DISCLAIMER: If you have not yet seen 300, the content in the movie is definitely not for little children (or anyone for that matter), and not just for violence. Furthermore, if you have not seen 300 I am critiquing it and will probably ruin it for you. But if you must know the ending, everybody dies. If you don’t believe me, Google “Thermopylae” and have yourself a little read.
OK, first let me say that although extremely motivating, I thought 300 was a terrible film. Now let’s try to get into my mind before we shun me for disliking the “greatest movie ever” or whatever they say about it. Please take what I am telling you on authority, or in other words ‘I know what I’m talking about.’ I am currently being trained to be a professional historian. I am currently in a class known as “The Ancient Greeks” which is taught by Dr. Jane Bishop, who specializes in Byzantine History (basically Greece under the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire, which was the eastern half of Rome after Rome fell). In order to have a firm grasp on Byzantine History, one must have a firm grasp on general Greek history. I assure you Dr. Bishop does. To give you an idea of the brilliance of Dr. Bishop, she basically sits in a chair in the front of a classroom and talks while I scramble to transcribe her brilliance. Although she does look down at a sheet occasionally, she has just about the whole of Greek history in her head, well organized and well articulated. I find myself amazed because I tend to forget 90% of what I learn in history classes the week after I finish the course. So basically, Dr. Bishop knows her stuff. And I’m learning from Dr. Bishop, which means I have a pretty good understanding based on her tutelage (ok maybe I’m selling myself short, but what I’m trying to say is that although I’ve only gotten a glimmer of what she knows, it’s still a butt load).
Where shall we start? Let’s start at the beginning. Spartan tradition seeks to keep only the strong and to discard the weak. Well… the whole scene where the creepy guy is playing with the infant and checking him out would not have happened atop the “Lion King Rock.” It would more likely have been done in a domestic setting. Also, below the “Lion King Rock,” which I remind you did not exist in Sparta, there would not have been a pile of kiddy bones. What the Spartans did if a child with defects was born is they would leave them in the hills. They wouldn’t toss them to their death; on the contrary they would leave the infant quite alive to die of whatever. On the other hand, someone could always come by and take the child home. Who might do that? A Helot might. The Helots were the tribe of people whom the Dorians, when they invaded, conquered Greece and amalgamated with the tribes kept themselves away from the Helots and instead made them a race of slaves beneath their feet. Helots were more at home in Sparta than the Spartans, however if you watch the movie, it accurately portrays the fact that the Spartans dominated. This brings me to the point where there were no Helots in the movie. In fact, among the 400 other soldiers (not in the movie) fighting among the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae were Helots.
Another way they ruined the film was the whole idea of their training. Sure there was a bit of truth in it, but a scrawny boy in a wool Speedo hunting wolves barefoot in the snow? You’ve got to be kidding me. Now there was such a thing as the ‘krypteia’ where Spartan lads, at around age 15, were sent out into the hills to kill a Helot. This served not only as a right of passage, but also it taught them how to kill and prepared them for battles which would be much more gruesome than murdering a slave. Plus, to keep Helots from rising up against them, the Spartans had a way of keeping them on their toes.
I think they also made Sparta too patriotic. Now this doesn’t mean that the Spartans did not have just as much national pride, if not more, than any given American. My sentiments were that this movie tended to be more of an American type of patriotism which involved liberty and such other sentiments… I’m recalling this movie from memory so bear with me. Another thing about Sparta was the women. Spartan women were actually a lot freer than all the other Greek women. In Athens they were basically there to bear children and stay out of the way the rest of the time. The Spartan queen addressing the Gerousia (council of 28 elders) would not have happened though. I found an anachronism in the movie… the queen of Sparta mentions something about the creepy Gerousia guy ‘reading about’ the stand at Thermopylae in the ‘pages of history. This is particularly interesting to me because not only did the Greeks write on scrolls (no pages), but history was not yet invented (in the conventional sense, that is). Herodotus, who was credited with inventing history, recorded the war with Persia between 431 and 425 B.C. while the battle of Thermopylae took place in 480 B.C., which is 49 years later at its closest point. Also, that creepy member of the Gerousia (the guy who kind of raped the queen but really didn’t) would have had to be at least 60 years old to be a member of the Gerousia, not 25.
And while we’re on the subject of government, the 5 Ephors (the creepy guys who live in a stone leper colony/gazebo on the top of the set of cliffhanger) were not 90 year old turds (just out of curiosity, if you live on top of a really high rock, why would you need gold, what would you spend it on? Besides, Leonidas brought them gold bars… Spartans had worthless iron money). That whole deal with the religious festival being the reason they couldn’t send their army was actually what happened at the battle of Marathon, only the Spartans didn’t actually send anyone. The Athenians actually kicked the crap out of the Persians at Marathon without the help of the Spartans. 5 Ephors were elected every year (from the Gerousia if I’m not mistaken).
True, they did inspect infants, but there was nothing particularly mystical about them (why would you let a leper touch your child?). That whole porno type scene with the oracle (pretty Spartan girl who went nuts when the Ephors opened the cover of their mini-barbecue) would not have happened in Sparta. Generally the Spartans traditionally went to the oracle at Delphi, who tended to have some decent information. Besides, the oracle at Delphi was not some kind of captive like the Spartan girl, who was forced to prophesy. The Delphic oracle was a highly esteemed priestess, who spoke on behalf of one particular god, not ‘the gods.’ Whether or not the oracle was speaking on behalf of a male god is unknown, but the Delphic oracle was the only female oracle who spoke on behalf of a male god. And still kind of on politics… Sparta had 2 kings. It was more of an oligarchy than an autocracy… the movie screwed that one up, king Leonidas just happened to be the king who went to battle while the other stayed home.
Let’s talk about the battle though… we could keep going about Sparta itself, but there’s much more that rubbed me the wrong way in this movie than just that. Aside from the excessive CGI blood that shot out every time anyone got cut, except for the few times someone got dramatically decapitated, in which case no blood squirted out of the carotid arteries until the head was way clear of the body… I guess adrenaline and prolonged strenuous physical activity isn’t enough to pressurize two of the larger blood channels in the body. My bad, to the battle! First off, they got the general gist of the story down correctly.
There was a narrow pass (perhaps not quite so dramatic as they made it appear, but nonetheless about 50 men wide), they held it for a few days and in the end were betrayed by a fellow Greek (not the traitorous Spartan ancestor of Quasimodo as the movie portrays) who showed them a narrow footpath around the pass which the Persians took and used to attack the Spartans from behind (not to dominate the cliffs with archers as they portray in the movie). Now single combat did happen, but the Phalanx was generally more disciplined than they made it seem in the movie. The Phalanx looked good at the first Persian assault, but right after that assault the Persians broke ranks and fought undisciplined ninja-like single combat. Not so sure that’s accurate.
The strength in a Phalanx was its ability to stick together. Leonidas wouldn’t let Quasimodo fight in the Phalanx because he couldn’t hold his shield high enough to protect the guy next to him… little would they know that they would only actually link shields a couple of times in the many short engagements in the movie. Quasimodo would have fit right in. One thing that was really really wrong with the movie was how they portrayed the Arcadians, who were really just one partition of a few Greek city-states who sent people. They made the Arcadians look like fearful amateurs who had never fought a battle before. All the Greeks were well versed in the art of war; the Spartans were just obsessed with it. The Athenian Phalanx was just as able as any other Phalanx, although their real strength was in their navy. The Arcadians were not cowards; however some of their group did stay, like the Thebans, who were being held against their will. The whole purpose of the stand at Thermopylae was a sacrifice to buy time for the Athenians to defend their home and prepare for a naval battle at Salamis. Part of the reason the stand at Thermopylae worked was due to the fact that the Athenians used their navy to keep the Persians from outflanking them by sea. But anyways, the other groups knew how to manage a Phalanx as well as anyone else, the Spartans
Sorry girls, but the Spartans were not that good looking (at least I think not). Muscular, probably… cut with a six pack? I doubt that. A Spartan’s diet consisted of some really nasty stuff, particularly a black bitter soup that was an object lesson in appreciating any food you might steal from a farmer when foraging during a campaign. They probably weren’t that handsome either. Spartans tended only to breed with Spartans… Spain had that problem too… know what? Everyone in Spain looks the same… but this argument is just a trifle. One thing that ticked me off was the weaponry. I don’t believe the Spartans carried Orc swords off the set of Lord of the Rings… but that’s just me. I don’t believe the Spartans carried shields made of pure bronze. In fact their shields only had 2 metal pieces on them. The rim was metal and the center was metal as well… the rest was made up of several layers of really tough leather and wood too I believe. I noticed one guy’s ‘metal’ helmet bent like rubber when he took it off, but that’s just a cheap prop. The red cape was accurate, but the lack of armor was not.
Despite what Renaissance artists might have painted about the Greeks, they were generally not nudists. The Spartan soldiers, although not nudists, were sporting uncomfortable looking Speedos, possibly wool or leather, but they all matched. The Spartan soldiers are known as ‘hoplites’ (Hop-Lee-Tehs… not Hop-Lights), which translates to ‘man in armor,’ not body builder in a war Speedo. You kind of need to wear armor to be a hoplite, without the hoplos (armor) you cannot complete the panoply (full armor consisting of a spear, shield, metal studded leather breast plate, sword, helmet, arm greaves and shin guards). In fact, if you did not possess the panoply you could not fight in the Phalanx… you might be able to fight too, but you were screwed when it came to battle because you were in your own less armored formation if you had one at all. So yeah, they screwed up Greek combat big time. Another thing of interest, my sources need to be checked, but the arch-design on their shields was characteristic of Sparta during the Peloponnesian Wars, which if Thermopylae was fought in 480, the firs Peloponnesian War began in 460, 20 years later… thus exposing yet another anachronism. There is a scene where the Greeks charge while lined up in a Phalanx… the problem with the movie is that they sucked at it. At the battle of Marathon the Greeks ran at the Persians, but not only did they run at them, they kept their dress and cover (held the Phalanx without creating gaps in their shields). There is so much more though…
Another thing that pissed me off in this movie was their portrayal of the Persians. True the Persians whipped their men into battle, however they also advanced in lines… they didn’t just run at their enemies and hope for the best. They had tactics. The deal with the infinite arrows was probably overkill, although semi-plausible. In fact the quote about the Persians firing so many arrows that they will block out the sun, and the Spartan retorting that they’ll just fight in the shade then is a historical quote. In fact it’s an example of what is called ‘laconic wit,’ but we won’t get into that because that’s a paragraph in itself. The Persian landing of ships breaking up in the storm was bogus, although a portion of the Persian fleet was shipwrecked off the coast of the island of nearby Euboea, which was unrelated to the battle. The Persian army actually marched down the coast rather making an amphibious landing. They did land on a beach when they invaded Greece at the Battle of Marathon years earlier. I don’t believe the Persians had gargantuan war elephants like the Lord of the Rings, if they had war elephants at all. If I’m not mistaken, it was Hannibal who broke those bad boys out of Africa, took them through the Alps and terrorized Rome for a few years during the second Punic War… or was it the first? Nah it was the second… who cares? The deal with the huge rhinoceros was stupid, too.
I don’t believe Xerxes was really a massive version of Dennis Rodman with the voice of James Earl Jones, although I do think they caught his personality (or at least what I imagine it to be… from how the Bible describes the Persians and kings in general from that region of the world, as well as their foreign policy). The deal with the huge thrones carried by countless individuals is kind of obscene, especially when Xerxes is there without any significant guard. Leonidas and Xerxes never had a little chat between combat sequences. Also, the most notable unit of Persia, ‘The Immortals,’ were not a bunch of Guy Fawkes-looking ninjas. They were exactly 10’000 elite Persian Cavalrymen, not foot soldiers (this statement has been disputed, but alas I have no sources to support this other than my professor’s brain and her assertion that they were in fact cavalry). If I’m not mistaken, which I could be, Persians were famous for their cavalry in general and their armies consisted greatly of cavalry. In the movie I think I saw 4-5 Persian horsemen tops… so much for The Immortals. This is a picture of the crappy rendition of the immortals… pathetic! Although in the film they were quite amusing.
“Epitas E Epitan” My favorite Spartan quote, was one of the few things they really did right. Epitas E Epitan means: With it or upon it, or basically come back with your shield (dropping your shield was an indication of cowardice and flight from the Phalanx… you would live in shame in Sparta if you did that), or come back carried on your shield (they used their shields as stretchers, to carry dead warriors home). Spartan women, mothers I think, actually said this to their sons before they left for war… maybe it was the wife… but I think that was a good addition to the movie. I doubt she got her own private goodbye as the troops marched off, but who knows? They actually did this in the movie, here’s a shot of the scene where they say goodbye:
In conclusion, not only did I find the movie revolting historically. I was also disgusted with the repeated gratuitous pornographic scenes. There was no need for the suggestive nudity of the oracle. There was no need for the sex scene between Leonidas and his queen, which was even worse than the oracle thing. And there was even less need, although working more into the plot this time, for the scene involving Xerxes showing off his many overtly bisexually suggestive “ho’s” to the Quasimodo-looking guy. I honestly don’t see this movie being fit for anyone other than a pervert, unless of course you cut those scenes out (which could in fact be cut out without any loss to the film). I was offended morally and historically by this film. Yet again, I say it was motivating. There was actually a lot more truth to the movie than meets the eye, but there was also a ton of errors that should have been cleaned up. Terrible movie, don’t see it.