300 (film) - Reception - Historical Accuracy

Historical Accuracy

Since few records about the actual martial arts used by the Spartans survive aside from accounts of formations and tactics, the fight choreography led by Damon Caro and Chad Stahelski was a synthesis of different weapon arts with Filipino martial arts as the base. This can be seen in the blade work and the signature use of the off hand by Arnis/Kali/Eskrima in the offensive use of the shields. The Spartans' use of the narrow terrain, in those particular circumstances, is a military tactic known as "Defeat in detail".

Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at Cambridge University, advised the filmmakers on the pronunciation of Greek names, and states that they "made good use" of his published work on Sparta. He praises the film for its portrayal of "the Spartans' heroic code," and of "the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honour," while expressing reservations about its "'West' (goodies) vs 'East' (baddies) polarization." Cartledge writes that he enjoyed the film, although he found Leonidas' description of the Athenians as "boy lovers" ironic, since the Spartans themselves incorporated institutional pederasty into their educational system.

Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of Hellenistic History at the University of Toronto, states that 300 selectively idealizes Spartan society in a "problematic and disturbing" fashion, as well as portraying the "hundred nations of the Persians" as monsters and non-Spartan Greeks as weak. He suggests that the film's moral universe would have seemed "as bizarre to ancient Greeks as it does to modern historians."

The Persian exotic weapons are inaccurate and questionable for the time of the battle. Black powder had not been invented yet, and would not be around for another 1000 years. While the Persians were known to use war elephants in battle, there is no evidence that the Persians used them in their invasion of Greece.

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review columnist and former professor of Classical history at California State University, Fresno, who wrote the foreword to a 2007 re-issue of the graphic novel, states that the film demonstrates a specific affinity with the original material of Herodotus in that it captures the martial ethos of ancient Sparta and represents Thermopylae as a "clash of civilizations." He remarks that Simonides, Aeschylus, and Herodotus viewed Thermopylae as a battle against "Eastern centralism and collective serfdom," which opposed "the idea of the free citizen of an autonomous polis." He further states that the film portrays the battle in a "surreal" manner, and that the intent was to "entertain and shock first, and instruct second."

Touraj Daryaee, now Baskerville Professor of Iranian History and the Persian World at the University of California, Irvine, criticizes the movie's use of classical sources, writing:

Some passages from the Classical authors Aeschylus, Diodorus, Herodotus and Plutarch are spilt over the movie to give it an authentic flavor. Aeschylus becomes a major source when the battle with the "monstrous human herd" of the Persians is narrated in the film. Diodorus' statement about Greek valor to preserve their liberty is inserted in the film, but his mention of Persian valor is omitted. Herodotus' fanciful numbers are used to populate the Persian army, and Plutarch's discussion of Greek women, specifically Spartan women, is inserted wrongly in the dialogue between the "misogynist" Persian ambassador and the Spartan king. Classical sources are certainly used, but exactly in all the wrong places, or quite naively. The Athenians were fighting a sea battle during this.

Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica and author of How to Know states that the film "is an almost ineffably silly movie. Stills from the film could easily be used to promote Buns of Steel, or AbMaster, or ThighMaster. It's about the romanticizing of the Spartan "ideal", a process that began even in ancient times, was promoted by the Romans, and has survived over time while less and less resembling the actual historical Sparta."

The director of 300, Zack Snyder, stated in an MTV interview that "the events are 90 percent accurate. It's just in the visualization that it's crazy.... I've shown this movie to world-class historians who have said it's amazing. They can't believe it's as accurate as it is." Nevertheless, he also says that the film is "an opera, not a documentary. That's what I say when people say it's historically inaccurate." He was also quoted in a BBC News story as saying that the film is, at its core "a fantasy film." He also describes the film's narrator, Dilios, as "a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth."

In an interview 300 writer Frank Miller states: "The inaccuracies, almost all of them, are intentional. I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted 'em to look good. I knocked their helmets off a fair amount, partly so you can recognize who the characters are. Spartans, in full regalia, were almost indistinguishable except at a very close angle. Another liberty I took was, they all had plumes, but I only gave a plume to Leonidas, to make him stand out and identify him as a king. I was looking for more an evocation than a history lesson. The best result I can hope for is that if the movie excites someone, they'll go explore the histories themselves. Because the histories are endlessly fascinating."

Read more about this topic:  300 (film), Reception

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