History vs. Hollywood

So…after weeks and weeks of hearing about the movie 300 (who is letting their eleven year old watch 300?) in class, I decided to bite the bullet and watch the movie.

This was not a good decision. First of all, the Spartans wear diapers. This remained disconcerting and laughable up until the very end. It was also a glimpse into the darkness of the sixth grade male mind. After watching the movie, I wasn’t anywhere close to admiring Sparta. I didn’t exactly root for Persia either. Mostly I just kept wishing for a glimpse of the humane Athenians (whose city will be burnt to the ground when the 300 fail to hold the pass).

My biggest beef is that they’ve taken our values and ideas (or Athenian values and ideas) and forced them into Spartan mouths. Leonidas sounds a lot like an Enlightenment philosopher (insisting that reason and not superstition should govern the Spartans) as my friend Audree pointed out. Ephialtes betrays the Spartans when they excluded him because of his deformities (Ephialtes looks a little like Quasimodo from the Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame). In reality (at least according to Herodotus) Ephialtes was not Spartan at all but from Malis. And he betrayed the Greeks because he wanted Persian money, not because he’d been picked on and rejected all his life.

They also changed the story, presumably to make it more exciting. In the film, Leonidas decided of his own volition to go and guard Thermopylae with his 300 men. In reality, he and his men were assigned to go and guard the pass along with another 3000 Greek soldiers. None of the poleis expected the Persian army to arrive so quickly, and the men sent to guard the pass were taken by surprise, but stayed to guard the pass against the odds. In the film, Leonidas more or less calls the other Greeks cowards for wanting to retreat when the Persians had them surrounded. In reality, Herodotus tells us that Leonidas sent the other Greeks away when he saw that they didn’t have the heart to fight. He himself would stay with his 300 because they felt it would be dishonorable to desert the pass that they had been assigned to guard. The true story is much more beautiful and admirable.

And the movie was incredibly objectifying to women. Sadly, that’s probably the closest thing in the movie to being historically accurate.

There were also lots and lots of monsters that were supposed to be human beings, but couldn’t have been real. I’m assuming that they were there to jazz up the story. Because you know, 300 Spartans (and the Thespians and Thebans) facing the entire Persian army even when they knew certain death awaited them, but hoping that through their deaths the rest of Greece might have time to prepare to meet the Persians isn’t really a story worth knowing. Never mind the fact that Herodotus’s account of the Battle of Thermopylae has inspired for 2,500 years.

Am I glad I watched it? Yes. At the very least, I can now set the story straight with my sixth graders. And it gave me a chance to get up on the ol’ soapbox. And there’s nothing I like more than feeling outraged about something. It’s always fun to be the historical accuracy stickler. I like this almost as much as being the incorrect quote citation police.

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