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Chris Riedel @medievalhistory
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So I'm rewatching 300 to see if it's appropriate for use in my classroom (the point will be deconstructing its problems and stereotypes, examining how modern retellings change the past). Already seeing a lot of potentially fun problems, so here's a series of tweets on the issue
We start with Leonidas as the example of the agoge system of Spartan "education" when the firstborn son of the king is literally the only Spartan who does not go through the agoge.
Although the complex situation of Leonidas' succession means he probably didn't qualify, he also would not have been hailed as king then on his completion of the agoge
How is there no mention of the first Persian Invasion here? No mention of Marathon?
I mean I guess that's referenced in that the sacred festival excuse for Sparta not going to war, which happened in the First Invasion, not the second
Also the Persian messengers were thrown down the well in the First Invasion, not the second. And the bribed oracle was the one at Delphi, and it was the other Spartan king who did it.
Oh yes, and Sparta has two kinds simultaneously. Not noticing that here either
Kind of weird to accuse the Athenians of being "philosopher boy lovers" when A) the era of Athenian philosophy had not yet begun (at this point the center of Greek philosophy was Ionia, under Persian control) & B) the agoge institutionalized male pederasty for all male Spartans
But actually Gorgo is seriously awesome. She's one of the few women named by Herodotus, and was noted for her wisdom.
But she was also Leonidas' niece by his half brother. For someone accusing the ephors of being inbred monsters, Leonidas isn't doing his son any favors
And here's the big one: the 300 Spartans literally never fought alone. For one thing, they brought more than twice their number in helot slaves, but they also had numerous allies, even at the very end
Oh yes, that's right: the reason for, and circularly the economic underpinning of, Spartan military ascendancy was the most widespread form of institutionalized slavery known in the Greek world.
Helot slavery was hereditary. They far outnumbered the Spartan citizens, who kept them in line by using a secret police of young men who murdered helots at random
Wait, Michael Fassbender is in this? Seriously?
Ugh, the notion that institutionalized religion is just a conspiracy no one really believes in but follows for the sake of tradition is one of my biggest bugbears in modern interpretations of history. If no one believes in them, why do they exist?
I do like the politics angle. Sparta had extremely complex and contested politics.
Persian kings never pretended to be divine (except in Egypt, where as the successors of the pharaohs they were divine, but that did not apply everywhere, it was merely one of many example of the respect the Persians showed to the cultures they ruled)
Just ignoring the many Medizing Greek poleis, I see. Or the fact that there was a sea battle simultaneous with the battle of Thermopylae that the Greeks actually won (Artemisium)
Ephialtes was neither Spartan nor handicapped. Also, weird excuse for exposition on the phalanx battle formation. Also, ableist.
Considering that the other crucial element of the hoplite warrior in the phalanx was wearing heavy bronze armor. But sure, let's all fight naked and show off our abs instead. The sexual objectification is at least mildly equal in this movie, I guess?
Literally less than five minutes after telling Ephialtes he can't fight because he can't maintain phalanx formation, Leonidas breaks out of the phalanx for what can only be described as Tarantino levels of gore-porn
Although the rest of Hollywood has caught up to this level of violence (have you seen Game of Thrones?), it's still pointlessly excessive.
Wait, where did all the arrow tips in their shields just go?
Interestingly, Spartan women are considered by modern scholars to have enjoyed a degree more freedom than other Greek women.
The movie explicitly states that his son is about to start the agoge, and that at least would not have happened - he was deginitely a firstborn son.
I actually think that the horrible synthesizer effect for Xerxes' voice is more annoying than his weird piercings or that strange (and poorly executed) attempt to make him look absurdly tall.
How can Xerxes threaten to destroy all the works of all the Greek historians when the first work of history was written to record the Persian Wars?
Also, the Greeks, as far as I am aware, used Egyptian papyrus to keep records, not parchment. Which, come to think of it, they would have had to get from trade with Persia. #irony
Pretty sure the Greeks never called any Persians soulless. Actually, they showed a remarkable degree of interest in Persian culture and sympathy for the Persians themselves (one of the oldest surviving tragedies is from the Persian perspective)
Now some of the more famous and celebrated Greek philosophers (including Aristotle if I'm not mistaken) questioned whether or not women had souls, but that's misogyny, not xenophobia.
I do not know what to do with the Uber Immortal. All this weird cavalcade of monsters is not something I remember from Herodotus. And it feels EXTREMELY ableist.
Xerxes did, according to Herodotus, watch the battle, and stood up in fear three times.
Actually if I cut a lot of the needless violence I think I can get this down to one one-hour class session.
Sidenote - does anyone know where I can find a tutorial for cutting down a film? I do have an old macbook with whatever the app is that comes with that.
Seriously, fireworks as "magic?" Let's rip off the Lord of the Rings some more, shall we?
That weird torture executioner guy is super gross, and I'd like to cut it, but the comment about Xerxes killing his own generals in a rage actually does fit with Greek representations of Xerxes' character. Ugh, this movie makes it hard for me to actually keep the real history in.
Wait, is even the blood CGId?
Definitely cutting the best-friends-son-gets-decapitated part. Didn't we just make fun of people for having womanly emotions earlier in this movie?
OKAY THEN, NOTHING IN XERXES' TENT.
Also, more ableism, this time masquerading as fetishes
How does Xerxes know that there is a hidden path for Ephialtes to lead him to?
Okay, I have to pause, but I'll come back to this later. It's been fun for me, and I hope enjoyable for you.
(Rather appropriately I had to break inprder to train for my next Spartan Race. And now I remember why everyone shouts “aroo” at those things)
Okay, and now we're into the part I know I have to be extra careful with: Gorgo's rape. Made up for the movie and not in the original graphic novel (nor, of course, in history), this really feels like one of the initial steps on the path to Game of Thrones' constant use of rape.
Also, how does Lena Headey so deftly manage to project both absolute control and general badassery while being known for her roles in which she is raped? That's a whole other thread that someone far more qualified than I should tackle.
I do not mean this to in any way justify the "rape as stock plot device" that Headey's more recent and popular show Game of Thrones has so deplorably returned to over and over again. But it's something I would be interested in seeing examined by someone with expertise.
Honestly it's probably that it's a knee-jerk reaction to men writing powerful women to want to then dominate and humiliate them back into place as objects.

And now I feel even dirtier than this movie has otherwise made me feel. Definitely going to edit this bit, maybe cut it.
the direct juxtaposition of her suffering through what is clearly rape in parallel with the Spartan soldiers having a wound cauterized (a visual parallel to the explicit one made moments earlier by her abuser to her husband fighting for Sparta) is deeply problematic.
300 is directly connecting Xerxes' invasion to the violation of rape, which is bad enough in tandem with the orientalizing narrative generally. But the natural extrapolation given the conclusion is worse: this film is basically glorifying stoically suffering through rape
Ugh, this has gone into an even worse place than I thought it was going. Not something I'm qualified to handle. Dramatic editing needed to make this work for my class.
Moving on.
Wait, is the Arcadian being told to go spread the word, and then being humiliated for leaving at the same time? Did anyone writing this film take even a basic literature course in college?
So Delios leaves before the final part of the battle. In Herodotus, this sort of thing leads to the question: how do we know what the last moments of the 300 looked like when they were all killed? It's one of many problems for understanding how Herodotus constructs his Histories
Wait, have they switched Gorgo from wearing white to black after her rape? seriously?
Again, referencing "the pages of history" when the genre of history was literally invented (including the word itself) to describe this conflict.
Hey, Gorgo finally mentioned the first invasion and the battle of Marathon! Actually, I think that just makes this more confusing.
Wait, is the traitor literally just carrying around Persian coins on him in the counsel chamber? And more importantly, WHERE WAS HE HIDING THEM? In his leather diaper?
Are the eyes of the Immortals literally glowing in the dark like animals?
Apparently the Spartans invented the Roman Legion's use of the turtle formation
The supposedly quintessential Greek quality of reason is repeatedly dismissed as weakness in this film.
I was reading through Aeschylus' play "The Persians" last night (the only major account we have on the Persian Wars from an eye witness), and it seems from the translation I read that the Greeks did seem to think that Xerxes claimed divinity.
Okay, again, how does the blind guy that Leonidas just sent away know how to report this bit that he's not at verbatim?
At least they're replicating a problem actually found in the source material.
"May you live forever" is a great insult in context though. Gotta give them that.
Where did the recent Hollywood obsession with "they're not really gods!" come from? At least it's more interesting in the Stargate franchise.
Ugh, the "pulling the weapon in further to get close to my enemy" trope. Again, done better in the Lord of the Rings - and there this bizarre trope is better applied to the villain.
Were all Spartans descended from Hercules, or just the lines of the two kings? Something to look up.
Hey, Fassbender gets a death scene! But kind of weird to suddenly be glorifying life over death at this moment in the film.
Is it just me, or does Leonidas' last profile moment capture the famous bronze statue of Poseidon?
This whole "wife waiting in the field of golden wheat lit by (oversaturated) sunlight" is such a ripoff of Gladiator. Which also did it better.
OMG even the music is a ripoff of Gladiator. Seriously, this movie is such schlock.
Are there actually any instances of wolf tooth (or any animal tooth) talismans found in classical Greek archaeology? I can only think of the famous boar-tusk helmets described in Homer (and found in archaeology)
The idea of simple words, and no monuments, is actually fairly Spartan (although not no poetry - Spartans were famous for their lyric poetry). and of course "remember us" is referencing the great poet Sappho of Lesbos.
And then he cites the famous Thermopylae funerary inscription AS POETRY. Ugh, this movie can't even be consistent within a single speech!
How did not a single Spartan in this shot with hundreds of arrows not get one in the face?
That's not a terrible rendition of the famous inscription on the burial mound of the 300:
Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Oh stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that
we lie here, obedient to their words/laws.
Except isn't the conceit of this whole film that Leonidas disobeyed the laws of Sparta to go fight at Thermopylae?
This is why you don't mix and match historical details from the two different Persian Invasions.
Okay, now we're about Greeks and not just Sparta? And Greece is a country?
Again, all I'm asking for is some consistency.
How are you "rescuing the world from mysticism" when this whole thing got started with you consulting inbred priests abusing a teenage girl oracle with psychedelic drugs?
"A bright future that none of us can imagine" is pretty thinly veiled to mean "Western civilization"
When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi replied "I think it would be a good idea."
Certainly this movie isn't a ringing endorsement of the concept
Alright, I think I can get this down to an hour and forty, tops, maybe even shorter, with some aggressive and absolutely necessary editing for the classroom (not to cut the racism & other crappy themes, which I want us to talk about, just the gratuitous violence & sex)
That's it for me on this thread - I'm glad some of you enjoyed it! I'll try and do another live tweet of historical films sometime (probably something medieval, which I know a lot more about)
Alright let's try making this a little easier to follow by asking @threadreaderapp to #unroll this thread so I can more easily show it to my students when they watch this.
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