Monday, June 6, 2011


Yesterday, I showed my children the movie Legend of the Guardians, directed by Zack Snyder.  It made me think of one of his earlier films, 300.  I had never read the Frank Miller comic it was based on so today, when I stopped in the library for a quiet place to work, I grabbed it.

300 is a fun book and movie. There’s a lot of spectacle.
"Beware my shiny muscles!"
There’s gratuitous nudity.
Nice, um, incense.
But it takes a lot of liberties with the truth.  If you aren’t familiar with 300, it’s about the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans held off a Persian force of about 800,000 men.
"Yes, we have a permit for our, um, wall."
I’m not all that familiar with the Battle of Thermopylae, but I am familiar with the Spartans.  Back in college, I took a class in Hellenic history and became fascinated with them.  Here was a culture that had willfully and purposefully chosen a militaristic, communist, (and I would say) dystopian culture where families were torn apart and unacceptable babies were murdered.
"This one has funny hair!"
I sought out books about the man who created their culture, Lycurgus, to learn more, perhaps the only time I ever did academic work on my own.  So, when I saw 300’s depiction of Spartans and their lives, I was incensed.  I had promised myself I’d try to keep this blog to current events, as it seems to increase my readership, but my incencesedness (incensosity?) keeps growing.  I have to point out a few inaccuracies 300 makes:
I think you have to be British to get this joke.
Sparta had one king.
Actually, Sparta had two.  Neither could act without the consent of the other.  This system (called a “diarchy”) was designed to curb abuse of power.

In 300, the Ephors have sex with young women they aren't related to.  So, they're inbred?
The Ephors were a group of inbred, corrupt, religious leaders.
The Ephors were five men elected (for a maximum of one term in office).  They were supposed to be another check on the power of the kings.

Spartans derided others as “boy lovers.”
At the age of twelve, young Spartan boys were a assigned an older man to have sex with.  Spartans considered pederasty a way of creating closely knit fighting units.

"Ah, you look a bit like a Helot.  What the hell."
Spartans threw kids out naked to hunt as a rite of passage.
300 gets this half right.  Spartan kids were allowed to go out without clothes or food to hunt as a rite of passage.  However, they didn’t hunt animals.  They hunted and stole from the Helots, the Spartan slave class.  The more slaves they murdered, the better.

Oh, wait, wrong movie.
The Spartans gave their lives for freedom.
The Spartans couldn’t have given two craps about freedom.  Three quarters of their population were slaves.  Lycurgus created their militaristic, nutball society to keep the Helot slaves in line.  Every year, the Spartan government would declare war on the Helots, so any Spartan citizen could murder them with impunity.

So, next time you see the movie 300, feel free to laugh and cheer.  Then, do what I do: throw something heavy at the screen and scream.

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