Sunday, March 11, 2007



300 Spartans save Western Civilization at Thermopylae

I'm no reviewer but every once in a while I like to post my thoughts about the latest film I've seen. Last night, I saw 300, a highly stylized (think graphic comic book novel) account of one of the most important battles in Western civilization; so important, in fact, that it's been argued that the battle of Thermopylae may have saved Western civilization. In short, 300 spartans, the personal contingent of the king, Leonidas, defended the pass at Thermopylae against the entirety of Xerxes' persian horde. And they did this to the last man.

The movie was very graphic and presented in a way that reminded me of the approach taken by the producers of Sin City. The movie was also fairly faithful regarding the historical event, even down to the statement attributed to Leonida: "Eat a hearty breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell".

Several things the movie did not point out or make entirely clear (even a good movie can't cover everything, of course) are as follows:

1. Aristomedus did not have a particularly good time when he returned to Sparta from Thermopylae. The Spartan way did not allow a soldier to leave a battlefield unless he was victorious or dead. Despite the fact that Aristomedus was sent away on the order of Leonidas, he was shunned for a year until the battle of Plataea when the Spartans lead a large host against the persians.

2. Leonidas and the three hundred went to Thermopylae to defend the Spartan people and Greece in general. However, the Spartans were remarkably different than the rest of the greeks; so different, in fact, that they bore little resemblance to the way we typically think of the classical greeks. Sparta had no literary tradition and spartans did not write. Even their legal code was communicated in an oral tradition.

3. The Spartans eventually faded as a power because their numbers were too few. They simply did not inter-marry with the helots who also lived in Laconia. As a result, after the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, in which they suffered substantial losses, their power diminished.

4. Spartan women enjoyed more privilege than other greek women. They were allowed more independence, received as much education and held more wealth. In fact, women owned only a little less than half the land in Sparta.






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