many people “quote” her, including one of my favorites: “Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies.” I’ve studied Hypatia and her times since 1980. No writing by her has survived. This oft-quoted statement and many others are fabrications—fables—created by modern authors. Ironically, many who champion truth perpetuate a mythical version of Hypatia’s life and words. This collection of essays pulls back the curtain and lets the reader see the real Hypatia, a remarkable woman in her own right. I’m sure, like me, you’ll find Hypatia needs no embellishment to be a heroine. (more…)

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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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Gladiator CD CoverThis is the first of a series of essays/reviews on “sword and sandals” epics from movies and TV shows during the past few years.  I love history and historical fiction.  I love to read it, write it and watch it.  When an epic hits the big screen, I eagerly plunk down my money, buy popcorn, cheer the good guys, and boo the bad guys.  It’s fun, but I have no illusions about the accuracy of the historical content.  Movie producers are first and foremost entertainers who want to earn a profit from their product.  Part of the entertainment for me is seeing what they get right and what they get wrong.

My first review is for Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott, which came out in 2000.  I watched it in the theater and recently reviewed the DVD.  So let’s check the facts: (more…)

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