Friday, March 16, 2007


There is something seductive about lost causes. Such doomed causes let one overlook the dubious ideal they represent. The Confederacy was a doomed cause that also wished to continue slavery. Stalingrad was a battle where German forces were ultimately defeated by forces, the Soviets that were more murderous than the Nazis. Boudica and Vercingtorix maybe celebrated today but the Gaul and Britain they fought is more alien to their descendants than Rome. The Spartans fought for theirs and Greece's freedom but their Sparta was a slave state organized for repression. We can sympathize with lost causes without being adherants to them. In Sparta's case even though Spartans are a garrison culture their actions at Thermopyle protected Anthens and others who we as a culture owe so much.

I don't need to tell you story of Thermopyle or of the movie 300. Any movie based on historical events is spoiler proof. A historical drama isn't to impact facts, those facts are often wrong see World History Blog for more info, but with any history it is the story, argrument and moral of history that is enlightens. Leonides grows up and becomes king of Sparta. In first part fo the story about Spartans other less savory aspects of training were not covered or illustrated. Spartans boys when living in the wild were encouraged to steal fool and to kill slaves, if they were caught they would be severely punished. Our story begins with a Persian ambassador asking for Sparta's surrender. The Ambassador is killed. King Leonides marches out with only 300 men, political wrangling prevent full mobilization. Leonides and the army and some other Greeks come to the Hot Gates, Thermopyle. The Perisans attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. Eventual the Spartans get worn down.

The movie is one long poem. It begins with the story of Leonides birth, childhood and adolesence. This is shown as a long montage with narration by Dilios but in reality it was Aristodemus, one eyed and survived the battle. He is shown mid point in movie narrating the heroic epic of Leonides. At the very end we see him at Plataea ending the story with:
Go tell the Spartans, passerby,
That here, by Spartan law, we lie
A review in Slate complained about the lack of armor, the leather manbriefs. On the otherhand look at this version of Thermopyle painted by David there is nary a brief to be seen. The movie attempts successfully to look like greek art. Apparently Iranians are upset about the way the Persian Empire is depicted. Cultural relativism is all very good however if Greece have fallen western civilization would have been strangled at birth. We would have a different culture. Harry Turtledove wrote a story where the Persians won, Counting Potshreds, where oriental despotism continued forever. Through the Spartans were anything but enlightened democrats they helped preserve Greece way of life and indirectly our own.

I am not Greek or Persian. However at the root of our western civilization is Greece and all its works. Now we can look back to a time when we, that is our cultural ancestors, were nearly wiped out. Because of that we are naturally sympathetic to ancient Greeks and their problems. Some Iranians are so angry with a movie about ancient Persia's failed colonial venture that they have started a petition. If you have an anticolonial viewpoint the Greeks were right to resist Persian imperialism. However much some Greeks might admire some aspects of Persian culture.