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Bloviating Zeppelin: 300

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


In 480 BC the forces of the Persian Empire under King Xerses, numbering according to Herodotus two million men, bridged the Hellespont and marched in their myriads to invade and enslave Greece.

In a desperate delaying action, a picked force of three hundred Spartans was dispatched to the pass of Thermopylae, where the confines between mountains and sea were so narrow that the Persian multitudes and their cavalry would be at least partially neutralized. Here, it was hoped, an elite force willing to sacrifice their lives could keep back, at least for a few days, the invading millions.

Three hundred Spartans and their allies held off the invaders for seven days, until, their weapons smashed and broken from the slaughter, they fought "with bare hands and teeth" (as recorded by Herodotus) before being at last overwhelmed.

The Spartans and their Thespian allies died to the last man, but the standard of valor they set by their sacrifice inspired the Greeks to rally and, in that fall and spring, defeat the Persians at Salamis and Plataea and preserve the beginnings of Western democracy and freedom from perishing in the cradle.

Two memorials remain today at Thermopylae. Upon the modern one, called the Leonidas Monument in honor of the Spartan king who fell there, is engraved his response to Xerses' demand that the Spartans lay down their arms. Leonidas' reply was two words:

"Come and get them."

I have returned from viewing one of the finest movies from Hollywood in some time. Yes, some liberties were taken to make the film visually more dramatic; yes, the movie minimizes or completely dismisses the true number of warriors firming up the pass at Thermopylae (actually numbering, it is estimated, at 5,200) accompanying the 300 Spartans. And yes, much to the chagrin of the New York Times, it becomes a matter of lighter-skinned warriors (Greeks and their variants) vs. darker skinned warriors (Persians). Mr. Scott, in his review, completely dismisses 300 as an excursion into violence and stupidity. His review reveals himself to be likewise ignorant of core values such as loyalty, honor and courage. In times like these the film stands accused of improperly emphasizing the maleness of its characters, and there is much testosterone on the screen. I'll get back to this in a moment.

Inspiration for the film comes from the Frank Miller/Lynn Varley graphic novel of the same name: 300. Frank Miller, a minimalist artist who once worked for Marvel Comics and was responsible for taking the character Daredevil to his most lofty heights, has also drawn a number of comics for DC, Dark Horse and produced many of his own graphic novels to include the infamous, corrupt and groundbreaking Sin City. Miller is known for the stark and sometimes harsh noir-like lighting of his work -- as well as its unabashed violence (excellent all-encompassing Miller website here).

Midpoint through the film I began to think: this is nothing more than an allegory for our times now. Here is a king, Leonidas, who decides to do what he must to save his country and, in making this decision, goes against an edict from the Oracle and therefore stands against the law. He takes a small group of 300 true warriors, inspired by his leadership, buttressed by some allies, and decides to make a strategic stand in the best possible place extant utilizing tactics born and bred of the best Spartan traditions.

King Leonides is betrayed on two fronts: first by Ephialtes, a misshapen Greek who is told he must stand completely erect with his shield firmly in place in order to not provide the proverbial weak link in a necessarily-strong chain (and who subsequently reveals to King Xerxes the "back door" to the Spartan stand), and at home by Theron, a politician who rapes and then betrays Leonidas' wife (and Queen) Gorgo. A Spartan woman to the core, Gorgo runs a sword through Theron in the Sparta assembly where it is revealed, through clattering gold Persian coins displaying the profile of Xerxes, that Theron is indeed a traitor. And Ephialtes learns that where once he could have stood, he now must kneel.

Love, honor, courage, loyalty, strength, manliness, resolution, capacitance, bravery -- this film embodies all those traits and more. It indicates that a motivated few can stop or stay an irresolute many.

And at a time when we need these traits to be emphasized, to have the gray removed from our perspective, 300 manages to do this and more. My audience sucked in their breath at the violence, leaned forward in its anticipation, cheered at the victories and clapped at the end.

And whilst the staid and unknowing of Sparta discussed and debated, the warriors of its culture willingly laid down their lives in sacrifice.

Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, when they fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun. Dienekes, however, quite undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, "Good, then we'll have our battle in the shade."

-- Herodutus, The Histories

Make no mistake, the movie is remarkably violent and bloody. Much of its action is Sam Peckinpah-ishly slow in motion. But it is an absolute feast for the eyes on every level, visually, audibly. And it teaches a very important lesson:

The second monument, the ancient one, is an unadorned stone engraved with the words of the poet Simonides. Its verses comprise perhaps the most famous of the warrior epitaphs:

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here obedient to their laws we lie.

You must see this film.


Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Of course, they couldn't have filmed it in real Spartan dress. (The Spartans were famous for fighting their wars in the buff, hence the word spartan, meaning with minimal supplies) but it is probably more interesting to us clothed.

Sat Mar 10, 12:23:00 AM PST  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

The Hoplite wore Bronze breastplate and had Bronze shield and was one of the most formidable of the early infantry groupings as it did *act* as a group with shield wall and spears. The Spartans were the best heavy hoplite infantry of their age, and although the bronze armor made them less mobile and agile, they made up for that in sheer defensive and offensive power. The Persian Immortals were sent against them, and they had only scale mail and wicker shields, good against javelins but not against the Hoplite war spears. The Immortals broke against the Spartans losing hundreds if not thousands, while the Spartans suffered a mere handful of casualties. Betrayal by a retreating force guarding a mountain pass left little time to retreat, but retreat was ordered by Leonides for the mass of the forces involved. He stayed with the 300 and the Thespians to give time for those forces to escape and regroup to fight another day.

To the Spartans it was: "With your shield or on it."

Come home in victory or death.

These were the awesome Ranks of Bronze of the late Bronze Age that finally started the ethos of what it means to be a soldier, not a mere warrior.

Sat Mar 10, 03:16:00 AM PST  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

After the last hatchet job that was done on the Alamo, I'm leary to let go of my cash to see it.

Sat Mar 10, 03:53:00 AM PST  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Great review .. I loved Miller's graphic novel, so I'm sure I'll love the movie just as much when I finally get to see it later today

Sat Mar 10, 04:41:00 AM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

3S10: although they are somewhat minimalistically dressed in the film, not packed with armor.

AJ: I reiterate from some of our prior conversations: you should write about history -- write books!

BWH: I do not think you would be disappointed.

Reel: thank you. Now go see it. However, I would be interested in YOUR take on the film.


Sat Mar 10, 07:14:00 AM PST  
Blogger ABFreedom said...

Sounds like a good show... I'll wait till it's out on DVD ... don't generally go to movies....

Sat Mar 10, 06:41:00 PM PST  
Blogger Dionne said...

A lot of people have been talking about this movie. I guess I'm going to have to see it. Thanks for the review.

Sat Mar 10, 06:49:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

ABF: I would recommend that you see it in the theatre or in Imax -- it is of such magnitude that the small screen will not do it justice. I recommend you see it at the theatre just once.

LMC: I do not think you will be disappointed at all. I will be curious as to your opinion -- I would like to know.


Sat Mar 10, 06:57:00 PM PST  
Blogger Unknown said...

I loved that film!! And that sexy boy, OMG! Fuck me tender I'm glad I'm boylover!

Sun Mar 11, 09:57:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

A quote of from wikipedia:

The Spartans believed that the love of an older, accomplished aristocrat for an adolescent boy was essential to his formation as a free citizen. The education of the ruling class was thus founded on pederastic relationships, required of each citizen. The ephors fined any eligible man who did not love a boy, because, despite his own excellence, he failed to make a beloved “similar to himself.” Likewise, for a boy it was a disgrace to not find a lover. By the time they reached the age of twelve "there was not any of the more hopeful boys who did not have a lover to bear him company."

All you antis out there should find this interesting, sort of fucks with your small, a-historical mindedness.


Sun Mar 11, 10:03:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

RSA: thank you so kindly for that edumacation.


Sun Mar 11, 02:53:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bushwack said...

Saw it yesterday, What a great movie! And as I said on my site, The reason liberals don't like it is the movie embodies all the traits THEY are lacking.

To the Boylover, Using this site to voice your sick reasoning is poor manners, perhaps you should stay with your own kind....
Your time will come idiot and with any luck your meager piss ant existence will be a mere memory in the near future.

Mon Mar 12, 07:06:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee wiz, sorrrrrry for opening a history book!

Mon Mar 12, 07:52:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikipedia hardly qualifies as a history book, ass bandit.

Mon Mar 12, 03:54:00 PM PDT  

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