Still shot from "300" movie

USA Today has an excellent article in which the author interviews historian Paul Cartledge, author of Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, about the historical accuracy of the movie 300, which premieres this Friday nationwide. The film was based on the accouint in Herodotus’s Histories, by way of a graphic novel by Frank Miller.

Cartledge saw a preview of the movie, and the news is good:

The historical record is (pretty much) Book 7 of Herodotus’ Histories. What the movie leaves out is that Sparta didn’t fight the Persians alone but as the head of a Greek alliance that included, most importantly, Athens. Sparta was the greatest Greek military power on land, Athens by sea. The resistance to the massive Persian invasion had to be an amphibious one, both by land and by sea, to counter the Persians’ amphibious invasion. So the filmmakers missed out that Leonidas and his Spartans were attempting to hold the Thermopylae pass by land in conjunction with the allied Greek fleet led by Athens just up the coast.

However, there are two points about this Greek alliance: 1. It was tiny — only about 30 Greek cities out of 700 or so who might have joined in the resistance; 2. Far more Greeks fought on the Persian side than on the loyal Greek side!

What the movie adds in is a slew of fantasy fiction, including scary monsters. This is partly to take full advantage of the latest computer techno-wizardry (only one small scene was actually filmed out of doors — the rest in the studio against a blue screen with the background — mountains, sea, etc. — all digitally added on.)

What the movie gets dead right is the Spartans’ heroic code (not least the gallows-humor one-liners) and the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honor.

The previews and commercials make the film look much more enjoyable and appealing than Troy and Alexander—which, alas, is not too difficult to do. I’m looking forward to seeing it.