I spent a year of my life researching and writing a screenplay about the life of Hellenic philosopher, Hypatia, which won a Houston Film Festival screenwriting award. You can download here.
There is a bit of artistic license but the characters and events are very true to the actual events of the time. I believe this woman and this time in history was the pivotal moment when Classical civilization was lost for a thousand years. Hopefully, we are not being plunged into a new dark ages with the rise of American fascism and general world-wide fear mongering that is occurring.
Although many of the details of the history are fading from my memory, I think it holds a valuable lesson for us on Holocaust Memorial Day during these times of rising fascism in America.
Basically, the Jews of Alexandria had thrived as merchants, doctors, landowners, and academics since the creation of the city in 331 BCE. It was they who requested a Greek translation be made of the Hebrew bible so that their Hellenized children could read scripture- those 72 translators created the Septuagint, or the Greek Old Testament, which allowed Judaism to survive the secularization of Hellenism.
Imagine having the best jobs, most wealth, and finest land for over 33 generations and you will understand why the Jewish quarter was the most desirable part of Alexandria and why the Jews of Alexandria never imagined that mob rule could ever overtake them in the center of the civilized world.
The Christian Patriarch, Cyril, was bent upon destroying Hypatia, who was a civil leader for religious tolerance and who was close to the Prefect of the city, Orestes.
When Orestes tried to reign in the monks who did the bidding of the fascist patriarch, there was even an attempt to intervene by Jewish elders. This all backfired in a trap that was set and led to a sort of rallying cry to oust the Jews.
And so along with the pagans, the Jews were murdered and forced to leave their land, businesses, and possessions literally overnight in 415AD. There were even Greek Pagans who settled as far as India in search of religious freedom.
In the end, this particular fascist power grab against the Jews is not about ideology but rather about control of wealth and power. Whether it be in the Levant with the uprisings leading to the Jewish-Roman Wars and destruction of the Second Temple- which funded the Colosseum in Rome, whether it be the Reconquista which funded the Spanish Conquest of the New World, or Nazi Germany, which currently funds the universal basic income of the Swiss, the recurring theme is one of a culturally and financially ascendant group, socially isolated by their own origin story, which repeatedly becomes scapegoated by hostile masses led by charismatic demagogues.
Let us hope that this time in history, people will keep their eye on the rule of law and the greater good of mankind. There aren’t many other places to flee to unless you are going to another planet, so we are all going to have to make a stand for unity here.
When I say Classical Civilization was “lost” that isn’t exactly true. Cyril did burn most of the books but many were looted and remain in the Vatican collection from the Library of Alexandria. Also, Classical civilization and its intellectual achievements, albeit not the representation art aspect, survived and thrived in the Islamic world while the “West” was under the spell of Roman Catholicism. It should also be noted that Jews were much better integrated within the Islamic world than in Christendom during the Dark Ages.