As you have noticed, this title is a compound term formed of two words: “Agora” and “Phobia”. While the first, originating from the Greek ‘Agorà’ (being the main central square of a Greek Polis or City) where all the political and commercial activities of the city are carried out. The latter refers to a distressing fear , of no apparent or sufficient motivation, therefor of a pathological nature.
Putting the two terms together we have: “A distressing fear, of no apparent or sufficient motivation, to face the square, or to be in an open space.. Even crossing a city square, a street or an alley would provoke intolerable anguish and terrible panic for those who suffer from such pathological disturbance”.
Today, the world is busy commemorating two major events that changed the world’s politics, history and even geography forever.. Or at least until similar events would occur.. A century has gone by since the day the “Slaughter of WWI” initiated; and a quarter of a century is already gone marking the “Fall Of The Berlin Wall”!
Actually I will not discuss any of the two; I just want to share with you a thought that flashed across my mind while watching the celebrations/commemorations live on TV. A thought that may have a connection with the title I chose for my article.
Now, you may rightfully ask me: “but Ahmed, what does Agoraphobia has to do with celebrating the fall of a wall, or the commemorating a slaughter?”!! Patience my friends and please bear a little while longer with me so I can organise my scattered thoughts in the right perspective.
First of all, we must never forget that in a Greek Agorà all political and commercial activities of the ‘Polis’ (city) occurred. Cutting important trade deals, debating political views, discussing new ideas, rallying, lobbying, manifesting, parading, reciting poems, acting, playing music, buying, selling, playing games and proposing for marriage, celebrating or mourning..etc.. All happened in that MAIN SQUARE.
It was all about the full involvement in the events of the daily life in a POLIS; where all citizens are participating and sharing TOGETHER and peacefully. Even when sometimes the voices may rise into shouts, the end result has always been peaceful, needing no interference of “Law Enforcement”; so that the minority would go home accepting the majority’s views until the next ‘gathering’. And that’s how the Greeks practiced their DEMOCRACY.
Nevertheless, the social values and sound democratic practices exercised within the circumference of an Agorà didn’t last long enough to reach us intact, same as many other human characteristics related to ‘Belief’ and ‘Traditions’, they have mutated into an exact opposite made of intolerance, fear and disrespect of the ‘Other’!
As far as I can tell, such mutation started in Alexandria of Egypt some twenty centuries ago. Precisely in 415 AD. In those days, while Egypt was still under the Roman rule, it maintained a great cultural and social coherence of Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish liberal life style. Music, dance, art, science, and philosophy were parts of everyday life in Alexandria; whether in the Agorà or in the Theatre. And that did not appeal much to Cyril the Patriarch Of Alexandria.
While exercising great efforts to expand ecclesiastical power, Patriarch Cyril, a brutal tactician but also well-educated and able scholar heading Alexandria’s religious institution, regarded as his political enemies two of Alexandria’s prominent figures: the first was the ‘Liberal’ Christian Roman prefect Orestes; and the second was the brilliant woman Hypatia, the Neo-Platonist philosopher and mathematician who taught science, astronomy and philosophy to students, including pagans, Christians, Jews and foreigners; at the most prestigious and internationally respected Platonist School of Alexandria presided by her.
In order to bend the Roman prefect to his will and power, Cyril started by using tactfully the Agorà to ignite a series of frequent confrontations between his fanatic Christian followers and the Jewish community of the Polis, using the Jewish dancing exhibitions in the theatre a pretext. Further on, when the frequent incidents in the Agorà forced the citizens to desert it, he up-levelled the tension thus provoking serious conflict situations leading to blood shedding; during which one of his devoted and able fanatic readers (minor cleric) named Peter, inciting and leading a mob, kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the Church called Caesareum, where they stripped her cloths off completely, and then murdered her with sharp chips of tiles. Afterward, the men proceeded to mutilate her and, finally, burn her limbs.
Socrates Scholasticus, the contemporary Christian historiographer, documented those events as follows: “Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home and, dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them”.
We know that her horrifying death allowed the Christian mobs to enter the Platonist School and Hypatia’s astrolab (situated inside the Library of Alexandria) to destroy it and burn it entirely. Kathleen Wider proposes that “the murder of Hypatia marked the end of Classical Antiquity”, and Stephen Greenblatt observes that her murder “effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life”.
Until our present time, every Agorà (the main square of every city around the planet) did never regained its initial democratic character.. By the regular practice of such tactics, both the citizens and their governors became chronic “Agoraphobic” cases.. Because each time the first should try to claim their right to gather, to meet, to protest or manifest, the latter would invent whatever excuse to engage immediately the ‘Law Enforcement’ professionals to silence the square.
I don’t recall exactly which wise philosopher said that “Reason unites us, faith divides us, and never the twain shall meet”!Pass On The Word.