Thursday, March 15, 2007

A few reasons I won't be seeing 300

  1. Sparta, contrary to the image apparently being presented in 300, was not a bastion of freedom. The Spartans, like the other Greeks involved in the Persian wars were fighting for freedom from Persian domination. Only in a time like ours could we think that there is no difference between freedom from foreign domination and freedom for one’s citizens. But, even more than other Greek city-states, Sparta was a society that relied on the slave labor of a huge population of agricultural workers, the helots. Now, the helots were really more like serfs than slaves, but in the period here being depicted, the helots were pretty much without rights, so far that they could be killed with impunity during one period of the year; the youth of Sparta were actually encouraged to kill them as a show of courage and virility.
  2. Even for the Spartans themselves, there was nothing that we would think of as freedom. They might have been fighting for freedom from foreign domination, but within the city, its citizens lived a fully regimented life, directed towards one and only one thing: military prowess. Children were taken from their parents and raised in huge boarding schools in which they were trained from youth to be better soldiers. Abuse of younger students by the elders was encouraged as reinforcing discipline and hierarchy.
  3. Though the hero of 300 is fighting, apparently, for love, family and friendship were frowned upon in classical Sparta. Filial, fraternal, friendly and erotic love all took away from love for the city.
  4. Women were, arguably, better treated in Sparta than in some other Greek city-states. But this was because they had to be able and ready to defend the city during the long periods when all the Spartan men were away on military maneuvers. Because Sparta was so militaristic, unlike other Greek cities, it did not use a subset of its population as an army, all men were the army and they were at war all the time. Thus, women were valued for their manly qualities. This is at least one of the reasons—together with the educational traditions of Sparta—that a bride dressed as a soldier and not as a woman on her marital night.
  5. The trailers for 300 picture the Persians as a dark and swarthy (and motley) crew. It’s true that the Persians were a mixed empire, the first cosmopolitan society in some respects, and one in which various different ethnic groups were pretty much allowed to govern themselves and worship in their own ways. It was not for nothing that the Israelites looked upon Cyrus as a savior from their other enemies. It was good to be a part of this empire. However, one of the most common aspersions cast upon the real Persians by the ancient Greeks, for instance by Xenophon in the Anabasis, was that they were light-skinned. That’s right, the Greeks looked down on the Persians because they weren’t swarthy enough. That was because they thought that the Persians spent too much time indoors and thus were too effeminate.
  1. If we were going to look at a culture and society to admire, it would be the Persians, not the Spartans. The Persians didn’t care so much about your ethnicity or your religion or your language; the Greeks thought that only Greeks really mattered and if you didn’t speak Greek you were a barbarian—literally a person whose language sounds like bar-bar-bar-bar. For what it’s worth, even all the ancient Greeks, except for the Spartans, knew that being a Spartan wasn’t a good thing.
  2. Of all recent societies, Spartan society resembled nothing so much as the Third Reich. And, that’s not really an overstatement.
  3. If I want to watch gay porn in which everyone pretends that they aren’t really into dudes, there are other outlets.