For me, looking at history strictly through a classroom perspective is a rather monotonous way to study history. Me, assuming like the majority of the United States, has interest sparked to study history through exaggerated depictions of what may have actually happened. An example that sticks out in particular for me is the movie 300 directed by Zach Snyder.The intense visuals of massive Spartan soldiers driving spears through multiple Persian invaders, descriptions of “Hot Gates”, and the strict adherence to Spartan code as portrayed in the film were the recipe to have me hooked in learning more about the Spartans at a very young age. Here I was a young boy, probably at the age of 10 looking into History.com articles about the Spartans, and the Battle at Thermopylae.
Media in today’s day and age serves a purpose of inspiration. In the movie 300, there are embellishments in many cases. In the movie, King Leonidas kicked the Persian messenger into the bottomless pit to his death. According to the Histories by Herodotus, there was no such hole, rather a shallow well which the people of Athens may have tossed the messenger into. The massive hole was an embellishment for entertainment purposes. While it is an embellishment however, it serves a purpose of representing Spartan response to Persia coming to invade for “land and water”. Another embellishment that served a purpose in the movie was the physical stature of king Xerxes. In the film, Xerxes is an incredibly tall person covered in jewelry. In actual history, he is a rather average sized person who may or may not have been covered in jewelry. The size is given in the movie to hopefully communicate his power as a military leader. This is especially shown when him and Leonidas meet in Xerxes’ effort to hopefully reach a diplomatic solution.
While full of historic exaggerations, there are certain key details within the movie for me were paramount in inspiring me to learn more about the Spartans. The movie depicted the Spartans as bred warfighters, and basically professional badasses. They respected their women, and settled for nothing but victory on the battlefield, and the women expected it too. As Leonidas departs with his 300 and he sees his wife for the last time, her parting words to Leonidas were “come back with your shield, or on it.” This phrase translates to “Ḕ tā̀n ḕ epì tâs” in ancient Greek. It was a phrase actually told to Spartans by people of authority in that day and age. There are many other small details scattered throughout the movie that hold similar significance.
In my case, this form of media served a fantastic purpose at inspiring me to seek out more knowledge about ancient Sparta. The film’s embellishments were effective at communicating the historical significance of the Battle at Thermopylae. The film itself may not be the best way to learn pure history about the Spartans or Persians, but it is a fantastic method to communicate the significance of the historical event and to inspire people like me to seek our more information.
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Jackson Lee Mitchell