Fact Vs. Fiction: Essay Example
Frank Miller’s 300
Drama, action, and an allusion to how the world may or may not be in accordance with reality is what generally grants the best source of entertainment. People always want to think of the world around them as a mysterious and inviting place that offers forth wonders both terrible and awe-inspiring, and Frank Miller’s epic film, 300, is no different. Showcasing perhaps some of the finest warriors the world has ever known, 300 depicts the horrific and woefully mismatched battled that took place between the Persian army and Greece during what has been dubbed the Persian War. While the film has been lauded as a masterpiece, it leaves out a great deal and rewrites history in a manner that is not befitting with the truth.
While much of what Miller was trying to convey was in fact based upon reality, the imagery and overall depiction of the film leaves a viewer so in awe of what they see that it is easy to forget what they are not seeing or what is being left unsaid. While Sparta was in fact a rather brutal place to live, it was also a very well-renowned city state in Greece that was far more modern than some and well-steeped in art, literature, and the ways of war. As a militant state it was known to produce among the finest warriors in the world, and continued this tradition through the process known as agoge, through which young boys were trained to survive and do what it took to become the toughened, hardened soldiers that were so prized in Sparta.
They were in fact inspected upon birth, and left upon a hillside if shown to harbor any weakness or deformity. The child would either die from exposure or be taken in by strangers, but would no longer be thought of as a Spartan. Weakness in Sparta was considered borderline criminal, and when women throughout world were being mistreated and held as little more than possessions, those women who were full Spartan citizens were educated and kept physically fit so as to produce strong, healthy sons for the army. As in the film the average Spartan woman was far more strong-willed than many, and as a rule these people were quick-witted and could contend verbally as well as physically with most anyone. A particularly good example of this comes when the Spartan queen in 300 talks bluntly to the Persian messenger, after which he replied, “What makes this woman think she can speak among men?” to which the queen quickly replies, “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.” (300, 2007)
Spartans were indeed a fierce people, but they were also not quite as pure or as honorable as the film depicts. They were slaveholders, and they were a constant threat to their neighboring countries as they conquered everyone they came across. In short they were known for fighting and little else save their culture, which was quite impressive as well as enriching. In the movie 300 they are seen as warriors, as free people seeking to stand against a tyrant in the form of Prince Xerxes, who desires nothing less than the complete domination of Greece. In reality they were who they were warriors and patriots of Greece who engaged in acts both honorable and morally suspect.
Physical fitness was a very important part of Spartan culture, and was ingrained in the men from the young age of 7 years old, lasting all the way until their 60’s when, if they survived, they were allowed to retire from the army. They were expected to marry anywhere between the age of 20 and 30 and produce sons so that their army and culture could continue. In all, Spartans were a very militaristic society in which everyone had a role, and if that role wasn’t fulfilled there were dire consequences to be considered. Life in Sparta was harsh enough without punishment, as its militaristic design demanded its people to be physically and mentally tough, able to fight at any moment, steal food if needed, and even withstand hazing and physical punishment as a rite of passage throughout their lives.
In matters of warfare the film is quite accurate actually, except in a few regards. Within the film it is indeed impressive to note that the Spartans are dressed not unlike gladiators, with only their shield, helmets, bracers, and greaves for armor. The baring of their chest and torso is indeed geared towards making an audience believe that they are quite fearsome as well as fearless, meeting death head on with only their strength and minimum armament. This however was not the case. While they did move into battle using the phalanx method as is shown, they wore armor that covered their upper body, and the crimson cloaks that adorned their shoulders as in the film. It is an impressive image, but not at all realistic as in battle such disdain for armor would have only allowed them to meet their end that much swifter.
Another misconception is the creature known as Ephialtes that appears in the film as a twisted, hateful hunchbacked figure that seeks to become a part of King Leonidas’s army, but is gently rebuffed when it is shown that he can be of no use to the phalanx formation. Ephialtes is then sent away, and in turn grows bitter towards Leonidas and the Spartan soldiers, eventually betraying them by leading the Persians around their flank and towards the rear of the formation.
It is in this way that Ephialtes provides the undoing of the Spartans’ attempt to contain the Persian forces upon Thermopylae. In truth however it is mere rumor that Ephialtes was a lowly farmer or shepherd, or some other type of noncombatant, who was either threatened or somehow coerced into aiding the Persians so that they might surround the Spartans. Ephialtes and Leonidas never met in fact according to known records, and thus the final confrontation between the two in the movie did not happen. What did happen was that the Spartans, along with their allies, who are not shown to have fallen with them, were eventually slaughtered to a man, thus allowing the Persian forces to march upon an already deserted Athens.
Therein lies another factoid that the film does not seek to exploit, and that is the fact that the 300 brave Spartans were in fact not by themselves. While it depicts a sizeable number of other soldiers from neighboring city states, it does not show nearly the number of soldiers that joined the Spartan forces, which numbered around 7,000 altogether. As it’s been written by author Nikolas Dimakis the Spartans and their allies were still woefully outnumbered by a Persian force that did not number in the millions as is told in the film, but still insurmountable at the perceived number of around 200,000. (Dimakis, 2015) That’s an astonishing and overwhelming 28 to 29 to 1 ratio, which to a Spartan might have seemed like a fair enough fight, but was still far too much for any one soldier to accept as fair odds.
The tactics and brutish beasts used by the Persians in the film were pure fantasy as there were no such things as the monstrous giants, trained rhinoceros, or even the war elephants that were so easily defeated. The Persian immortals were depicted with a more monstrous bent in 300, but were in actuality usually garbed in tunics, scale armor, and carried spears, wicker shields, daggers, swords, and a bow and arrow.
The term “immortal” came largely from accounts by Herodotus and is used by author Norma Thompson in reference to the fact that the ranks of the immortals were so deep that for every one that fell another seemed to take their place, thus preserving the cohesion of the unit. (Thompson, 2014) The immortals were a driving force at the battle of Thermopylae, but as skilled and proficient as they were the Spartans’ tactics were far too sound as they attacked from behind a wall that sealed off the pass, thereby making the Persians pay dearly for daring to attack, reducing their vast numbers immensely over the course of three days.
The truth of the battle, aside from the glaring, obviously doctored scenes in which the Spartans must contend with mystics, armor-clad animals, and murderous giants and deformed creatures masquerading as men, is quite accurate in that the Spartans did manage to hold off the Persians without fail for three days. While the rest of their force was not shown, meaning the 7,000 other allied Greeks from neighboring city states, it is still noteworthy that they managed to unveil the alliance of several Acadians who were, in the words of the narrator, “more brawlers than warriors, they make a wondrous mess of things,” (300, 2007) This showed the quiet contempt that Spartans had for other, lesser-trained warriors, and illustrated how highly they thought of themselves. In truth the 7,000 other Greeks were under the control of the Spartans, and while valuable were sent away near the end, to allow the remaining Spartans and several hundred Greeks to give the rest of Greece a chance.
Historians and film critics alike have raked this movie over the metaphorical coals when asked to consider what is so “wrong” with its depictions and imagery. It leaves many important matters out, it embellishes matters that were not as important, it offers a view of Sparta and its people that is far more romantic than actually occurred in history, and it leaves out great chunks of the war and what actually transpired to bring it to a head. The Persian War encompassed far
more than the battle of Thermopylae, and in fact was not concluded until the battle of Plataea, when the Persians were finally driven from Greece for good. During the long and bloody campaign the Persians gained a great deal of ground against the Greeks, who thanks to the tactical thinking of Themistocles at the battle of Salamis and the great sacrifice of the 300 Spartans and their allies at the battle of Thermopylae were able to turn the tide against their enemies.
While the movie 300 is very inspiring and a visual epic to be admired it is far from accurate, and designed more with the intent to entertain than to teach. Spartans were far and away the greatest warriors of Greece, as is depicted, but they were not the most morally sound of individuals. They had their faults, and by the end of Spartan rule had become little more than a nation plagued with in-fighting and troubles not unlike their neighboring countries that they had looked upon with disdain for so long. Looked at as the protectors of Greece for so long, the Spartans endured a long fall from grace when it was realized that they were quite clumsy at anything that was not military-based, and were more adept at making war than sustaining peace.
Eventually Sparta was torn apart by class divisions that allowed the rich and influential to skip their traditional military training, and caused great resentment amongst those who could not buy their way out of the military. In turn this led to a more modernistic ideal that such service should be less of a demand than a choice, and from that point on Sparta became less of a power and was eventually absorbed into a modern-day Greece where its practices became far less the norm and more of an antiquated lifestyle. Overall Sparta’s military power and demand for perfection was its downfall. As is stated by author Andrew Scott, without moderation between its politics and its military power Sparta had little recourse but to continue to fight or become bogged down in the politics that eventually overtake even the greatest warriors. (Scott, 2015)
300. Dir. Zack Snyder. Perf. Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, David Wenham. Warner Bros, 2007.
Dimakis, Nikolas. “Ancient Greek Deathscapes.” Journal of Eastern Mediterranean
Archaeology and Heritage Studies 3.1 (2015): p27-41. Web. 21 April 2015.Scott, Andrew G. “The Spartan Heroic Death in Plutarch's Laconian Apophthegms.”Hermes
143.1 (2015): p72-82. Web. 21 April 2015.
Thompson, Norma. “Herodotus (5th century BCE).” The Encyclopedia of Political Thought
(2014). Web. 21 April 2015.
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